Doc Watson: Remembered in Words and Images

Arthel Lane “Doc” Watson died Tuesday evening in Winston-Salem. He was 89. A native of Deep Gap, N.C., he was considered by many as one of the world’s best flatpick guitar players. He was known for his devotion to family and to the land of his birth, Watauga County in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Watson is also remembered for his wry sense of humor and warm rapport with fans.

Doc Watson at dedication of Linville Viaduct
Doc Watson performs at dedication of the Linn Cove Viaduct in September 1987. Photo by Hugh Morton.

I don’t care one thing about travelin’….I’d just as soon stay at home and have to go to work in the morning and come back in the afternoon. But the thing of it is the music.

They say that behind every man that’s successful there’s gotta be a good woman, and it’s very true in my case….When I was on the road working hard to try to bring in a few dollars–when the pay wasn’t very high–Rosa Lee was here working, growing a big garden, raising two kids. Without her help, knowing that I could depend on somebody, I could never have made it.

Doc Watson, quoted in The Charlotte Observer, August 10, 1979

Doc Watson, Merle Watson and others
Doc Watson (second from right), son Merle Watson (left) and others (likely family members). Photo by Hugh Morton.

You know it’s our duty to develop what we’ve got. I needed to earn a living for my family and I knew how to play. One good thing that happened to me, when I was a boy about 13 my daddy put me on the other end of a crosscut saw. I didn’t realize it then, but it was an asset. It gave me the knowledge in my head that I wasn’t worthless because I was blind. I didn’t have to set in the corner.

Watson quoted in The Independent, 1983

A man’s ability to communicate with people from the stage is not something you manufacture, son. It’s something you’re born with. It’s a talent God gave you.

Watson quoted in The Charlotte Observer, 1979

Doc Watson (center) with Billy Graham (left) and Joseph M. Bryan (right) at North Carolina Awards, 1986
Doc Watson with Billy Graham (left) and Joseph M. Bryan (right) at North Carolina Awards, 1986. Photo by Hugh Morton

Let me ask you. Do you know the difference between a northern Baptist and a southern Baptist? Well, a northern Baptist will talk to you all quiet and say,’You know there really is no hell,’ and a southern Baptist will look right at you and say,’The hell there ain’t.’

Watson, quoted in The Independent, 1983

I’ve always told them that I’d like to quit the road while I was still able to carry in a stick of firewood or something and do a little chore around here or something and not kill myself on the road.

Watson, quoted in The Charlotte Observer, April 24, 1988.

Watson was scheduled to perform at the North Carolina Museum of Art on June 30 as part of a daylong symposium in his honor. Organizers have not yet announced updated plans.

5 thoughts on “Doc Watson: Remembered in Words and Images”

  1. Rest in peace Doc! It was great to hear you play all these years and at the Paramount in Denver, Colorado last year…..

  2. I saw “DOC” and Merle perform at Bill Stanley’s
    Bar-B-Que and BlueGrass in Asheville, NC in the 80’s and
    enjoyed it very much!!

  3. Last year at MusicFest in Sugar Grove Doc performed and sang a song in which I think he accidentally slipped up and used the word “Hell.” Afterwards he apologized and laughed a little. Then he said, “Don’t tell Rosa Lee I did that.”

  4. A researcher using the online collection of Hugh Morton images sent word that the person on the left in the group portrait made in the woods is likely Merle’s son Richard Watson because it looks like him and not Merle, and that the date provided for the photograph (14 January 1987) is after Merle’s death. The photograph is a 35mm color slide, and that date is actually the film processing date imprinted on the mount, so the image is probably a bit earlier. After the two group portraits on the same roll of film are some distant views of Grandfather Mountain without snow, then some snow scenes, then some landscapes with a full moon but with only traces of snow. The full moons for that time period were December 16 and Jan 15. It’s possible, therefore, that a few weeks passed before the Morton processed the film. For example, photographs Morton made at the University of Jacksonville vs. UNC basketball game played on December 13, 1986 and vs. Maryland on January 8, 1987 have “01-12-87” on the slide mounts.

  5. For years I have watched the Biography Channel for a piece about Doc, but none. Has ever aired. I think it would be a wonderful tribute to show a chronicle of the life of this amazing performer and human being! I will miss seeing Doc in person at the Rams Head in Annapolis Md.


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