Doc Watson

Arthel Lane “Doc” Watson, who graced the world with his presence from March 3, 1923, until May 29, 2012, was a distinguished American artist celebrated for his expertise in guitar, songwriting, and vocal performances across a spectrum of genres like bluegrass, folk, country, blues, and gospel. Doc received seven Grammy awards and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. He possessed extraordinary skills in both fingerpicking and flatpicking.  He had a deep appreciation for traditional American music. Despite losing his sight when an eye infection caused Watson to lose his vision before his second birthday, Watson had a long and fruitful career, performing solo, with his band, and notably, for over fifteen years with his son, Merle Watson, a talented guitarist himself, until Merle’s untimely death in an accident on their family farm in 1985.

In 1968, Don and J.W. Gallagher traveled to Union Grove, North Carolina for a music festival.  They brought two guitars to show: the G-50 and the G-70.  After a rainy day, as the weather cleared and the evening approached, they walked around to find some music and found Doc and Merle playing under a shade tree.  Merle liked the guitars and invited them over to their house the next day.  Doc loved the G-50, but J.W. wouldn’t sell it to him because it had a crack on the side.  Doc could have cared less about the small crack.  J.W. offered him the guitar to borrow as long as he wanted and when he didn’t need it any more to return it. 

That G-50 became the famous “Ole Hoss” that Doc played on Will the Circle Be Unbroken album and is overhead talking with Merle Travis about the box that Mr. Gallagher built.  Merle said: “It rings like a bell.” 

In 1974, J.W. drove to Nashville to have dinner with Doc, Merle and T. Michael Coleman prior to their show at Exit/In.  J.W. brought up the idea of building Doc another guitar.  Doc was ready with 4 things that he wanted: Jumbo frets (“fast frets” he called them), a voiced top, 1 ¾” width at the nut, and a neck that felt like his Les Paul neck.  So, basically on a napkin in T.G.I. Fridays, they wrote the specs for what would become the Doc Watson model.  In 1975, Don built the first Doc Watson model with a cutaway, at the request of Merle.  The guitar was adopted by Doc and was named “the Donald.”  In 1999, Doc provided his signature that would be inlaid on the 12th fret of an upscale version of the Doc Watson model.  All the specs would remain the same but the appointments changed: Flamed Maple binding, the most select of wood choices, diamond and squares inlay and this signature on the 12th. 

The guitars also represent the long, abiding and deep relationship between the Watson and Gallagher families.  Yes, the guitars would not have been played through the decades by Doc if they had not been exceptional guitars and yet the guitars are intertwined as well in the relationships between artist and builder. 

The music and character of Doc not only have made the world a better place, but they also continue to inspire both long-time admirers and those discovering his work for the first time. Describing his music and influence as merely alive and vibrant hardly does justice to the profound impact he continues to have.

Thank you Doc for all your music and the many memories!