Musician Arthel Lane "Doc" Watson, who gained acclaim with his blend of country, bluegrass and gospel, died Tuesday at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C., after undergoing abdominal surgery last week. Watson was 89.
Born in Deep Gap, North Carolina, in 1923 and blind since nearly birth due to an eye infection, Watson was born into a musical family and, began playing at an early age, teaching himself guitar on a borrowed instrument.
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Watson was discovered in 1960 when folklorists Ralph Rinzler and Eugene Earle arrived in the area to record Watson's banjo-playing neighbor, Clarence "Tom" Ashley, and came upon Watson's talents in the process. The chance meeting resulted in Watson's first recordings, titled "Old-Time Music at Clarence Ashley's."
Watson's eponymous first album was released in 1964. Tours across the world followed, as did collaborations with Flatt & Scruggs, Chet Atkins and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. An influential musician, Watson pioneered the notion of playing mountain fiddle tunes on the flattop guitar.
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Watson recorded more than 50 albums during his career and won several Grammy awards, including Best Traditional Folk Album for his "Legacy" collaboration with David Holt, and a Lifetime Achievement Award.
Watson's prolific career was temporarily put on hold in 1985 when his son Merle, who was also his musical collaborator, died in a tractor accident, though shortly after he resumed his touring schedule, accompanied by grandson Richard Watson and guitarist Jack Lawrence. Watson released the "Remembering Merle" album in 1992.
He is survived by Rosa Lee Carlton Watson, his wife of more than six decades; their daughter Nancy Ellen; two grandchildren; seven great-grandchildren; and his brother David Watson.
Private funeral arrangements are pending.