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Taking Names: Folk legend Doc Watson dies at 89
You could hear the mountains of North Carolina in Doc Watson’s music. The rush of a mountain stream, the steady creak of a mule in leather harness plowing rows in topsoil and the echoes of ancient sounds made by a vanishing people were an intrinsic part of the folk musician’s powerful, homespun sound.
It took Mr. Watson decades to make a name for himself outside the world of Deep Gap, N.C. Once he did, he ignited the imaginations of countless guitar players who learned the possibilities of the instrument from the humble picker who never quite went out of style. From the folk revival of the 1960s to the Americana movement of the 21st century, Mr. Watson remained a constant source of inspiration and a treasured touchstone before his death Tuesday at age 89.
Blind from the age of 1, Mr. Watson was left to listen to the world around him, and it was as if he heard things differently than others. Though he knew how to play the banjo and harmonica from an early age, he came to favor the guitar. His flatpicking style helped translate the fiddle- and mandolin-dominated music of his forebears for an audience of younger listeners.
“Overall, Doc will be remembered as one of America’s greatest folk musicians. I would say he’s one of America’s greatest musicians,” said David Holt, a longtime friend and collaborator who compared Mr. Watson to Lead Belly, Bill Monroe, Muddy Waters and Earl Scruggs.
Like those pioneering players, Mr. Watson took a regional sound and made it into something larger, a piece of American culture that reverberates for decades after the notes are first played.
“He had a great way of presenting traditional songs and making them accessible to a modern audience,” Mr. Holt said. “Not just accessible, but truly engaging.”
Mr. Watson died at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, where he was hospitalized recently after falling at his home in Deep Gap, 100 miles northwest of Charlotte. He underwent abdominal surgery while in the hospital and had been in critical condition for several days.
Arthel “Doc” Watson was born March 3, 1923, and lost his eyesight when he developed an eye infection that was worsened by a congenital vascular disorder, according to a website for Merlefest, the annual musical gathering named for his late son Merle.
The wavy-haired Mr. Watson got his musical start in 1953, playing electric lead guitar in a country-and-western swing band. His road to fame began in 1960 when Ralph Rinzler, a musician who also managed Monroe, discovered Mr. Watson in North Carolina. That led him to the Newport Folk Festival in 1963 and his first recording contract a year later. He went on to record 60 albums, and wowed fans ranging from ‘60s hippies to those who loved traditional country and folk music.
Seven of his albums won Grammy Awards; his eighth Grammy was a lifetime achievement award in 2004. He also received the National Medal of the Arts from President Clinton in 1997.
King writing crime novel for publication in 2013
Stephen King will take on crime for a novel coming out next year.
The author of “Carrie” and other horror classics has a deal with the publisher Hard Case Crime for “Joyland,” a whodunit scheduled for June 2013. Mr. King was an early advocate for e-books, but in a statement released Wednesday he said he has such fond memories of reading crime stories as a child that “Joyland” initially will come out just as a paperback. That way fans will have to buy “the actual book.”
Hard Case Crime is an imprint of Titan Books and also has released works by Mickey Spillane, Lawrence Block and Pete Hamill. Mr. King has written one other book for Hard Case Crime, the novel “The Colorado Kid.”
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Let it snow