Wednesday, May 30, 2012

From Street Singer to Legend

Our Nation has lost a legend.  His name was Arthel Lane Watson but everyone knew him as "Doc."  Doc Watson died yesterday at age 89.  I first wrote about my interaction with Doc Watson in 2010 and I will repeat some of it here.

We moved from rural Burke County, NC to live in downtown Boone when I was ten.  While I would never have admitted it to my new friends (country wasn't cool), I loved country music.  Late at night my radio would pick up stations far away and I would listen to country music until I fell asleep.  I loved watching country music shows on television.

My mother had a friend (I will call her Janie) who help Mom with heavy cleaning.  They became good friends and many weekend evenings during the summer Mom and I would drive out to Janie's house in Deep Gap.  Janie played the guitar and on most of our visits Janie's porch was filled with neighbors and friends who played and sang country music.

Oh, how I looked forward to and loved those evenings.  The music made it worth every mosquito bite I later scratched.  I was fascinated with one of the musicians.  He was blind and I loved to hear him and watch him play the guitar.  He was the same man I had seen singing on the streets of Boone.  He wasn't always at Janie's porch gatherings, but when he was I sat and watched him all evening.  I especially loved the laughter and the conversations in between the songs.

Never in my wildest imagination would I have guessed that this blind musician would become a legend in my own lifetime.  The man was Doc Watson.  And as a child I often stood very near him and heard him play with Janie and the others on the porch.  Imagine.  As Doc Watson became more and more famous I began to realize what an amazing childhood gift I received in being able to listen to him and the others.

Doc Watson won numerous Grammy awards, sang with almost all the famous music stars and was presented the National Medal of Arts.  He remained a most humble man who credited his music to his blindness.  He said that had he not been blind he would have been an auto mechanic living in Deep Gap and he would have been just as happy.

Photograph from The Transylvania Times
Doc Watson was the star attraction at the Mountain Song Festival here in Brevard in 2010

Doc Watson recording.
(Photo from the Web)

Last June,  the town of Boone unveiled a life-sized statue to honor Doc Watson.  It sits on the corner of Depot Street at King Street, the very place Doc Watson used to sing.

Doc Watson and his statue

In the days of singing on the porch, Doc Watson called me Carolyn and he teased me about the time I whispered (far too loudly as children are prone to do) "Mom, he is blind."  When my mother shushed me, Doc Watson said, "Honey, that's all right.  I already knew I am blind."

I'm sure Doc Watson never remembered my name.  He never knew how much his music means to me still.  I'm fairly certain he did remember the evening songfests at Janie's house.  Maybe he even remembered a little girl who so enthusiastically sang along and clapped to his music so long ago.

The following words were written by Doc Watson and his wife Rosa Lee in the song "Your Long Journey"

God's given us years of happiness here
Now we must part
And as the angels come and call for you
The pains of grief tug at my heart

Oh my darling...
My heart breaks as you take your long journey

Thank you for the music, Doc Watson.  You will be missed by many.  Godspeed on your journey to your new gig.


George said...

What a wonderful tribute to Doc Watson and the memories you have of him. I only got to know his music through radio and recordings, but I'll miss him as well.

Ms. A said...

How wonderful to have personal memories of a legend! Isn't it great that the music will live on!

Dawn Fine said...

Wonderful story. It would be great if you could share your story on a Website about him? There might be a memorial website.

anyway...great memories!

Carolina Linthead said...

Oh, you made me cry! Our cousin worked for a number of years at a restaurant in Boone to which Doc was a frequent visitor. She knows well the beauty of the man, and just how much more we lost than "merely" a legendary guitar picker. Godspeed...and man, oh man, I can't wait to hear that heavenly band play on the great front porch that is waiting for us! Oh, and I don't think there'll be any skeeters to vex us up yonder, Carolyn. ((hugs)) Also, thank you for your very special comment on my blog. I agree completely, and I am so very glad you posted! We are probably kin, you know :-)

KB said...

An absolutely wonderful story, especially the part about whispering too loudly that he was blind. I loved his response!

What memories.

Cheryl said...

What a beautiful and touching story.
Your memories will last your lifetime and beyond.

I confess I shed a tear or two reading that........

Arkansas Patti said...

What a wonderful tribute and how fortunate you got to witness such a talent.
It is great he was able to appreciate his own statue. Too often those are erected after a person passes.
Wonderful story.

Sam Hoffer / My Carolina Kitchen said...

How fun to have known him and what a great tribute. I can't believe he would not have been a musician if he had not been blind. Great story.

NanaNor's said...

Hi, What an incredible story-what an amazing memory for you. I knew his music too; I was a guitarist and into folk music. I once met Joan Baez and then we wrote each other. You've had a rich life, one a bit richer because of those times on Janie's porch.
Thanks for sharing.
Hugs Noreen

animal lover, quilt lover said...

I loved his music too!! Love watching the country TV music shows too!! Of course Roy Orbison was not country, but he did turn out to be my favorite singer of all time!!! I listen to him everyday of the week everyday of the year!! He sang with Johnny
Cash a lot!!!
A great story!!! My Dad was a musician!!

My Mind's Eye said...

Oh my goodness what a wonderful childhood you had in our beautiful mountains. Thank goodness your Mom took you to Janie's and you learned what real music sounds like played from a front porch. Those were the days and to have known such a legend, as Doc. Few can say they ever knew a legend.
Hugs Madi and Mom

Anonymous said...

This is such a wonderful story! How lucky you were to hear such talent when you were young. I love the photos you attached to this post, but that one of Doc with his statue just really tugs at my heart. Beautiful.

Beatrice P. Boyd said...

A lovely tribute to a very talented musician, rest his soul. His talent was truly a gift. How winderful to have such memories to share with all of us. Thanks for sharing.

Berts Blog said...

What a great tribute. Now we have to go and listen to some of his music again.

Thanks for reminding us of this wonderful man. You were very lucky to have been a part of his life.

Appalachian Lady said...

Great story. I am sorry for your loss.

NCmountainwoman said...

Thanks for your comments, everyone. I recently read a quote from Doc Watson. He said, "When I leave this wrold and these are my honest thoughts...I'll be able to see like you can, only a bit more perfect."

Janet, The Queen of Seaford said...

We were thrilled to see him last year at the Newberry Opera House. Your connection to him is incredible. We all mourn the loss of a great man.