Arthel (Doc) Watson lost his eyesight as a toddler after an infection. He, nonetheless, was one of the greatest flat-picking guitarists ever to pick up the instrument. He was the first to adopt fiddle tunes for the guitar transforming it into a lead instrument. In the words of John Sebastian, the front man for the Lovin’ Spoonful, he played “… Clean as country water.” But he didn’t record his debut album until he was 40. Contemporary musicians recognized his greatness, and he was one of the first people invited to participate in the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” celebration of country roots music. He was a multiple Grammy award winner and was presented with a life-time achievement award in 2004. In one of his best albums “Southbound” he collaborated with his son, Merle, who died in a tractor accident at 36. Overcome with grief, Doc contemplated retirement, but decided to soldier on, and produced more beautiful music. A statute was erected in Boone, North Carolina at the spot where he had played decades earlier for tips. At his request, the inscription read, “Just One of the People.” Doc once said:
“[W]hatever talent we’ve got, it’s God-given, and it’s our duty to use it to get along in the world … If you’re honored because of some talent you have, you have to remember it’s still a gift.”
I am proud to say that I play a hand-made “Gallagher” guitar, the same brand as Doc’s, but hardly as well, and that I include three of his songs in my repertoire: “Deep River Blues”, “Southbound”, and “Windy and Warm.” If you never heard of him but you like folk or country music, check him out on “You Tube.”
Levon Helm was the drummer for my favorite rock group, and one that I think exhibited some of the best musicianship of them all, the Band. Many of us are familiar with his southern-twanged voice in songs like “The Weight,” “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” “Up on Cripple Creek” and “Rag Mamma Rag.” He was a most accomplished drummer with a distinctive style that served Bob Dylan well when he decided to go electric. Not many people know that after the original version of the Band disbanded, Levon suffered from throat cancer and when offered the choice between removal of his larynx or more risky chemotherapy and radiation treatment he chose the latter. He beat cancer after 28 treatments and recovered his voice. He went on to produce several wonderful albums including “Dirt Farmer” and “Electric Dirt.”
Give a listen to the multiple examples of these wonderful musicians’ gifts to us available from public sources. May they enrich your summer as they have enriched my days.
 I am sure John wouldn’t mind this fair use of an excerpt of his lyrics to “Nashville Cats.” Doc wasn’t one of them; he just played better than all of them. John collaborated with Doc on an album of some of their favorite tunes.
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