Remembering the Late, Great Doc Watson with 3 Standout Songs from His Deep Discography

On this day (May 29) in 2012, Doc Watson passed away at the age of 89 due to complications following surgery. He grew up in a rural community called Deep Gap near Bonne, North Carolina. As an infant, he lost his vision after contaminated eye drops caused a serious infection. However, he was still able to live a full life and become a legendary musician, singer, and musical historian of sorts.

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Dr. Ted Olson, head of the Appalachian Studies department at East Tennessee State University broke down Watson’s importance. “He’s an artist that’s in some ways difficult to categorize. He fits in multiple genres of music,” Dr. Olson explained. “The folk people claim him, the Americana people claim him, the bluegrass people love his music, and he has many fans who primarily identify with other genres—rock and old-time and blues,” he added. “His music is wide-ranging. In a nutshell, what makes him special is that he’s a consummate champion of American music. He basically keeps in his repertoire different American traditions and he makes all of them his own. He loves where they come from, he studies those musical traditions, but he works everything into his own sensibility and style.”

[RELATED: Doc Watson’s Long Journey]

Today, to commemorate the passing of an American icon, we’ll look back at three great recordings from Watson’s deep catalog.

“Tennessee Stud”—The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band Re-Introduces Doc Watson

The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band released Will the Circle Be Unbroken in 1972. The album featured several classic country, folk, bluegrass, and old-time musicians including Mother Maybelle Carter and Doc Watson.

Watson made several appearances on the album. However, none were as popular as his rendition of the Jimmy Driftwood classic “Tennessee Stud.”

“Doc’s recording of ‘Tennessee Stud’ was the recording that got the most radio play from that album,” Dr. Olson explained. “Doc sang and played guitar on it. …The album pushed Doc’s reputation to the next level where he became an American icon.”

At the time, Watson was touring with his son Merle. After the recognition he gained from Will the Circle Be Unbroken, he was able to become a major headliner, packing arenas and stadiums. In fact, we may not be talking about him today if it weren’t for this recording.

“Summertime”—Watson Covers Gershwin

George Gershwin composed “Summertime” as an aria for the 1935 opera Porgy and Bess. DuBosse Hayward and Ira Gershwin penned the lyrics. It later became a jazz standard.

Watson’s recordings of “Summertime” combine a little jazz, his signature flatpicking style, and his old-time influences to create an undeniably country version of the classic song. He recorded it for the first time in 1972, per Secondhand Songs. It showed up on a handful of Watson’s albums including The Elementary Doc Watson and Doc & Dawg, a collaborative album with David Grisman.

“Windy and Warm”—Doc Watson’s Guitar Does All the Talking

Watson had a wonderful voice and a deep catalog of songs. He was also one of the best guitarists to ever fret a string. Doc was one of the artists who helped transform the guitar into a lead instrument where before it was relegated to solely being a rhythm instrument. The instrumental “Windy and Warm” is a stellar example of his prowess as a picker.

[RELATED: R.I.P. Doc Watson; Read Our 2012 Interview]

Featured Image by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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