Click here for the first half of Richard Taylor’s in-depth tribute to Doc Watson.
Speakers told how Doc saw with his ears. Doc’s long time bass player and driver T. Michael Coleman emotionally remembered how Doc would practice his stage stories over and over as they drove to far away concerts.
Coleman lovingly told the congregation “Doc was always Doc. No pretense, no inflated ego and no set list. He never talked down to his audience, they were always included, and they could feel it.”
“Doc experienced the life he sang about. He understood the characters in his songs, and in a few cases, he was actually related to them. He made his audience care.”
Coleman said Doc taught him “respect was far more valuable than adoration and that doing the right thing was important no matter what the cost. My connection was never stronger than (when) he would take my arm to be his eyes. The trust embodied in that gesture was humbling. I always felt it an honor to take him on stage.”
Coleman added “blindness was never a problem for Doc. If he wanted to do something, he would figure out a way to do it, like wiring his house, or building an out building. He could tell you what kind of metal something was made of, just by rubbing his fingers on it and bringing his fingers to his nose.”
Coleman asked us to close our eyes. “Smell, listen,” he said, “this was Doc’s world, this is how he fell in love with Rosa Lee and these mountains that he cherished so much.”
“Now open your eyes, “Coleman instructed, “as Doc did when he crossed over, (saying) ‘I was blind, but now I see.’ “
Coleman added his vision of what happened next. “There in front of him was the face he had been longing to see his entire life, his son Merle. Merle took his hand and said to Doc ‘Daddy, I’ve been waiting for you, come on let’s go. There’s someone I want you to meet.’ And as they approached the Gates of Heaven, there was the other face he had been praying to see, his Savior, Jesus Christ.”
Even country star Randy Travis (by recording) reflected his respect and friendship for Doc, singing his song “Dr. Jesus,” a number Doc really loved.
Long-time Deep Gap friend and driver Robert Doyle said Doc “really taught me how to see, that’s the way he was, just a regular country guy. Doc was authentic. His concerts were not performances, as much as conversations with his audience, graced by wonderful colorful stories leading into most songs.”
Doc played many guitars over his long career, including his first Stella, then Gibson, Martin and Gallagher models. Guitar maker and friend Wayne Henderson was among many of Doc’s friends paying musical tributes on stage that Sunday. Watson played a Henderson guitar when I saw him at Sugar Grove last summer.
Long time manager and promoter Mitch Greenhill flew in from California, saying he first saw Doc at the Newport Folk Festival in 1963. “I guess you all know that the impact of Doc’s music, which he learned here, has spun from the far reaches of this country to Europe and even Africa.”
Watson was without comparison as a musician,” Greenhill reflected, “but he was generous enough to invite us to share his music with him on stage and let others lead a song. I’d like to thank Doc for showing me a true path through music.”
Watson’s nephew, Rev. Gary Watson of Boone, presided over the service, with the assistance of Doc’s family friend, Pastor Larry Young.
On that June 3 Sunday afternoon, Pastor Young said there were three things we should know about Watson. He said, “Doc loved the Lord, he loved his family and he was down to earth, he didn’t let fame and fortune go to his head.”
Rev. Watson closed the service by asking the congregation to join him in “one last farewell” — and we did, saying, “We love you, Doc!”
Doc was laid to rest at the Doc and Merle Watson Cemetery on the family farm in the hollows of Deep Gap, off the Doc and Merle Watson Highway (US 421), 10 miles east of Boone. His son and past musical partner Merle was buried there following a tragic tractor accident in Foscoe in 1985.
Afterwards, I saw two yellow butterflies chasing each other through the hundreds of rows of Fraser Firs waiting to become Christmas trees, on a hill overlooking Old US 421, near Doc’s home. Maybe that was just Merle chasing his father around the fields, as if to say, “Welcome home, Dad.”
As the full moon rose over Doc’s birthplace Stoney Fork, off the Blue Ridge Parkway, just east of Deep Gap that Sunday evening, birds accompanied each other as their songs seeped through the trees and down into the valleys. And if you listened real closely, you could almost hear a favorite son flatpicking along with lightning fast renditions of “Tennessee Stud,” Shady Grove” and “Tom Dooley.”
So, whenever you drive through Deep Gap on the way to the mountains, remember this small community at the Eastern Continental Divide is famous around the world for one thing — the home of Arthel Lane Watson. Doc, you made all us Tar Heels proud. Thank you for the music so many have loved over such a long time.
Doc and Merle Watson Highway, Deep Gap, NC, 6-3-2012
Flowers Adorn Doc Watson Bronze Statue, Boone, NC, 6-3-2012
The Full Moon Rises Over Doc Watson’s Birthplace at Stoney Fork Overlook, Blue Ridge Parkway, Deep Gap, NC, 6-3-2012