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Merle Watson's death (1949-1985)

20 Jul 00 - 04:17 AM (#261422)
Subject: Merle Watson's death
From: GUEST,

I just looked at a video called "Doc Watsons Guitar" (great!) and it was devoted to the late Merle Watson. When and how did Merle Watson die?


20 Jul 00 - 04:22 AM (#261423)
Subject: RE: Merle Watson's death
From: Lepus Rex

Murray, I read that Merle died in 1985 in a tractor accident, on his farm.

---Lepus Rex

20 Jul 00 - 07:16 AM (#261447)
Subject: RE: Merle Watson's death
From: Willie-O

It was a couple of years later than that. Merle Watson was a great guitarist, particularly as a finger-picker and slide player, and Doc has maintained that his (Merle's) playing never got the recognition it deserved. Merle had the double handicaps of being "And Merle Watson"--Doc's long shadow--and substance abuse problems. I don't know if the latter contributed to his accidental death, but during much of the 80's Merle wasn't in shape to tour with Doc, who would take Sam Bush or others with him instead.

A tragic loss for Doc, and for all of us.


20 Jul 00 - 08:12 AM (#261459)
Subject: RE: Merle Watson's death
From: GUEST,

I heard a snatch of his playing somewhere. It was Merle Travis type finger picking and he was really good. There is a video featuring him offered by Homespun or Vestapol. I think the former.


20 Jul 00 - 08:15 AM (#261462)
Subject: RE: Merle Watson's death
From: Dharmabum

I was lucky enough to see him a number of times before his death. Eddy Merle Watson died October 23 1985 when his tractor rolled over on a steep hillside near his home in Caldwell County N.C. There's a festival held in his memory every year on the campus of Wilkes community colage in Wilkesboro N.C. The only negative thing I could possibly say about this fest is there's more good music than you could digest in one weekend.


20 Jul 00 - 08:21 AM (#261465)
Subject: RE: Merle Watson's death
From: GUEST,

Actually, the video I saw was taken during one of these fests--early 1990s, I think.


20 Jul 00 - 08:33 AM (#261470)
Subject: RE: Merle Watson's death
From: Dharmabum

I remember watching him at Philly folk fest using a 15/16" deepwell socket for a slide. He didn't talk much but he sure could play that guitar!


20 Jul 00 - 09:35 AM (#261503)
Subject: RE: Merle Watson's death
From: Gary T

I recall hearing Doc say that he named his son after Merle Travis. I gather that Doc was VERY heartbroken over losing his son, and I wouldn't doubt that it still pains him some. Some aspects of life just suck.

Nevertheless, Doc plugs along, still playing wonderful music for us to enjoy. I just heard of Merlefest this year (I believe it was from you, Dharmabum), and plan on attending next year. The silver lining to the cloud, perhaps.

20 Jul 00 - 08:04 PM (#261869)
Subject: RE: Merle Watson's death
From: Bill D

at Winfield one year, the audience was hooting and chanting "sing, Merle...let Merle sing"....and Doc leaned over to the mic and said something to the effect of 'that's not gonna happen'...and then added..."tell you the truth, I don't believe the boy can sing" ...Merle sat and looked embarrassed. Made me uncomfortable. But Merle sure could play...

20 Jul 00 - 09:41 PM (#261911)
Subject: RE: Merle Watson's death
From: Mudjack

Without recalling the source, I remember a Doc Watson quote as:" I not only lost my son, but lost my best friend"
And yes, the man could pick that guitar.

20 Jul 00 - 11:56 PM (#261953)
Subject: RE: Merle Watson's death
From: jofield

Yes, very hard luck. I am a city biy for sure, but it is my understanding that farm tractor accidents are not all that rare. I think Doc revered Merle Travis -- the way we all revere Doc.

James, in Bristol, RI

21 Jul 00 - 11:39 AM (#262159)
Subject: RE: Merle Watson's death
From: Philj200

Public Radio plays a conversation between Merle Travis and Doc Watson from time to time. From the tone of voice these great men are using, it's easy to hear the respect they have for each other.

I got the impression that they didn't know each other oersonally. And may have just met. As they chatted on mutual influences and their lives, songs they both play and love, Doc says...very know I named my son after you.

They way I remember Merle answering was after a long pause he said something along the lines of, "then we both have someone to be proud of."

21 Jul 00 - 12:03 PM (#262175)
Subject: RE: Merle Watson's death
From: Art Thieme

On the album "Will The Circle Be Unbroken"--the first one--Doc and Merle Travis are actually meeting for the first time and Merle says, either out of nervousness or because he truly didn't know who he was meeting, "I sure am glad to finally meet Doc HOPKINS."

Doc Hopkins was a star of the old WLS BARN DANCE radio show out of Chicago. Had a voice very much like Bradley Kinkaid's. The WLS BARN DANCE preceeded the Grand Ole Opry by a few years. Mr. Hopkins was living and singing around Chicago into the early 70s---maybe later. He was a big influence on Stephen Wade--tha pretty good banjo frailer who did some very popular 1-man shows (Banjo Dancing & others)

Art Thieme

21 Jul 00 - 01:11 PM (#262224)
Subject: RE: Merle Watson's death
From: wysiwyg

The several times I saw them play, I never saw Merle embarrassed. I saw pure love and joy pouring out of him. He seemed to take his dad with a grain of salt, and loved him while mugging onstage to let us all know he knew his dad was human. He and the bass player would repay Doc's comments about them being his eyes (sincerely given), with awful faces making us all laugh, and Doc would sit there, blind, knowing they were having one on him, and being fine with it.

And the best musician I have ever seen, Merel seemed. I would just hold my breath and watch. I had come because I had heard Doc's records and many people who had learned their music off them. But I came back for Merle. And I thought we would all get to see him mature and ripen in his own way, as Doc had, and I was curious how Merle would be, old.

That boy didn't play music. He WAS music, like you and I are flesh and blood and water.

I am sure he still is.


21 Jul 00 - 10:06 PM (#262494)
Subject: RE: Merle Watson's death
From: GUEST,Lyle

Well, the tractor accident is only part of it. Actually, he was severly injured in a woodworking accident, and was riding a lawnmower to get help when he and the tractor were involved in an accident. Only one or two people (at most) know the full story, and that (IMHO) is enough.

Again in my opinion, I think the greatest thing he (learned?) (inherited?) from his dad was not the ability to PLAY but the ability to INTERPRET his music.


22 Jul 00 - 04:04 PM (#262742)
Subject: RE: Merle Watson's death
From: Pontiac Joe

I've seen Doc and Merle at the Philly folk fest and couldn't wait for the famous words from Doc. " Take it Merle "


23 Jul 00 - 07:31 AM (#262969)
Subject: RE: Merle Watson's death
From: GUEST,

Glad to see you back Art. I hope the Mayo survived your visit!


23 Jul 00 - 08:00 AM (#262977)
Subject: RE: Merle Watson's death
From: gillymor

So sad about Merle. He added so much to Doc's music.
Sam McGee the great fingerpicker of Buckdancers' Choice fame supposedly met a similar fate when he suffered a heart attack while driving his tractor, fell off and was run over repeatedly as the wheel had locked. How true this is I can't say.
Yeah Art, I remember Banjo Dancing. It had a long run in D.C in a small room at the Arena Stage. A great show. I wonder what Stephen Wade is up to now?


23 Jul 00 - 11:34 AM (#263028)
Subject: RE: Merle Watson's death
From: Art Thieme

Stephen (Steve) Wade selected and wrote great notes for the recent re-issue on CD of grand excerpts from the Library Of Congress Archive Of Folksong field recordings. We all have our favorites from all the wonderful LPs the Library issued from it's collected material, but these are some of the best (if it could be possible to choose "the best"). It's enough to say that Steve made some great choices. Vera Hall's voice from Livngston, Alabama is there in all her glory. Pete Steele's banjo and Jess Morris's sublime Goodbye, Old Paint (it has to be heard to be believed. It is only the most emotional fiddle-voice duet I have ever heard). But I hope for subsequent issues that ought to include one of my favorite ballad singers----Emery DeNoyer--the blind balladeer of the lumber camps who entertained the shantyboys with heroic tales out of their own lives. But Bodie Sturdevant is here singing the incandescent Ain't No Grave Can Hold My Body Down. Blood Stained Banders(Banners) done by Jimmy Strothers at Cummins State Farm Prison. The Avondale Mine Disaster (John Quinn). Last I'll mention Charlie Butler's beautiful singing of Diamond Jo -------- (I spell this "Jo" instead of "Joe" with my tongue-in-cheek because my gut feeling has always told me that the song was the lament of a prisoner to a steamboat named the Diamond Jo which was actually named after it's builder, Diamond Jo Reynolds, who built those vessels on the Mississippi River for many years. One of his boats was actually named after his --THE DIAMOND JO. Also, every boat he built had a diamond on the side <> with the letters "JO" in the middle. But I've no "actual" proof of my assertion of these facts. Steve Wade knew of my theories and chose not to use them in his notes.

But I digress. sorry! ;-)

Stephen wade, now in Hyattsville, MD, continues his endeavors and folkloristic delvings. He has an instrumental CD out now where he plays various unique 5-string banjos behind some of his favorite singers.

The Library Of Congress collection is Rounder CD 1500
Steves own CD is called Dancing In The Parlor and is on County Records---P.O. Box 191---Floyd, VA--24091

Art Thieme

23 Jul 00 - 11:37 AM (#263030)
Subject: RE: Merle Watson's death
From: Art Thieme

I did NOT mean to underline all that stuff. SORRY!


23 Jul 00 - 12:10 PM (#263050)
Subject: RE: Merle Watson's death
From: Peter T.

Thanks Art -- you should copy this as a separate Review thread. Interesting that much more of Alan Lomax's stuff is also now all flooding out on CD. I read something in the New York Times recently expressing the belief (or maybe the pious hope) that with these releases and the latest volume of Harry Smith's Anthology, maybe this would spark something interesting like the earlier releases the first time around.
yours, Peter T.

04 Jan 19 - 06:41 AM (#3969752)
Subject: RE: Merle Watson's death
From: Dave Hanson

I think it was on the record, ' Will The Circle Be Unbroken ' Doc is talking to Mere Travis and tells hime he named his son after him hoping some of that great guitar playing would rub off ' Mere replied ' listen who's talking '

Dave H