If you search the phrase “Doc Watson” in the Lexis database you will find 13 reported cases in which those two words appear consecutively. However, none of the 13 has anything to do with Arthel Lane “Doc” Watson, the legendary blind guitar player and folksinger, who passed away in Winston-Salem, N.C., last week. Watson managed to avoid the intellectual property rights disputes and other legal issues that have plagued the professional lives of many performers.
Doc Watson was born in 1923 in Deep Gap, North Carolina, a small community just to the east of the town of Boone. He lost his sight at the age of one, and he picked up the nickname “Doc,” as a young performer when stage announcers had trouble pronouncing “Arthel.” (The “Doc” reference was apparently to “Doctor Watson” of Sherlock Holmes fame, although there was a baseball player named Doc Watson who pitched for the Chicago Cubs in the early 1910’s.)
Watson began playing the guitar as a child and began performing publicly as a teenager. Although a successful regional musician as early as the 1940’s, he first received widespread attention in the early 1960’s, when he was “discovered” by the world of folk music. In 1964, he began to perform regularly with his son Merle (b. 1949), a collaboration which lasted for more than two decades until it ended suddenly in 1985, when Merle was killed in a tractor accident on the family farm.
Over the course of his career, Doc, who was also recognized as an outstanding singer of old-time country music, won too many awards to enumerate here, but his honors included seven Grammy Awards over the span of four decades, along with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2004, membership in the Bluegrass Hall of Fame, and an honorary doctorate in music from Boston’s Berklee College of Music.
I have spent much of my academic career studying the way that lawyers are depicted in popular culture, and I have also spent a great deal of time listening to the music of Doc Watson. While many of his recordings were instrumentals, he also recorded dozens of traditional story songs, and in his stage performances, he was a frequent and gifted story-teller.
However, I cannot think of a single Doc Watson recording that makes any reference to lawyers or judges. Read more »