In the last five days, two men of importance to me have passed away; I thought it was worth talking about them.
“Doc” Watson was an American folk music legend, who was born and made his home throughout his life in Deep Gap, North Carolina. He had eight Grammys (including one for “lifetime achievement”), was in the International Bluegrass Hall of Fame, received the National Medal of Freedom from President Clinton, an honorary doctorate from Berklee School of Music – the list goes on. I was fortunate enough to see him play a couple of times, including this time I was sitting right down front at Merlefest and got this picture:
Which brings me to about the best compliment I ever heard about Doc. Guy Clark, a Texas songwriting legend in his own right, wrote the perfect “lost love” song, called Dublin Blues. In it, he lists some of the wonderful things that he’s seen in his life:
I have seen the David
Seen the Mona Lisa too.
And I have heard Doc Watson
Play Columbus Stockade Blues
I haven’t seen the David statue yet, but if it’s as good as seeing Doc Watson live, I’ll look forward to visiting Florence. Doc was a humble man, the whole musical world loved him, and he left a legacy that will resonate through American music for generations. Thank you, sir.
Not 50 miles north of Deep Gap, near Lansing, North Carolina, lived my cousin, Richard Roe. His father married my grandmother’s eldest sister. He passed away at the age of 81 last week, “had a heart attack riding his tractor down by the creek.”  He was a fixture in the family – he lived in the same community where he was born, right across the creek from my grandparents’ summer cabin. What I always remembered about Richard was how generous he was with, well, everything. Like this:
About ten years ago, I wanted to get a guitar made by another musical legend in the region, Wayne Henderson (who built at least one guitar for Doc Watson). I’d found some wood on the property of my cousin Rose Kirby, and she said I was welcome to it. But we’re talking about rough-cut 8′ walnut and cherry boards – nothing that would fit in my compact rental car. So I just fetched up on Richard’s door and asked could I borrow his pickup truck to make the 20-minute run up to Wayne’s house. He said “sure” and the rest is history. I’ve got the only cherry-wood Wayne Henderson guitar in existence, thanks to my cousin, Richard Roe.
He also acted as the unofficial (and unpaid) property manager for our summer cabin, making sure that it wasn’t burgled or vandalized during the off-season, mowing the grass by our bridge, and so on. Looking after other folks seemed to be a way of life for Richard Roe.
I imagine Richard saw Doc play a time or two, though I doubt they ever met. Which is too bad – I bet they would have hit it off beautifully. They were both shaped deeply by the Blue Ridge Mountains and neither found a reason to live elsewhere during over 80 years on the planet. They probably had a lot in common.
“Great man” comes in a lot of forms, but my definition of it has no difficulty whatsoever encompassing both Doc Watson and Richard Roe. I was proud to be a fan of one and kin to the other. Both enriched my life and I’ll remember them as long as I live.
Edit: Inexcusably, I didn’t provide a link to any of Doc’s music. Here’s one that includes both Doc and the aforementioned Wayne Henderson, picking together.
 If that’s the age at, and way in which I go, that’ll be all right.