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Doc and Merle, 1983

A Thousand Words
By Jock Lauterer

How do you honor the guitar player who singlehandedly changed the face of American folk and roots music? The photographer goes to his vaults and pulls out a haunting image made back in 1983 during a pilgrimage to Doc Watson’s home in Deep Gap, where the humble wizard of the six-string shared not only his music but also his wisdom. Doc Watson talked like he played the guitar – bass string ringing lickety-split in an arpeggio of notes too fast for any normal mortal to put down. He flared a sentence devoid of commas: “Well I’ll tell you what buddy I cut stovewood tuned pianos took a little charity from the state like most blind folks and did a whole lotta walking and didn’t have no car either,” rest, a breath, and then: “Back in the ’50s son I played with a country swing group – well it put biscuits on the table and overalls on little Merle!” Doc also allowed me to make this image, shot on a foggy Blue Ridge morning, with his son, Merle, at his side. Two years later, Merle would be lost to a tractor accident – and likewise, the negative to this photo, never printed, was lost, only to be discovered 20 years later in a forgotten darkroom drawer. Doc Watson was an American original; we will not see his likes come this way again. (The entire interview with Doc can be found in my anthology of Appalachian portraits, Runnin’ On Rims, published in 1986 by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.)

Do you have an important old photo that you value? Email your photo to jock@email.unc.edu and include the story behind the picture. Because every picture tells a story. And its worth? A thousand words.
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