WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. —
You could hear the mountains of North Carolina in Doc Watson's music. The rush of a mountain stream, the steady creak of a mule in leather harness plowing rows in topsoil and the echoes of ancient sounds made by a vanishing people were an intrinsic part of the folk musician's powerful, homespun sound.
It took Watson decades to make a name for himself outside the world of Deep Gap, N.C. Once he did, he ignited the imaginations of countless guitar players who learned the possibilities of the instrument from the humble picker who never quite went out of style. From the folk revival of the 1960s to the Americana movement of the 21st century, Watson remained a constant source of inspiration and a treasured touchstone before his death Tuesday at age 89.
Blind from the age of 1, Watson was left to listen to the world around him and it was as if he heard things differently from others. Though he knew how to play the banjo and harmonica from an early age, he came to favor the guitar. His flat-picking style helped translate the fiddle- and mandolin-dominated music of his forebears for an audience of younger listeners who were open to the tales that had echoed off the mountains for generations, and to the new lead role for the guitar.
"Overall, Doc will be remembered as one of America's greatest folk musicians. I would say he's one of America's greatest musicians," said David Holt, a longtime friend and collaborator who compared Watson to Lead Belly, Bill Monroe, Muddy Waters and Earl Scruggs.
Like those pioneering players, Watson took a regional sound and made it into something larger, a piece of American culture that reverberates for decades after the notes are first played.
"He had a great way of presenting traditional songs and making them accessible to a modern audience," Holt said. "Not just accessible, but truly engaging."
Watson died at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, where he was hospitalized recently after falling at his home in Deep Gap, 100 miles northwest of Charlotte. He underwent abdominal surgery while in the hospital and had been in critical condition for several days.
Touched and toughened by tragedy several times in life, Watson had proven his mettle repeatedly. Singer Ricky Skaggs called Watson "an old ancient warrior."
"He prepared all of us to carry this on," Skaggs said. "He knew he wouldn't last forever. He did his best to carry the old mountain sounds to this generation."
Watson's simple, unadorned voice conveyed an unexpected amount of emotion, but it was his guitar playing that always amazed - and intimidated. Countless guitarists have tried to emulate Watson's renditions of songs such as "Tennessee Stud," "Shady Grove" and "Deep River Blues."
Mandolin player Sam Bush remembers feeling that way when he first sat down next to "the godfather of all flatpickers" in 1974.
"But Doc puts you at ease about that kind of stuff," Bush said. "I never met a more generous kind of musician. He is more about the musical communication than showing off with hot licks. ... He seems to always know what notes to play. They're always the perfect notes. He helped me learn the space between the notes is as valuable as the ones you play."
Arthel "Doc" Watson was born March 3, 1923, and lost his eyesight when he developed an eye infection that was worsened by a congenital vascular disorder, according to a website for Merlefest, the annual musical gathering named for his late son Merle.
He came from a musical family. His father was active in the church choir and played banjo and his mother sang secular and religious songs, according to a statement from Folklore Productions, his management company since 1964.
Watson learned a few guitar chords while attending the North Carolina Morehead School for the Blind in Raleigh, and his father helped him buy a Stella guitar for $12.
"My real interest in music was the old 78 records and the sound of the music," Doc Watson is quoted as saying on the website. "I loved it and began to realize that one of the main sounds on those old records I loved was the guitar."
The wavy-haired Watson got his musical start in 1953, playing electric lead guitar in a country-and-western swing band. His road to fame began in 1960 when Ralph Rinzler, a musician who also managed Bill Monroe, discovered Watson in North Carolina. That led Watson to the Newport Folk Festival in 1963 and his first recording contract a year later. He went on to record 60 albums, and wowed fans ranging from `60s hippies to those who loved traditional country and folk music.
Seven of his albums won Grammy awards; his eighth Grammy was a lifetime achievement award in 2004. He also received the National Medal of the Arts from President Bill Clinton in 1997.
Guitarist Pete Huttlinger of Nashville, Tenn., said Watson made every song his own, regardless of its age.
"He's one of those lucky guys," said Huttlinger, who studied Watson's methods when he first picked up a guitar. "When he plays something, he puts his stamp on it - it's Doc Watson."
Merle began recording and touring with him in 1964. But Merle Watson died at age 36 in a 1985 tractor accident, sending his father into deep grief and making him consider retirement. Instead, he kept playing and started Merlefest, an annual musical event in Wilkesboro, N.C., that raises money for a community college there and celebrates "traditional plus" music.
"When Merle and I started out we called our music `traditional plus,' meaning the traditional music of the Appalachian region plus whatever other styles we were in the mood to play," Doc Watson is quoted as saying on the festival's website. "Since the beginning, the people of the college and I have agreed that the music of MerleFest is `traditional plus.'"
Watson never let his blindness hold him back musically or at home. He rose from playing for tips to starring at Carnegie Hall.
And he was just as proficient at home. Joe Newberry, a musician and spokesman for the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, remembered once when his wife called the Watson home. Rosa Lee Watson, Watson's wife since 1947, said her husband was on the roof, replacing shingles. His daughter Nancy Watson said her father built the family's utility shed.
It's that same kind of self-sufficiency that once led him to refuse his government disability check.
"He basically started making enough money performing - couple of hundred dollars a week," Holt said. "So he went to the services for the blind and said he was making enough money to support his family and they should take what they were giving him and give it to somebody who needed it more."
In 2011, a life-size statue of Watson was dedicated in Boone, N.C. At Watson's request the inscription read, "Just One of the People," echoing a statement he'd once made to Holt about how he'd like to be remembered.
"Just as a good ol' down-to-earth boy that didn't think he was perfect and that loved music," Watson said. "And I'd like to leave quite a few friends behind and I hope I will. Other than that, I don't want nobody putting me on a pedestal when I leave here. I'm just one of the people ... just me."
Thursday, May 31, 2012
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. —
Saturday, November 5, 2011
Born January 14, 1919 in Albany New York, Rooney began his journalism career in the U.S. Army, where he wrote for the Stars & Stripes newspaper during World War II. He would join CBS in 1949 as a writer for a number of entertainment programs, including “Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts.” He wrote his first essay–a precursor to the sorts of essays he would write for “60 Minutes”–in 1964.
Rooney partnered with CBS correspondent Harry Reasoner to write and produce a number of commentaries from 1964-1968, and served as a producer on the first few seasons of “60 Minutes.” His “A Few Minutes with Andy Rooney” segment became a regular feature in 1978, and it remained a staple of the program until ending it in September.
Rooney has written a regular newspaper column for Tribune starting in 1979, and has also written 16 books. He received a lifetime achievement Emmy Ward from the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences in 2003.
In his final regular “60 Minutes” appearance, Rooney reflected on his career, and as he so often did in his commentaries, he explained his thoughts in a straightforward, concise manner.
“I’ve done a lot of complaining here, but of all the things I’ve complained about, I can’t complain about my life,” Rooney said.
He is survived by his four children, as well as his five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. His children include ABC News correspondent Brian Rooney and WGBH and former “ABC World News” EP Emily Rooney, and one of his grandchildren, Justin Fishel, is the Pentagon producer for Fox News Channel.
Tuesday, October 4, 2011
Helicopter Crashes Into The East River At 34th Street; Five Aboard
NEW YORK (AP) — A helicopter with five people aboard crashed into New York City's East River on Tuesday afternoon after taking off from a launch pad on the riverbank, killing one and seriously injuring at least two.
The pilot and three others were pulled alive from the water by rescue crews shortly after the chopper went down. The body of a woman also on the Bell 206 helicopter, which was submerged in the murky water, was recovered later, police spokesman Paul Browne said.
The private chopper went into the river off 34th Street in midtown Manhattan. It's unclear what happened, but witnesses said it was sputtering and appeared to be in some type of mechanical distress.
A massive rescue effort had been under way with a dozen boats and divers in the cold, grey water before the woman's body was recovered.
The conditions of those who were rescued weren't immediately available. The fire department said at least two people were taken to area hospitals in serious condition.
An FDNY official tells the New York Times:
"One is in cardiac arrests and one is in respiratory arrest," said James Long, a department spokesman.
A man was in "serious condition" at New York University Langone Medical Center.
A second man, who Mr. Long said is the pilot, is still being treated at the location of the crash and is conscious, said Mr. Long.
ABC News reports that the passengers were all tourists from the United Kingdom.
Joy Garnett and her husband were on the dock waiting to take the East River ferry to Brooklyn when they heard the blades of a helicopter and saw it start to take off from the nearby helipad. She said she saw it do "a funny curlicue."
"I thought, `Is that some daredevil move?'" she said. "But it was obviously out of control. The body spun around at least two or three times, and then it went down."
She said the chopper had lifted about 25 feet off the ground before it dropped into the water without much of a splash. It flipped over, and the blades were sticking up out of the river. She said people on the dock started throwing in life jackets and buoys. Two people came up out of the waves.
"It didn't make much noise," she said. "It was just a splash and sunk."
The Bell 206 Jet Ranger (pictured below) is one of the world's most popular helicopter models and was first flown in January 1966. They are light and highly maneuverable, making them popular with television stations and air taxi companies. A new one costs between $700,000 and $1.2 million.
On Aug. 8, 2009 a small plane collided with a helicopter over the Hudson River, on the other side of Manhattan, killing nine people, including five Italian tourists. A government safety panel found that an air traffic controller who was on a personal phone call had contributed to the accident.
The Federal Aviation Administration changed its rules for aircraft flying over New York City's rivers after that collision. Pilots must call out their positions on the radio and obey a 161 mph speed limit. Before the changes, such radio calls were optional.
Earlier that year, an Airbus 320 airliner landed in the Hudson River after hitting birds and losing both engines shortly after taking off from LaGuardia Airport. The flight, U.S. Airways Flight 1549, became known as the Miracle on the Hudson plane.
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Monday, September 26, 2011
Gospel Legend Dies In Chicago At 73
CHICAGO — Jessy Dixon, a singer and songwriter who introduced his energetic style of gospel music to wider audiences by serving as pop singer Paul Simon's opening act, died Monday. He was 73.
Miriam Dixon said her brother died Monday morning at his Chicago home. She said he had been sick but declined to provide additional details.
During a more than 50-year career, Dixon wrote songs for several popular singers, including jazz and rhythm and blues singer Randy Crawford. He later wrote songs performed by Cher, Diana Ross, Natalie Cole and Amy Grant.
But it was for his gospel singing – religious music that combined the rhythmic beat of blues, jazz and soul – that Dixon first gained attention. It was during an appearance at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1972 with his Jessy Dixon Singers that Dixon first came to Simon's attention. For the next eight years, Dixon toured with the pop icon, collaborating on Simon's `Live Rhymin' Simon' and `Still Crazy' albums.
Dixon also played keyboard with Earth Wind and Fire and guitarist Phillip Upchurch.
Miriam Dixon said her brother
Dixon, who began studying music at age 5, aspired to be classical pianist but told The Associated Press in a 1997 interview that he always knew his talent was destined for use in the church.
Born March 12, 1938, in San Antonio, Dixon's professional compass was set by gospel music legend James Cleveland, who heard Dixon's teen group perform at a theatre in the south Texas city. Dixon said Cleveland liked the group, but he liked Dixon more and persuaded him to move to Chicago to join his group, the Gospel Chimes, as both a singer and pianist.
Chicago's South Side was the place to be for a gospel musician, especially in the early 1960s.
"Going to church was like going to school," Dixon said. At church, he heard the likes of Mahalia Jackson and blues pioneer Thomas A. Dorsey, who is credited with creating modern gospel singing.
"Reading his (Dorsey's) music and studying it, he was the one who wrote for Tennessee Ernie Ford, Elvis Presley and Pat Boone," Dixon said. "All these people were singing his music and were making it commercial."
Dixon credited the creativity of artists like percussionist Maurice White and blues singer Willie Dixon, no relation, inspired him to compose. He started with choral music for Chicago's Thompson Community Singers, for which he sat at the keyboards. Several of his early songs have become classics, sung in churches across America, including: "Sit At His Feet and be Blessed," "These Old Heavy Burdens" and "I Love to Praise His Name."
His more recent compositions gained him even wider acceptance. Dixon's "I Am Redeemed," released in 1993, lingered on Billboard magazine's gospel chart for more than five years.
After his stint with Simon ended, Dixon rode a wave of increased gospel music interest during the 1980s to build a following in Europe.
During his 1997 interview, Dixon noted that when he first began touring on his own outside the United States in the 1980s, the small audiences didn't have much respect for gospel as religious expression.
"At first it was viewed as entertainment," he said. "But now when I go, they ask me to share my faith as a Christian."
In the United States, Dixon was a long-time fixture on composer and singer Bill Gaither's Gospel Series, video concert broadcast on religious oriented cable television stations.
During his career, Dixon was able to produce five gold records and garner several Grammy nominations.
Dixon, is survived by a brother and sister.
Sunday, September 25, 2011
Saturday, September 24, 2011
oday’s Florida straw poll results are finally in– and whatever it is they mean for the candidates, well, it isn’t entirely clear. The winner by a 22% margin is former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain, trailed Rick Perry and Mitt Romney, only divided by one percentage point.
Cain, who gave one of the most well-received speeches at the event and came off a solid performance at Thursday’s Republican debate, received 37% of the vote at the CPACFL conference, with Perry, at 15%, the closest one behind. Romney received 14% of the vote, followed by Rick Santorum at 11%, Rep. Ron Paul at 10%, Newt Gingrich at 8%, Jon Huntsman at 2%, and rounding out the rear Rep. Michele Bachmann at 1%.
Over on Fox News, Carl Cameron declared the results a “clear message” for Perry that his debate performance did not go over so well, and that his supporters were willing to default to Cain and not Romney. For Cain himself, Cameron argued, it was a “huge, huge win” in terms of fundraising and name recognition. The news is also tremendously upsetting for the winner of the Iowa straw poll, Rep. Bachmann, given that she came in behind Huntsman.
For a full appreciation of the results, however, one must take into account that Romney, Bachmann, and New Mexico governor Gary Johnson were not on the ballot, and that Huntsman, Perry, and Paul were not at the event to campaign whatsoever.