I have a friend who sends around email alerts whenever a notable musician passes away. He's super vigilant about it, leading some of us to quip that with him, "the deathwatch never stops." When you open one of his notes, you can't help having a sense of dread -- these are sad bulletins whether the deceased is a mega-star whose work impacted millions (Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys) or a lesser-known but equally impactful session player (Donald "Duck" Dunn). In 20 years covering music for daily newspapers, I wrote lots of obits. It never gets easier, and you're never prepared for the job. No matter who the subject is.
Still, readers of this blog are right to be puzzled by my inconsistent approach to obits and appreciations -- sometimes it's timing, sometimes there's nothing more to say. Sometimes the music says it best. That's the case with the great Doc Watson,who died May 29 at the age of 89. An innovator of the flat-picking guitar style, Watson was incredibly nimble -- whether he's playing a fast folk ramble, a country blues or a hymn, he executes every note with startling clarity -- and palpable spirit. Watson's self-titled 1964 debut, which followed a career-launching performance at the 1963 Newport Folk Festival, remains the best single album for appreciating Watson. Several selections from it are included in a short playlist I put together on Spotify. Enjoy.