Though he never reached the mainstream fame of his famous father, Doc, Merle Watson enjoyed a distinguished, successful 21-year career. Merle Watson was born in February of 1949 in the Watson family's home state of North Carolina. After fighting off a nasty case of Polio as a six-year-old, he picked up a guitar at age 14 and quickly showed that the musical apple had not fallen far from the tree. Adopting the flatpicking style—a technique that preferred a single guitar pick to fingerstyle (utilized by most folk guitarists)—Merle Watson excelled quickly and performed with his father on the west coast in the summer of '64. He cut his first album with his dad that November, titled simply Doc Watson and Son.
Merle had a daughter and a son before his 20th birthday and continued to build a successful career through the '70s and '80s. He released many classic albums with his father, such as 1983's Doc & Merle Watson's Guitar Album, 1985's Pickin' The Blues, and 1974's Two Days in November.
Sadly, Merle Watson's life was cut tragically short, a few hours past midnight on October 22, 1985. After having trouble sleeping, Watson decided to trim some paneling that was made out of beech wood in his basement. The saw caught on a fault in the wood, and a piece splintered off into his right arm. He jumped in his tractor to get help, fearful that the injury would lead to his right arm being amputated. After getting assistance at a neighbor's house, the Watson headed home, however, while driving down his neighbor's steep driveway, his breaks locked up, and he fell forward off the tractor, which subsequently landed on him. One of folk's greatest musicians was dead before his 40th birthday.
Though he is gone, Merle Watson's legacy lives on. In 1987, Wilkes Community College of Wilkesboro, North Carolina held the first annual MerleFest, a tribute and celebration of the life, sound, and passion of Merle Watson. Since then, the event has grown every year, and folks from all over the world attend. It is a fitting testament to a wonderful musician and a man gone too soon.