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I began this blog in order to share my experiences learning instrument building from my dad, but along with those stories I look forward to sharing my memories of growing up with two busy, musically inclined parents as well as my current experiences stepping out on my own as a female luthier promoting environmental sustainability in her instruments while working to alter gender stereotypes in a male dominated field. If you'd like to use quotes from this blog for interviews or in your own work, please contact me first! (email is henderson.elizabethj@gmail.com)

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Goodbye, Doc

It's funny, I feel like I am supposed to think people like my dad, Eddie Pennington, and Doc Watson are super talented and be in awe of their musical talent, but I am mostly just in awe of them as folks who have been good to me my whole life.

Last week, my dad and I were working alone in the shop. I was painstakingly shaping the braces I had just glued onto the top of the guitar I was working on. I tapped, listened for a C note, shaved a little more wood off with my chisel, tapped again and listened again. After several tries I was feeling satisfied, thinking ahead to the day when Doc Watson would play it and say that it had a lovely clear tone. Then the phone rang. I saw that it was Gerald, one of my dad's good friends, so I answered it. "I guess you heard about Doc, right?" He asked after a few seconds of small talk. I felt that spurt of adrenaline that shoots through you when something exciting or scary is on the horizon and you know it is coming. "...No." I said, pretty sure I didn't want to know what he was going to say next. And I was correct, I didn't. After a lengthy surgery he is still in critical condition after an impacted colon threatened his life.

My heart sank as the shop phone kept ringing with updates on Doc's condition. We became apprehensive to answer the phone, worried that worse news would be shared after we did. He has hung on for days and days, but as I sat writing this entry I got the news that he has passed away. This just reminds me of the person he is, the person I grew up knowing. I know people are going to miss his music, and his talent, and what he has meant to the bluegrass community, but I am most sad to lose his honesty and genuine kindness.

When I was about six years old, I remember my dad played a show with Doc. I don't remember the venue, but I remember the floors-they were vast and wooden. Lots of dancing space, and running-wild space. Those things are very important to a six year old the likes of me. Anyway, after the show that I am sure I didn't listen to, I remember my dad asking, "Jayne? Do you remember Doc? He is my friend." I remember him being kind of intimidating, because he couldn't see me and I wasn't sure where to stand so his face was tilted my way. He was very nice to me though, and gave me a hug before we left. As we were walking away, my dad said, "Do you know how lucky you are? Doc doesn't give hugs to just anybody." I didn't know. I just knew he was important, because there were a lot of folks around him all the time, and that he smiled at me and hugged me.

I remember moments like that, where he showed kindness to a rowdy young'un (borrowed from my dad's vocabulary) or when I handed him the body of my second guitar and he praised it highly, running his hands over the unfinished wood and saying that it "looks just beautiful". I love that when I handed him my finished fourth guitar to be tested, he said, "Well, you know I'll tell you the truth!" But the comments he provided were all ones that I probably don't really deserve. He is just my friend. He can play beautifully and I will miss that, but the stories he shared when it was jus the two of us sitting alone in the shop are what I will cherish most.
My favorite picture I took of Doc.

Daddy, Doc, and me


  1. A lovely tribute. I am sorry for your loss.

  2. I had heard he was in the hospital, but didn't know he had passed. What a remarkable and inspiring life.

  3. Beutiful memories. Thank you for sharing.

    jim bourey

  4. Very Touching, my heart is heavy too.

  5. God's blessed you to know such a man Elle, please except my condolences for the loss.

  6. You could hear the greatness of his heart in the music that he played and the stories that he told. We will all miss him.

  7. Thank you, Elle Jayne. My condolences to you and Wayne.