Farewell to a Friend

Doc Watson, my hero, died on May 29, 2012. This is the letter I wrote to him a few years ago. It’s the first and only “fan letter” I’ve ever sent to anyone, most likely the last. I didn’t include this photo, but thought it appropriate to show me in 1970 or so, pickin’ and grinnin’.

September 11, 2008

Dear Doc,

I hope this letter finds you in good spirits and that you are getting stronger every day.

It has taken a while to find out how to reach you and thank you! The music you and Merle created has been an inspiration to me since 1968. This is a story about how you reached one of your millions of fans.

I was just learning guitar at age 13 – bored to tears with the lessons I was taking in traditional classical style. One day a friend taught me a little finger-picking lick – the one Peter Paul and Mary used for A-Soulin’ and it was like a new world opened up. I quit the lessons and began to seek out the kind of music I longed to play.

I learned about your first record and ran out and bought it. I had a little turntable in my room and about wore out that poor thing listening to Deep River Blues, Doc’s Guitar, Black Mountain Rag, Omie Wise and all the rest. I played them over and over, on slow speed (I recently learned many fans did the same thing), and tried to learn them all. I bought more of your records, especially relating to the concert double-album where the lady in the audience yells, “Sing something, Merle!” because singing was also something I did not like to do.

I hooked up with more people who loved your music. They took me to bluegrass festivals in the area and I got to jam with people or just watch, listen and learn. At that point, I believe the music was probably keeping me out of trouble. To this day I’ve never met a friendlier, kinder bunch of people than those families and friends who attended the festivals and kept a watch out for us kids wandering about.

But I soon went to college, quit after a year (still too impatient for people to teach me anything) and eventually moved to Oregon. I left behind all those friends I played with and eventually stopped playing guitar. I tried playing by myself for a while but it just wasn’t the same. And I was too shy to seek out anyone in the area who might want to jam.

Though I did play once in a while, a few years ago I started up again in earnest. My little 1967 Martin 016NY had always been sitting on its stand in the living room and it was like a reunion with an old friend. I joked that I was finding out what all she remembered. I bought your Homespun video and finally saw you play in “person” and was amazed. Where I had learned to fingerpick with thumb and three fingers, classical style, here you were using thumb and ONE finger! I tried it, then decided maybe middle finger needed to be there too. That worked, and the songs I had learned years ago came more easily than ever.

Now in winter when it’s dark early and there is no garden to tend, I play. I bought a 5-string banjo and am trying to learn that now. In fact I’m just today trying to hunt down the tab for Merle’s version of Frosty Morn. I love the way he played it.

When I started making time for music again, I stopped saying, “I don’t have time.” Instead I say, “I haven’t made the time.” I think when we say that, we realize it’s wise to make the time while we can for the things we love to do and the people we love to be with. That is why I am writing to you today, as I finally made the time to thank you for all of your fine music, your beautiful voice, and for continuing on to help keep folk music going strong and moving in new directions. But mostly I want to thank you for adding so much joy to my life.

With all best wishes,
Your appreciative admirer for 40 years,
Robin Koontz

8 Comments Add yours

  1. Alia says:

    Are we related? My grandmother was Jean Koontz Dickinson and she’s originally from Page County, VA.

    1. Robin Koontz says:

      Our family is from the Frederick, MD area, but originated in PA (Pennsylvania Deutch). Lots of Koontz families in that area! I don’t know of a Jean.

  2. Robin, this is such a beautiful letter and touching tribute. I think it is wonderful that you took the time to share this with your hero, and that you took the time to share it with your own fans. I’m so glad I took the time to read this.

    1. Robin Koontz says:

      Thanks Dawn, and everyone.

    2. K.T. Lund says:

      I do judge your book by its cover. It’s creative and beautiful! Nice to hear from you and hope all continues to go well. Best for a sparpungent fall and Thanksgiving. I miss you. K.T. Lund

  3. Shez says:

    Always a nice thing to remember: Thank the ones we love and/or appreciate and how they enriched our lives, while they are still alive and can enjoy the praise.

  4. Denise lynch says:

    The letter was great brought a tear to my eye, thank you for sharing!

  5. Carol Riggs says:

    What a great letter. I love bluegrass music! 🙂

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