Blind since the age of one, he played amazing sounds for most of his life, first on the harmonica, then on the fretless banjo his father gave him when he was eleven, hoping it might make it easier for his son to make a living later on. He was a natural musician - I'm sure he could have played rubber bands and made them sound great.
It's astonishing that he wasn't discovered until 1960, by which time he was thirty-seven. Born into a different time when music was played for enjoyment, at home with the family, long before it became de rigeur for every musician who could strum three chords to be seeking a record deal. Doc's pedigree is firmly rooted in the pre-recording era of traditional American folk music - his playing was innovative and ever-evolving, but his roots always shone through.
Deep river Blues was one of the first clawhammer pieces I learned and I must have spent hours honing that tune. Sadly it never sounded a fraction as good as Doc's version - he certainly knew how to swing with a capital S. The sheer volume of fluent notes that gushed from his guitar were astonishing and it's hard to imagine sometimes how he did it - pure virtuosity! I love Bob Dylan's description of his playing as like water running.
Doc leaves a very large musical hole to fill - his footprint is massive. Another irreplaceable trailblazer gone from the planet :( Fullsomely good obit in The Guardian.
PS fantastic essay on John Frum's Galactic Gazette.