One of the most masterful voices in Country Music today, GENE WATSON still sings in the same key as 30 years ago and continues to prove why he is rightly referred to as “The Singer’s Singer”. His powerful voice and multi-octave range allows him to sing some of the most challenging songs with an ease that comes from pure, natural talent as well as from his many years performing onstage.
On his most recent album release, Real.Country.Music., the 72 year- old Watson once again proves he’s the master of classic country music. He remains defiantly country in the face of today’s more pop oriented offerings and is proud his legions of fans rely on him to keep traditional country music alive and well. With that in mind, Gene delved back into history to pull out some overlooked gems in other artist’s catalogs as well as a few of his own songs that are fan favorites but are no longer available. As Gene noted, “Today’s songwriters are not really writing the kind of songs fans of serious classic country are wanting. Traditional country is about life, heartaches, loves and family. I’ve got to relate to the words as something that either happened to me or happened to someone I know. It’s hard for me to wrap my mind around a song that’s simply about riding a tractor or just drinking beer with friends. I want more out of a song. So I went back to some classic songwriters like Kris Kristofferson, Larry Gatlin, Bill Anderson, Keith Whitley, Dean Dillon, Hank Cochran and Dave Kirby – just to name a few of the greats.”
Watson talks about his song choices here track by track:
“ENOUGH FOR YOU” (Kris Kristofferson) “This song was written by Kris Kristofferson and recorded by him but it was an album cut by Billie Jo Spears when I first heard it and I’ve wanted to record for years,” says Watson. “I used to have this song on a Billie Jo Spears 8 track tape. At a crucial point in the lyrics, the 8 track would change over and I never could quite get the words down. By the time I reached out to Billie Jo, even she couldn’t recall the words to the song. So it has taken me awhile to find the lyrics but now seemed like just the right time to record it and it came off so well we made it the first single from the album.”
“WHEN A MAN CAN’T GET A WOMAN OFF HIS MIND” – (Bill Anderson and Sharon Vaughn)
“This is a song I loved and recorded for Compendia Records and unfortunately, the company shut down its country division before I could release it. I then sang it on a TV tribute show for Bill Anderson and the fans have been asking me how they could buy it for years now. This seemed like the perfect time to record it for my fans.”
“HELP ME” ( Larry Gatlin) “This was written and released by the great Larry Gatlin, then a little known singer named Elvis recorded it and the rest is history,” says Watson. “I’ve always loved the words and the melody and knew I would eventually record it. I took it back more to the original version but put my own spin to it and I hope my fans love it as much as I do. I wanted to make it so that the true message of the words would shine through and I hope I captured that. We all have a time in our life when we need to be inspired by words of faith. While I was recording, it was such a special moment when Larry Gatlin surprised us all by stopping by, literally, as I was just about to sing. I guess it was his presence that made me sing it the way I did at that moment because we didn’t change a single thing to it. What you hear is what I sang with Larry listening in the studio. No pressure there!”
“COULDN’T LOVE HAVE PICKED A BETTER PLACE TO DIE” – (Bucky Jones/Curly Putman) “I had this song out in 1997 on Step One Records. It was a song the fans loved but once again, when Step One Records folded, it was impossible to get this song so I re-cut it due to the demand of my fans. It’s a terrific song by Buck Jones and Curly Putman – two great songwriters back in the day.”
“A GIRL I USED TO KNOW” – (David Ball) “Normally well before I get to the studio I know what songs I’d like to do and I’ve got the lyrics and the music in my mind. But on this song, all that went out the window. This David Ball song was actually pitched to me by a great A&R man, the fantastic singer, T. Graham Brown. On the recording day, I had people tracking down David Ball for the lyrics and T’s wife, Shelia, actually personally delivered a copy of the song to the studio. I loved the song but I wasn’t 100% sure it was a song that fit what I typically do but after I had a good listen and ran through it, I knew it was a song I could do and I really, really like how it turned out.”
“BITTER THEY ARE, HARDER THEY FALL” – (Larry Gatlin) “Back when I was on Capitol Records many years ago, I was asked to pick a song to record that I considered one of my favorites and I immediately chose this song written and released by Larry Gatlin. It’s one of my favorites of all time – just an amazing song by a master singer /songwriter. Fast forward many years later and I was at a TV taping for a Country’s Family Reunion show with Larry Gatlin. Larry had often teased that he wanted me to sing this song for him at his birthday party so, lo and behold, unplanned and unrehearsed, Larry called me up to sing this song as a duet with him, rather than do the song he had prepared for himself. I hadn’t sung the song in ten years but fortunately, the words all came back to me as we sang it together while the cameras rolled. What you see now on YouTube and those Country Family Reunion shows is the one take wonder! So from that, fans were constantly asking me for a copy of this song and I thought this was the perfect time to record it again for them. A great song never goes out of style.”
“RAMBLING ROSE” – (Joe Sherman/Noel Sherman) “This came about in a most interesting way. I was booked to do the Larry’s Country Diner TV show and the night before I was at the Grand Ole Opry with Jimmy Capps, who provides the acoustic guitar work for that show. We were just talking about great old songs backstage at the Opry and I sang that with him picking. Everyone around us loved it so much it was decided I should do that song on the TV show. As it always happens, the fans then wanted to buy a copy of it. So once again, this song was recorded by the request of my fans.”
“A BRIDGE THAT JUST WON’T BURN” – (Jim McBride, Roger Murrah) “Many people know that Conway Twitty was something of a mentor to me in the music business and I loved his version of this song but I hadn’t really thought about covering it until the songwriter, Jim McBride, suggested it. I love the lyrics and truly enjoyed recording this one. I was and always will be a fan of Conway, both personally and professionally, so I hope the fans will feel I’ve done this song justice in honor of the man they used to say was “the best friend a song ever had” – Mr. Conway Twitty.”
“ASHES TO ASHES” – (Joe Chambers, Larry Jenkins, Mark Sherrill) “This is another song the fans have requested over the years. It’s one I’ve always loved and so I was happy to re-record just as a personal favor to the best fans in the world.”
“OLD LOVES NEVER DIE” – (Dave Kirby, Warren Robb) “This is just a great little country song. I never had the chance to release it as a single but it could have done well I think. It’s one that like so many others is out of circulation and deserves to be back in the spotlight.”
“SHE NEVER GOT ME OVER YOU” – (Hank Cochran, Dean Dillon, Keith Whitley) “This song was a single for one of the true country greats, Mark Chesnutt. When it was pitched to me, I didn’t know if I was the right person to sing it or not but I knew it was a tremendous song and wanted to try it. This one is actually much harder to sing than you’d think but I think we got it and I’m proud of it.”
“ALL MY TOMORROWS” – (Nat Stuckey) “I always loved this song, written by the great Nat Stuckey. It was one I was working on for Step One Records but when that label went out of business, the song was never finished. It irked me when a company bought the masters from Step One and released this track with no backing vocals, not mixed or anything. I wanted to finish this one as it was meant to be done so I recorded it and it’s still one of my favorites – just finally done right.”
“I’LL FIND IT WHERE I CAN” – (Michael Clark, Zack Van Arsdale) “This is a great up-tempo song that I heard recorded by Jerry Lee Lewis. I’ve had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to record it for years and years but this was finally the right time for it.”
Gene Watson, has endured the ups and downs of the music business to become a country music legend himself. After releasing his very first single in 1962, Watson is still touring constantly in the USA and abroad and remains proud to be known as an icon for “real country”.
Reflecting back on his early life, singing with his seven siblings and parents in Paris, Texas, Watson noted, “I can remember singing as far back as I can remember talking. Singing was something that was not out of the ordinary for me. It wasn’t unique. My whole family sang.”
Even in a musical genre noted for its hard-luck stories, Gene Watson’s stands out. The family drifted from job to job as his itinerant father took logging and crop-picking jobs. “Home” eventually became a converted school bus which his father retrofitted himself and he made the stove that was strapped to the outside of the bus. Gene recalls his first real home was one they moved into when he was around 10 – one that his Dad purchased for $900 and spent many years paying off – but Gene also recalls they had to first remove the hay stored in the home before they moved in. As difficult as this may seem to some, Gene is quick to point out that while they didn’t have money for Christmas gifts and extravagant birthday presents, he never felt poor because no one around him had anything more. He said his childhood was extremely happy and for that he’s grateful to his loving parents and close-knit siblings.
Gene’s love for all things about cars and trucks developed early on as did his love for music. He said “I dreamed more about cars than music. I used to draw pictures of cars when I was at school. When I was about 11 or 12, I got a job picking up scrap metal at a car junkyard and I just thought it was wonderful. I’d get off the school bus at this place and work til late, finding hubcaps and car bumpers. I always thought my life’s work would revolve around cars somehow. Then along about my early teen years, my brother and I were asked to perform for a local show. We got paid some minimum amount but we got a standing ovation and I was hooked on the notion I could get paid for doing a little singing to help pay for a car.”
As a young adult, Gene settled in Houston, TX and began performing in the big Houston nightclubs while working as a paint and body man during the day. He developed a strong local following with his stage act and it was in Houston where he released his debut single on Sun Valley Records. That single, titled “If It Was That Easy” didn’t make any charts but as Gene states “it was just exciting to see my name on a record release and to believe that I was really in the business”. In 1964, the Grand Ole Opry duo, The Wilburn Brothers, took Gene on the road briefly. It was The Wilburn Brothers who brought Gene to Nashville for the very first time and allowed him to sing on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry. Gene notes “I sang the Hank Williams song ‘I Can’t Help It if I’m Still in Love With You’ and got a standing ovation so not knowing what to follow with I just went out and did a gospel standard ‘It Is No Secret What God Can Do’. After that, they carried me down to the Ernest Tubb Record Shop and I got on stage and broadcast on The Midnight Jamboree.”
Then it was back to the Texas honky-tonks and a string of local singles throughout the ‘60s.
In 1974, one of Gene Watson’s small-label singles caught the ear of Capitol Records. He was an auto-body repairman and the featured performer at Houston’s Dynasty nightclub when the label picked up the steamy, sexual waltz “Love in the Hot Afternoon” for national distribution. It became the first of Gene Watson’s two-dozen top-10 hits in early 1975.
“Seems like my career just kind of happened accidentally,” says Gene. “It was purely unintentional. Music was just a sideline. I was going to be playing and singing no matter what line of work I was going to do. I never did really have any high expectations out of the music business. Even today, I never know what to expect from one day to the next.
“But there is one thing: As far as I know, I do have an honest reputation in the music business, and I wouldn’t take nothing for that. If anything in the world means ‘success’ to me, that right there does.”
Gene took no songwriting credit when he re-wrote the lyrics of 1979’s “Pick the Wildwood Flower” to make it an autobiographical song. Songwriter Lawton Williams was so grateful for Gene’s bravura performance of “Farewell Party” that he gave the singer his 1980 BMI Award for it.
Gene Watson quit drinking in 1980 and quit smoking not long after that. He underwent surgery and survived colon cancer in 2000-01. Through it all, he continued to record one critically applauded collection after another. He was inducted into the Texas Music Hall of Fame in 2002 and into the inaugural class of the Houston, Texas Music Hall of Fame in 2013.
Asked why he is still in such high demand after all these years, Watson reflected “I think a lot of it is because there’s not too much of what I do around anymore. I think there is still a hunger out there for traditional country music. So I’d like to stay out there as long as I’m able to do the job and do it well.
“Every time I step out on that stage and see that audience, it’s a new beginning. Even though I’ve sung these songs millions of times, I look at each one like it’s brand new to me. Every night, I try to deliver that song the best that I can.
“Being called a ‘Singer’s Singer’ humbles me. It’s flattering, but what I do is just what I do. The good Lord just gave me the voice.”