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Thursday, Mar. 5, 2015

Watson carries on the tradition

Posted Thursday, October 4, 2012, at 2:12 AM

Country music artist Gene Watson has been a part of the national music scene since the mid-1970's and now he has a new album highlighting some of his greatest songs. Above, Watson delivers another solid performance recently at the Boot City Opry near Farmersburg. (Donna Curl).
Before this begins let me say that sometimes you just have to step out of your element and cover some new ground.

So with that in mind, here goes.

One of traditional country music's stalwarts graced the stage of the Boot City Opry near Farmersburg recently and for just one night -- I along with many other traditional country fans -- was given a chance to do more than just take a stroll down memory lane.

Paris, Texas native Gene Watson has been among the best traditional country singers since he finally broke through in the mid-70s.

Watson's solid country verses have a special place in the heart of most traditional country fans.

Why does he keep referring to "traditional country" you ask?

Well, there are many reasons, none is more obvious than when you listen to the watered down rock and roll that has been spewed from country music radio and record companies for many years now.

But thanks to Watson's latest endeavor, fans of the true sounds of country music have once again been given a treat.

"I'm real proud of it," Watson said prior to his appearance. "It was quite an undertaking to go into the studio and produce it."

The album, which is titled simply, The Best of the Best, features 25 of Watson's greatest recordings. It includes the songs that made Gene Watson a household name among country fans when he finally broke into the national realm.

Songs like Fourteen Carat Mind, Paper Rosie, Cowboys Don't Get Lucky All the Time and his most requested Farewell Party are just a few of the branches of the country music tree that were produced.

But they're not just songs that came about when Watson and some engineer sat down in a studio and remixed.

"I know how people disapprove of cover songs," Watson said. "Just about any of them that you buy are never like the originals, never as good as the originals and they're usually changed."

With that thought in mind, Watson set out to reproduce the original sounds that have kept him in the hearts, minds and souls of true country fans for what has now turned into a half-century career.

He went so far as to recruit many of the same studio musicians who were on the original recordings.

"I went to great lengths to make sure they sounded exactly like the originals," he said. "I re-recorded them in the same key, used the same phrasing and in fact some of the same musicians are on the album.

"I'm proud of the album, I'm proud to have it out and everybody that's heard it thinks it's a good job -- and that means everything to me."

Not only is Watson rightfully proud of his efforts, but it's also what he thinks the fans expect from him. He knows how stringent some country music fans are about the sounds they have known and loved throughout the years -- and he hopes this fits their expectations.

"I think it's what they expect from Gene Watson," he said. "Anytime I'm in the studio or on the stage, that's all I've got -- they can't say I've left anything -- and it was the same way with this album and any album I record, I give it everything that I've got and I try to pick the best material for my fans and fans-to-be, so I try to do the best I can."

Watson's first national successful release was 1975's Love in the Hot Afternoon and he hopes that ever since he has lived up to a standard that follows his fans' and his own expectations.

"I know a song can be a great song, but if it's not sung by the right person it's not going to help the singer and it's not going to help the song," Watson said. "I always tried to find the right combination, the right song that fit me and the right song that I could deliver and it takes a combination to have all those things going."

Watson, who hasn't lost a note when walks on stage, says making that happen is a process. He says it's a matter of hearing the right song after milling through many.

"I usually know the right song when I hear it," he said. "There may be things about the song that I don't care for. But every writer that ever gave me a song, always gave me the room to change something if it didn't fit or if I didn't like."

That has afforded him a rare opportunity in his professional life, the ability to pick and choose what he offers his fans.

"I think I know my limitations better than anybody else," he admits. "So I'm comfortable with what is happening around me."

As for the 50 years of being an entertainer, Watson says he's been blessed with an ability to both learn from what he's doing and share what he does with an appreciative and receptive audience.

"I hope I've learned a lot," he says with a smile. "When I started I was anything but a showman and I still feel like I'm anything but a showman."

If the longevity has taught him anything, it's taught him to be an artist who enjoys what he's doing.

"I'm still having fun standing out there on stage singing my songs and telling the stories in between them," he admits. "I like to tell the truth and the people enjoy that...a show is a whole lot easier to do these days because it's got my life around it."

Unlike many artists today regardless of what music genre they care to share, Watson has a true sense and a true desire to make the people who buy the tickets and pay for the albums walk out with a smile and a good memory.

He realizes that without his fans, new or old, that he couldn't do the job he loves in the way he does it.

"The people are the reason that I'm here," he said. "They are so much a part of the show and my show feeds off of them. I hope everybody is looking forward to a good show and I hope everybody enjoys it because we still enjoy what we do."

I asked Watson one final question before I went to my seat and it was one that I felt I'd be remiss if I didn't ask.

Simply, what has been the highlight of his 50 years?

"So many, so many," he said. "Playing the Ryman Auditorium at the Grand Ol' Opry."

But perhaps the most cherished of all came to him on Sept. 25, just a couple of days prior to his local show, when the mayor of Paris, Texas and the governor of Texas honored Watson with a street named after him and a proclamation of Gene Watson Day.

Both were honors that he never expected.

"It's quite an honor," he said. "There's been so many throughout the years. It would be hard to pin down and it's been a good ride."

Rick Curl is a sports writer for the Greene County Daily World. He can be reached by telephone at (812) 847-4487. He can also be reached by email at rcurl@gcdailyworld.com.

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