A Conversation With Gene Watson

Paul W. Dennis | October 2nd, 2009

Gene Watson

This is Paul Dennis with the 9513 speaking with Gene Watson, whose new album A Taste of the Truth is being released on Shanachie Records. I think it comes out today, doesn’t it Gene?

GW: It was released yesterday, Paul.

PAUL W. DENNIS: I’ve had the chance to listen to it. It has a wide variety of music on it. Perhaps you would like to tell us about some of the songs? I noted that you had a duet with Rhonda Vincent in “Staying Together.”

GENE WATSON: Yeah, as a matter of fact, that’s the first single off the album. The title of the album is of course A Taste of the Truth and I’m just thrilled. I think we’ve got a wide selection of material for the people to listen to. I’ve got the duet with Rhonda Vincent and I also got a duet with Trace Adkins on it–a song called “We’ve Got a Pulse.” And I’ve even got one on there with the fantastic Alison Krauss singing harmonies with me. That’s a great, great song. I think we’ve got something in this album for everyone.

Gene WatsonPWD: This isn’t the first time you’ve sung with Mrs. Vincent is it, Gene?

GW: No, in fact my last CD had a duet with Rhonda on it. We had so much good response on it I thought maybe we might just give it another go, so I contacted Rhonda and asked her, “Would she like to do another one,” and she said “Why sure.” She came over to the studio and we laid it down. I felt so good about it and everybody seemed to like it so much we just decided to come with it as the first single off the album.

PWD: It’s a terrific track. Are you planning on releasing “We’ve Got a Pulse” with Trace Adkins as a single?

GW: I don’t know. That’s too far in the future for me to know. I’m not the one that makes those decisions but I think, Paul…I think people are going to listen to this whether or not it’s a single. I think they’re going to hear it out because this song really has something to say about country music, and contrary to “Murder On Music Row,” there’s still a pulse in traditional country music.

PWD: Absolutely. I was pleased to find that you included one of my favorite songs on the album, “I Know An Ending,” which was on an old Merle Haggard album from the mid-seventies.

GW: Right. Yeah, so many people never even heard that song, of course written by Hank Cochran. I had heard it years ago and it just never left my mind and I thought, “Boy, what a good time to bring it back.” I hope everybody’s satisfied with our rendition of it.

PWD: I certainly think they will be, Gene. It’s just a terrific cut, just absolutely terrific. I read recently in an interview that was done on another website concerning your interest in automobiles. I won’t rehash that territory, but being a fan of autos, do you have any particular favorites among the racing circuits–either CART, Indy, or NASCAR?

GW: Well, I watch drags. I like NHRA and I like NASCAR, too. I’m a John Force fan–the whole team in the drag racing field. I’m a huge fan of Carl Edwards. I like all types of racing. But NASCAR and drag–NHRA–would probably be my favorites.

PWD: I’ve noted that some of the European labels have done a good job of getting some of your older recordings back in print. I have no idea who Hux Records is, but they became my favorite label when they started reissuing some of those old Capitol albums of yours. How did that come to be?

GW: I don’t know. You know, that was negotiated through Capitol Records. Unfortunately, I don’t own the masters. If I did, they would be available through me. But I appreciate them working a deal through Hux. Hux has been real good to put these selections together. They’re usually on a dual album set. The people that are fortunate enough to find them, they tell us how proud they are to have them back because a lot of those songs are out of print. You can’t buy them any more, so it just kind of gave them a new life when Hux came back with them.

PWD: Are there any plans for any of your MCA, Epic, or Warner Brothers cuts to be reissued.

GW: Yes, in fact I’m planning on going in the studio as quick as possible and starting to redo all of that stuff. Bring it back with better quality and all that and still keep the original Gene Watson feel on it. That’s one of our definite plans for the future, and hopefully within the next few months.

PWD: Your fan club indicated that there had been an issue with some of your MCA recordings, but I have yet to see that. Has that been released?

GW: I’m not sure–I don’t know. See, I’m based out of Texas and all of my operations are out of Nashville and of course the management agency up here, they take care of all of that. They try their best to keep from bothering me with it and as a result I know very little of that part of the business.

PWD: I’ve seen recently that some of your recordings are available on the website for Tee Vee Records, King Records, Gusto–those labels. Are those new recordings or are those reissues of some of the older stuff?

GW: They’re reissues of the recordings from Capital and Step One Records.

PWD: Very good.

GW:Yeah, they leased the masters and they’re putting them out on different labels.

PWD: Ok, so one can go to one of their websites, order it and know that they’re getting the stuff they remember hearing on the radio during the seventies and eighties.

GW: I can’t speak for all them, but according to what it is, I know that’s the stuff I’m going to be re-recording and I’m going to be coming with, so it will be fully available through our website and all that. Hopefully the folks will be waiting on that, but we’re going to make all the music available.

PWD: I thought it’d be interesting to maybe get you to discuss some of the recordings of the past. Would you mind?

GW: Okay.

PWD: Let’s see how it goes. I’m going to ask you first off about my absolute favorite Gene Watson recording–and there are about ninety-five others that are in second place–but the one that just really grabbed me when I first heard it was “The Old Man and His Horn.” It sounds like there should be a story behind that one.

GW: Well, there is. The same guy [Dallas Harms] that wrote “Paper Rosie” and “Cowboy’s Don’t Get Lucky All the Time” for me wrote that song and it’s been an extremely difficult song to follow through with. The recording was a little bit different because of the horns. We had trouble tracking them in studio–we laid down all the tracks at Bradley’s Barn here in Nashville–and when we recorded, we had trouble getting the horn on the track, so what we did was to lay down all the rest of the tracks, even including my vocal. Then, after we sought out the horn player that we wanted to use, we found that we couldn’t use trumpet, it was too brash. By the time we found what we wanted to do, we came back up to Sound Emporium–Jack Clement’s recording studio–and we went in and we put it on. Actually, what that is is a flugelhorn–it’s a little bit more mellow and everything.

Gene WatsonPWD: I was wondering about that, it didn’t quite sound like a trumpet to my ear, but I don’t have a classically trained ear.

GW: Yeah, we tried trumpet, but it was too shrill, too brash, and cutting too hard. So we thought on it and looked around and done some research and everything and we wound up using a flugelhorn on it. Of course, you know, I can’t hire a horn player just to travel the road with me just to play one song, so it automatically became a thorn in my side as far as reproduction on stage. So what we did was, at that time I had my steel guitar player get an attachment to put on his steel guitar and we would do that horn part on the steel. It did work pretty good for a while. We had a lot of requests for that song and I appreciate you liking it.

PWD: It’s my favorite, although I must admit I’ve liked everything you have recorded. I remember first hearing, I guess it was around January or February of 1975, a song called “Bad Water” that I don’t think did a whole lot, but the follow-up, which I think was also originally on Resco, was “Love In The Hot Afternoon.” That was a great record and very different from what anyone else was recording at the time.

GW: “Bad Water,” that was a song that was originally out by Ray Charles’ background singers The Raelets. I decided to do it up country and believe it or not, that was the first song I ever had that got in the national charts. That got Capitol Records’ attention and when we re-released “Love In The Hot Afternoon” on Capitol they signed me to a long-term contract and that song turned out to be a giant for the year 1975.

PWD: I remember it well. It seemed to be on the air all the time in the area in which I live, which is Orlando, Florida. And it seemed like it was getting quite a bit of airplay on stations that weren’t country radio stations.

GW: Yeah, it was a good song for me.

PWD: It was a good song. Do you have any particular favorites among the songs you’ve recorded?

GW: I’ve always had the freedom to pick and choose all of my material myself and it seems like to pick one as a favorite would be like picking one of your kids.

PWD: I suppose.

GW: There’s something about all of them that got my attention that I like. I’m not saying that all of them came out as favorites, but there was, anytime I recorded a song, there was something about it that I appreciated. “Farewell Party” is by far the most requested song that I’ve recorded, but I still like to do “Got No Reason Now For Going Home” and “Paper Rosie” and “Fourteen Carat Mind” and all that.

PWD: I think “Farewell Party” was your first #1, going to the top on Cash Box. If I recall correctly, that was a Lawton Williams song.

GW: Yeah, it was.

PWD: And it seems like years before your record I remembered hearing Little Jimmy Dickens do it.

GW: There were several people that had recorded it. Waylon Jennings, for one. Billy Walker and George Jones recorded it as had a lot of other artists.

PWD: I guess it took your touch to make a hit out of it though.

GW: I guess so. Because it’s sure been a good one for me.

PWD: It has. That and “Fourteen Carat Mind” are songs you still hear country bands performing all the time.

GW: That was a #1 hit in 1982, “Fourteen Carat Mind” was. I’ve been extremely fortunate and I owe all the thanks to the fans out there, and of course you guys who play the music. I try my best to record the best material I can and then it’s up to the folks whether it hits or not.

PWD: Do you have any songs that you recall that were offered to you first that you passed on that later became big hits?

GW: Oh yeah. Oh Lord, I heard “The Gambler” before Kenny Rogers did it. “The Girls All Get Prettier At Closing Time.” There’s been a lot of them, but that doesn’t mean that these songs would have been hits for Gene Watson. I mean they were hits for the people that recorded them, but there are Gene Watson hits and then there are other peoples’ hits and a lot of times it’d be like another artist recording “Farewell Party.” There were a lot of them before me that didn’t make it. When I recorded it, fortunately for me, it did. That’s kind of the trend that you have to look at when you’re considering material to record. You need to be careful and pick songs that you think are right for you.

PWD: One of the later hits that you had that I really liked, and haven’t been able to find it on CD, was “Don’t Waste It On the Blues.” That was a little different for Gene Watson.

GW: Yeah, it was a little uptown swing thing, almost modern jazz. I love that kind of stuff. I’m a lover of that type of music and it was a great song for me. Best I remember, I think it was a Top Five song.

PWD: It was a real good song, and I think you’re right. I think it was in the Top Five. Did you ever have a song that you recorded that you just thought, “This has hit written all over it,” and then it stiffed for some reason or another?

GW: There have been several like that. In fact, I try to have that attitude every time I go in the studio, thinking that I’ve got a hit. You know that a lot of them are more capable of being hits than others, but that happens quite occasionally.

PWD: One that struck me that should have been a big hit that wasn’t, was a song you did called “Carmen,” which I think was on your first or second Epic album.

GW: Yeah, that was a big song. In fact, that’s still a real big song overseas. When we were in Ireland and England and Scotland, the people over there just love that song and we always get requests for it when we go over there, but the title I think hurt the song a little bit in being confused with the old song of Marty Robbins’ called “Carmen.” Not that his was bad, but it was a hit and every time everybody saw the title they automatically thought that I had covered Marty’s song and that hurt it a whole lot.

Gene WatsonPWD: Another Epic song I thought should have been a hit was “Honky Tonk Crazy” a song local bands here in Florida often cover.

GW: Great song. That was my last album for Epic Records, and yeah, I thought it should have been a hit too. I really did. You can look down in that album and I was extremely proud of that whole album. I think everything in that album was really fantastic. Of course, it was produced by Billy Sherrill. I just thought it was a good album. I thought we should have got more response. I’m not sure we got all the help from Epic Records that we deserved, but for some reason or another, who knows why, it didn’t quite make it as good as we thought it would.

PWD: Were your parents musical people?

GW: My whole family was musical.

PWD: So you grew up listening to country music? Perhaps other forms of music ?

GW: Gospel, country, country gospel, and blues. I used to sing the blues and everything, so yeah, my whole family was musically inclined.

PWD: Who were your favorite artists when you were growing up?

GW: Oh I don’t know, I listened to all of them. Boy, back then they had the Top 10 on Sunday and I loved Lefty Frizzell. I thought he was fantastic, and Webb Pierce, Carl Smith, Faron Young. When Hag come in to play, oh it kind of ruled everything else out.

PWD: I’m not sure I’d agree with you there, but I liked all those names that you mentioned.

GW: Well I don’t mean ruled it out, I’m just talking about the new…I think Merle Haggard was more of an extension of Lefty Frizzell. I always loved Lefty, I loved his smooth approach. I liked the way he recorded things, and Ray Price, what can you say about him? I had a lot of favorites and it would be hard to pick one of them.

PWD: How about among the younger artists?

GW: I think one of the best artists out there is a guy by the name of Joe Diffie. I think he’s one of the finest vocalists that you’re going to find out there. My good friend Joe Nichols is a fantastic artist. There are several of them out there that I really, really admire and I appreciate what they do. There’s more of them out there that I don’t appreciate, but there’s some of them that’s got great talent and they’re for real.

PWD: I remember about a year or two ago you opened a show for Brad Paisley, didn’t you?

GW: Yes.

PWD: That must have been a little different experience with the type of audiences and venues he plays.

GW: My thing is my thing and I do it no matter who I’m working with, or opening for, or closing for or whatever. We never plan a show. I always hit the stage and the band, the only way they know what I’m going to do next is the way I introduce it to the people, and it was fun, it really was. I think the world of Brad. He’s a great artist and it was a real pleasure getting to work with him, but you know we do what we do and he does what he does and we all try to be successful at it.

PWD: Of course. Any plans for perhaps a duet album with one of the leading female singers, say Rhonda or Alison or someone like that? I think that would really come off well.

GW: Well I think that a duet album is a possibility and the most likely duet partner, I would say at this time, would be Rhonda, if she would accept, and I think she would because we’ve both been on the same page as far as that goes and who knows, we might put that together. We’ve both talked about it.

PWD: How much touring do you do these days?

GW: It varies, especially with the economy like it is. We would like to do between 75 and 80 dates. You factor in the travel time and that’s enough for me.

PWD: Any plans for a European tour this year?

GW: Possibly. We’re supposed to go to Ireland–well, I say supposed to–they tried to book a tour with us over in Ireland last year and I turned it down because we had been there the three previous years and I thought I needed to give it a rest, I thought it would be good to skip a year, so who knows, we may get back over there at the end.

PWD: So what else does the future hold for Gene Watson at this point?

GW: We got plans to put the video together. I don’t run that part of it or anything like that, but they’re planning some clips right now for putting one to two videos together Hopefully we’ll have something you can look at on the tube before too long.

PWD: I appreciate you taking the time to speak with us, Gene, and I’ll look forward to your next project. As I indicated, I really liked A Taste of the Truth and I thought it was one of the most interesting albums I’ve received in recent years. I loved the covers of older songs, loved the new tracks, and I like the fact that, unlike a lot of albums I get these days, there’s quite a bit of variation both in terms of the tone of the song lyrics and the tempos. Unfortunately I’ve picked up too many albums where everything is the same tempo and after a while it becomes quite uninteresting.

GW: Yeah, and a lot of them will put you to sleep with ballads and a lot of them will bobble your head with ups and all that stuff. We tried to vary it to where people could listen and enjoy it. I appreciate you noting that, because that makes a lot of difference to us too. We took a lot of time and pride in trying to put it together to where we enjoy listening.

PWD: I look forward to you getting back to re-recording some of the old favorites that are hard to find on CD. I’ve never heard a bad Gene Watson recording and I expect that I never will.

GW: I appreciate that and you can bet any time I step up in front of a microphone you’re going to get all I’ve got. You might not like what comes out, but it’s not because I’m trying my best.

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  1. Steve M.
    October 2, 2009 at 8:54 am

    Great interview Paul!

  2. John P
    October 2, 2009 at 10:07 am

    Thanks for this great interview with one of my favorite singers of all time, Gene Watson. He seems to be getting even better with age which is saying something. The quality of his voice is remarkable and there’s no one currently quite able to capture the passion he puts in a song.

  3. Occasional Hope
    October 2, 2009 at 1:56 pm

    Joining the chorus of “great interview”.

  4. Todd
    October 2, 2009 at 7:13 pm

    John P you are right about his voice getting better with age. I saw him at the Opry last summer. Flawless.

  5. Norm G.
    October 28, 2009 at 10:39 am

    I always will have fond memories of Gene Watson, Not only for his music but the way he treated my mom. She never failed to go see him when she was visiting the Chattanooga area and he always took time to take pictures with her. He lovingly referred to her as “Aunt Gean” One of her most treasured posessions was an 8X10 of the 2 of them, Which I have framed and in my computer room. She always wanted to get it autographed but passed away in April of 06 before she could have it signed by the artist she loved so well…

  6. luckyoldsun
    November 16, 2009 at 12:00 am

    Why did Gene Watson have comparatively little success as a hitmaker at country radio? He only had one No.1 and a few top 10s.
    Gene is certainly a better singer than Moe Bandy, who had a truckload of hits.

  7. John P
    November 16, 2009 at 10:44 am

    LuckyOldSun- I agree totally that Gene Watson is seriously one of the most underrated singers of our time.With his voice, he should be up there in every breath with Haggard and Jones. Just a side note however – Gene Watson has more than one #1. He has at least 5. AllMusicGuide only lists Billboard charted records and Gene has only one #1 in Billboard but more in Radio & Records (might have been Record World back then) and Cashbox. If George Strait only listed his Billboard singles, he might not have nearly the number touted today.

  8. luckyoldsun
    November 16, 2009 at 10:09 pm

    John P.
    In the case of Strait, he has something like 45 #1’s if you go by Billboard, and maybe 55 if you count all the other charts.

    I mentioned Moe Bandy because I think he and Gene have been active around the same time and both sang similar hard country songs. I’d bet that even Bandy would admit that Gene is the better singer, but Moe definitely had more hits (and that’s not even counting the whole Moe-and-Joe thing).

  9. David
    November 30, 2009 at 2:29 pm

    Gene Watson is one of the greatest country vocalists of all times and a fine example of a gentleman. The man can sing – period. Gene Watson and Ray Price are too easily overlooked when folks discuss great artists. Why? Gene rules!

  10. len williamson
    October 8, 2010 at 3:43 pm

    just come across gene,seen most of top country singers,i.e george jones,merle haggard,and so on,but never seen any one as good as gene,cant believe how ive missed out all these years,but ive got him now.

  11. Magda
    February 28, 2013 at 1:20 pm

    The race has gone on since 1985 under several different names including The Winston,
    Winston Select and NASCAR NEXTEL All-Star Challenge. He forwarded the email to her and she just broke
    down. A driver representing Roush Racing has
    claimed six titles in the last 13 races.

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