In his career he's charted over seventy-five single records, including six number ones and twenty-three Top Tens. His biggest hits include "Love In The Hot Afternoon", "Fourteen Carat Mind" and "Farewell Party".
"Real Country Music" is the title of his latest CD. We are of course talking about Mr. Gene Watson.
Q - Gene, listening to "Real Country Music" is like having a front row seat to the Grand Ole Opry.
A - (laughs) Well, I think that's a compliment, isn't it?
Q - It certainly is. You don't hear music like that anymore. That is real Country music.
A - Yeah. I thought the title was pretty appropriate. It's Country roots Country music. I'm proud that it turned out as well as I hoped it would. We're hoping for good things out of it. The single "Enough For You", a Kris Kristofferson written song, I'm real high on that one and of course the Gospel thing, "Help Me", that Larry Gatlin wrote.
Q - Fourteen Carat Music is your own record company>
A - Yes sir. It sure is.
Q - You're a busy guy. Not only a singer but a record company President as well.
A - (laughs)
Q - You then determine what single you want to release?
A - I usually do, even before I was recording on my own label. I usually have a lot of control over that, but I've still got people that help me out with this and give me opinions. My eyes are always open. Who can guarantee which one is the best or which one is the right time to release? You never know for sure. So, you have to go with a lot of gut instinct, which is what we did on this. I think we went with, in my opinion, a great song.
Q - Now see, I would've released the second cut on your CD, the Bill Anderson song "When A Man Can't Get A Woman Off His Mind" as the single.
A - Well, there's a reason I didn't. I appreciate you saying that. We recorded that song back a few years ago and the label we recorded it for shut down their Country division and you couldn't buy it no more. It was released and then they shut it down and I couldn't even buy the masters to re-release it or anything. They just flat tied it off. I performed the song on TV on Larry's Country Diner Family Reunion and boy, people were wanting to buy it. People loved it! And so, I said I'll fix that. I'll go back in to re-record it. I'm with you. I think it's a great song.
Q - You have a road band and a studio band. Why do you need two bands? Why not just the road band?
A - Well, I've done it both ways. In fact, I recorded five or six albums using The Farewell Party Band. To be honest, it's just wearing too many hats. I tried that and it's just too much. So I backed off and now I've got Dirk Johnson that produces me and I let him put the band together for the studio and I keep my road band out there. Believe it or not, there's a difference between a great road band and a great recording band. Neither one of 'em is real good at crossing paths. I've got a great band, The Farewell Party Band that I travel with on the road. As great as they are on the road, it will still be more time consuming and harder on me to use them in the studio because it's two different techniques altogether. The musicians that we use in the studio, that's all they do. They do studio work. It's a lot faster and a whole lot more unique and a lot of times you can get more of what you want out of them than you could working with someone you're with day and night as much as we are on the road.
Q - Your producer no doubt relays to the studio musicians what kind of sound you're looking for.
A - Oh, yeah, and we both deal with the musicians. He gives them an arrangement that we talk about before when we're going over the stuff, what we're going to record. I do a lot of work in the studio with the musicians and give them my input. It's a two-sided sword. When we get it to click it works really well. We do the best that we can.
Q - When you were starting off your career, were you ever part of a band?
A - No, never did. I never worked for another singer or artist of any kind. I've been singing all my life. When I was younger we formed a band, but I still worked out front and did all the singing. As far as working for another artist, no, I never did have any help. I didn't work for anybody else. When I began my career I learned from my mistakes and experience is the best teacher. You name the road and I've been down it.
Q - At one point you were playing large clubs in Houston. If you didn't have a band, did you use a house band?
A - I had a band back then before I ever got a record deal. I would work on cars during the day and at night I'd play the nightclubs. I had a weekend warrior sort of band. They were a great band. We had quite a following. In fact that's where, if you'd like to use the term, I got discovered, playing in the clubs down around the Houston area. A couple of guys heard me and liked the way I sing and asked me if I'd like to come to Nashville and do some recording and that's actually how it all got started.
Q - Capitol Records was scouting clubs in Houston looking for Country singers, were they?
A - (laughs) Yeah, I guess so. I don't know which came first, the chicken or the egg, but it all worked out. We released a song in 1974 called "Bad Water" on an independent label and I think that's what got Capitol's attention. Then when we came with "Love In The Afternoon" in 1975, they went ahead and signed us.
Q - After you had that hit, did you quit your job at the auto shop?
A - Not immediately. After I got the contract I still kept working on cars and trying to put a road gig together and after awhile I saw if I wanted the music to work I had to give up the cars. So I rolled the tools in the garage and I've been out here ever since.
Q - Did it ever happen that your song was playing on the radio when you were working in the shop and you turned to the other guys and said, "Hey, that's me!"?
A - Yeah.
Q - Did the other guys believe you?
A - A lot of 'em around there knew that I played nightclubs. They knew I was active in the music business. It's just who would have ever dreamed it would've gone this far?
Q - That's true. There's so many variables. Who knows what songs will take off?
A - That's true.
Q - You recorded a CD two years ago called "My Heroes Have All Been Country". As you look around today do you see any Country heroes?
A - Well you know, there's a few. There's not as many as I'd like to see. There's some out there that I'd like to see. There's some out there that I really like, although I'm not really driven to today's Country music. That' not to say that there's not some great talent out there. There's several of 'em that I think are great talent.
Q - When I watch the C.M.A. (Country Music Awards) show, it almost seems like there's an effort underway to make Country music sound more like Rock 'n' Roll. Something's being lost.
A - Well, I found a remedy for that a long time ago.
Q - What's that?
A - I just don't watch it. (laughs) Really and truly I agree with you 100%. There's just something trying to call that Country. It's really and truly in a lot of ways just an insult. That's enough said. I think you can agree with that.
Q - Have other people shared those same sentiments with you?
A - Oh, numerous people.
Q - In 1964 The Wilburn Brothers brought you on tour with them. What kind of places were you playing and how were you traveling? By bus?
A - It wasn't that long of a tour actually. I was working in the Houston area and they came to a place where I was working and they heard me singing and they wanted to talk to me after their show. They asked me if I'd stick around 'til after the show, they wanted to talk to me. So I did and they asked me would I come to Nashville and visit with them some and do some talking. I said, "Sure." So we set a date and I drove up to Nashville and they took me in their offices and everything and we picked out some songs and we went out to Bradley's Barn and I recorded a demo tape of about ten songs out of their publishing company. I played a job with 'em in North Carolina on the road and came back to Nashville. They got me on the Grand Ole Opry and just had a big old time and that's part of what got it all going for me. Teddy and Doyle were just great people to me. They really helped me a whole lot.
Q - How well did you know Dottie West?
A - I knew her basically as a label mate. We were both on Capitol Records and we both shared the same birth date. I just admired her to the fullest. I thought she was a fantastic artist and I talked to her several times. We talked backstage at the Grand Ole Opry and really I was just getting to know her better when she got killed. She was a great talent I thought and a beautiful lady. She was always nice to me. Capitol Records threw a birthday party for me, Dottie West and Charlie Rich all the same night. We all had the same birthday.
Q - When a guy like you decides to stop recording, stop touring, and I don't know if you're ever going to do it, who then steps in and carries on with the traditional Country music?
A - Well Gary, I've asked myself that no telling how many times. I've talked about it to other people like yourself. I guess George (Jones) said it best, "Who's Gonna Fill Them Shoes?" I'm not sure there's anybody out there that can take over the Country music field like some of the roots we've lost here lately. I'll tell you, it's worth pondering over, isn't it?