For hard country connoisseurs, Texas honkytonk crooner Gene Watson is a godsend, one of the masters of true, soulful country heartsongs, an expressive, emotional singer on a par with George Jones or Waylon Jennings. His commercial heyday was in the 1970s and '80s, but Watson remains a vital and powerful artist well into the 21st Century. All his old records are worth tracking down, although most are, sadly, out of print... Here's a quick look at his career...
Gene Watson "Gene Watson" (Wide World, 1969) (LP)
Gene Watson "Love In The Hot Afternoon" (Capitol, 1975)
Watson's major label debut (he had an earlier album on the microscopic Wide World label in 1973...) revealed a powerful performer who held great hope for the future of country music... Standing midway between hard country titans Merle Haggard and Conway Twitty, Watson was a superb balladeer, masculine yet suave and emotive, and his material (none of which he wrote) was also top-notch. I'm sure critics may have found him derivative at times, but the quality of the product is pretty darn high. This is one worth looking for!
Gene Watson "Because You Believed In Me" (Capitol, 1976)
Gene Watson "Paper Rosie" (Capitol, 1977)
Watson's followup album mostly follows in the path of the first... Maybe a little softer around the edges, but still the same nods towards Conway and Merle, and still the same high calibre of songwriting throughout. Not a weak track on here, really. Recommended!
Gene Watson "Beautiful Country" (Capitol, 1977)
Gene Watson "Reflections" (Capitol, 1978)
Another fine record, though notably smoother and less rugged that previous albums. You could say he kind of sounds like the mellower side of Merle, but actually this early set is one on which Watson really seems to be finding his own voice and is less openly imitative of other singers. Doesn't matter: either way, he was an outstanding country singer, full of soul and depth of feeling. Ace bunny killer.
Gene Watson "Should I Come Home (Or Should I Go Crazy?)" (Capitol, 1979)
(Produced by Russ Reeder)
Gene Watson "No One Will Ever Know" (Capitol, 1980) (LP)
Gene Watson "Between This Time And The Next Time" (MCA, 1981) (LP)
Another magnificent set of hard country hard-luck songs -- the title song sounds like Conway, most of the rest of the album sounds like Merle, with a dash of western swing thrown in on a tune or two. It's all quite nice. The backup band are all usual suspect, Nashville studio cats -- Harold Bradley, Dave Kirby, Buddy Spicher, etc. -- but Watson has a command and reserve over the proceedings which really marks him as a superior balladeer. Highly recommended.
Gene Watson "Old Loves Never Die" (MCA, 1981) (LP)
Gene Watson "This Dream's On Me" (MCA, 1982) (LP)
(Russ Reader & Gene Watson)
Slick, but satisfying. You may initially recoil at the sleek-sounding '80s production, but Watson's soulful singing will win you over, as well as the rich pedal steel by Sonny Garrish and the crackling, twangy lead guitars courtesy of Dave Kirby and Harold Bradley, not to mention some fine fiddling by Buddy Spicher and Lisa Silver. Awesome song selection as well, with two by Dave Kirby, a couple from Dave Lindsey and even a couple by old-timer Bobby Harden, once of the perky late-'60s Harden Trio. As always, Watson sounds a lot like Merle Haggard, but with a special extra little snap to his delivery. Excellent country singing, forlorn and precise... It really doesn't get much better than this. Don't believe me? Give "What She Don't Know Won't Hurt Her" a spin, and then check back with me in a little while. Recommended!
Gene Watson "Sometimes I Get Lucky" (MCA, 1984) (LP)
Gene Watson "Heartaches, Love & Stuff" (MCA, 1984) (LP)
Gene Watson "Little By Little" (MCA, 1984)
Gene Watson "Texas Saturday Night" (MCA-Curb, 1985) (LP)
Gene Watson "Memories To Burn" (Epic, 1986)
Nice stuff, though the production sounds a little prefab and studio-y. The swinging single "Memories To Burn" was one of Watson's last major hits, pegging out at #5 on the Country charts... There's other fun stuff: the creationist novelty song "I Want My Rib Back" is kind of a hoot (in which he references the Adam and Eve story, crooning the line "I won't let evolution make a monkey out of me" in the chorus...) Likewise, "The New York Times" is a nice rural-vs-urban country song, with a small-town gal heading for the big city lights... The rest of the record is dominated by slower stuff, ballads and midtempo tunes like "Cold Summer Day In Georgia," all of which Watson sings with his typical professionalism and economy... Worth a spin.
Gene Watson "Starting New Memories" (Epic, 1986)
It's amazing that even this late in the game this guy could still be making records that are this good. He just shines like a diamond amidst all the high-tech pop-country clutter of the '80s... At this point, John Anderson was beginning to peter out and Dwight Yoakam was just getting started. Ya want to find the missing link? Gene Watson, who'd been keeping it country since the mid-'70s. Nice. Really nice.
Gene Watson "Honky Tonk Crazy" (Epic, 1987)
Gene Watson "Back In The Fire" (Epic, 1989)
Gene Watson "Because You Believed In Me" (Warner Brothers, 1991)
Gene Watson "Back In The Fire" (Warner Brothers, 1989)
Gene Watson "At Last" (Warner Brothers, 1991)
Gene Watson "In Other Words" (Broadland, 1992)
Gene Watson "Uncharted Mind" (Step One, 1993)
Gene Watson "The Good Ole Days" (Step One, 1996)
Gene Watson "Jesus Is All I Need" (Step One, 1997)
Gene Watson "A Way To Survive" (Step One, 1997)
(Produced by Ray Pennington & Gary Buck)
Another classy set from this indefatigable country crooner. He's got an a sharp pickup band behind him, including Buddy Emmons and Weldon Myrick on pedal steel, Hargus "Pig" Robbins on piano, Aubrey Haynie playing fiddle... But mostly he's got soul... lots and lots of soul, and a singing style backed by years of experience. Even though there are a couple of lackluster numbers, this sounds mighty nice; more winning weepers from an old pro.
Gene Watson "From The Heart" (Row Music Group, 2001)
(Produced by Ray Pennington & Gene Watson)
A disappointment. The songwriting and performances -- Watson's vocals as well as the arrangements -- are all fairly lackluster, cranked out, by rote. Watson is still a soulful singer, but this disc seems uninspired. Still, since it was recorded right when he was struggling with colon cancer and chemotherapy, a little bit of sluggishness is entirely understandable. And even when he's not at his peak, Gene Watson still blows half the current crop of Nashville prettyboys off the stage. Worth checking out, although it's not his best effort.
Gene Watson "...Sings" (Compendia, 2003)
Country radio may have turned its back on this first-class honkytonk crooner, but hopefully his fans won't. After three decades in the business, Watson still proves himself a better singer than 95% of the competition, delivering a rock solid set of hard country heartbreak... The accompaniment is equally strong: whether you're an longtime fan or just like hearing really good country music, this is an album you oughtta check out!
Gene Watson "The Gospel Side Of Gene Watson" (Compendia, 2004)
Gene Watson "Then And Now" (Koch, 2005)
(Produced by Gene Watson)
It's a sad fact that, for the most part, country old-timers don't mean jack in the new, glammed-up Nashville. Take Gene Watson, for example. The guy's been around since the early 1970s, and just about every record he's made totally kicks ass -- he's one of the great heartsong balladeers of modern country history. For the last few years he's been quietly releasing one, great, unnoticed gem after another -- soulful, finely-crafted records that are cherished by a handful of fans, but outright ignored by radio chains and programming powerbrokers and poo-bahs. This new album follows that pattern... It's a great collection of newly-recorded versions of some of Watson's old hits... Normally that formula is a recipe for disappointment, but in this case, it's just a damn fine record, with a rich, full country sound, packed with plenty of pedal steel and some of the finest vocals this side of George Jones. Watson's voice has changed over the years, but it's undiminished in its ability to convey emotion and bring these songs to life -- it sounds lighter in timbre, but no less expressive or compelling that it ever was. In short, if you like the good stuff, this record is highly, highly recommended... And if you don't already know Watson's classic, old stuff, then this might be a good opportunity to check into that as well...
Gene Watson "In A Perfect World" (Shanachie, 2007)
(Produced by Brent Rowan)
Honkytonk balladeer Gene Watson is one of the growing legion of great country performers who had big hits not that long ago, but can't get their calls returned anymore by the newbie Nashville execs who are too busy planning Tim McGraw's next TV appearance. No matter: years ago Watson went indie and ever since then, even though he's off the radar, he's been putting out some of the finest hard-country albums around, pretty much like he did when he was hitting the charts. Watson is a country singer's country singer, as evidenced by a testimonial from George Jones that's stuck onto the outside of this album, and by the calibre of talent that accompanies him on this guest-star extravaganza. Mark Chesnutt, Vince Gill, Lee Ann Womack and Connie Smith -- these are all artists who have straddled the divide between traditional country and whatever pop compromises the times demanded of them, and they all bring their full powers to bear on this fine album, as do Joe Nichols and Rhonda Vincent, artists whose stars are currently on the rise. No one outshines Watson, though, particularly on searing ballads such as "A Good Place To Turn Around," "She's Already Gone," and "Let Me Be The First To Go." Gene Watson is one of those true, great honkytonkers who can find the true core of pathos and sorrow, yet sing it out in a way that makes it seem like times ain't gonna be so bad after all. This is a true country lover's delight, with one fine performance after another -- it you like old-school honkytonk and like it when artists keep things real, then cast your vote and pick this album up. It's the kinda stuff you want to hear.
Gene Watson & Rhonda Vincent "Your Money And My Good Looks" (Upper Management, 2011)
(Produced by Herb Sandker)
Like many bluegrassers, singer Rhonda Vincent has one foot in the country tradition, and can sing as sad a heartsong as anyone. Here she pairs up with Gene Watson, who turns out to be a perfect duets partner. They first sang together on an spur-of-the-moment Grand Ole Opry performance, and discovered that they really clicked. This excellent set of soulful duets recalls the energy and good humor of the early-1970's Charlie Louvin/Melba Montgomery team as well as the pathos and heartache of the George Jones/Tammy Wynette juggernaut. The musicianship is first-rate, with bluegrass fiddler Stuart Duncan chiming in alongside a solid Nashville studio crew... The repertoire includes several oldies - tunes by Hank Williams and Nat Stuckey, as well as a nice cover of Gary Stewart's "Out Of Hand," and a trio of Rhonda Vincent originals. The whole album is great, the sort of record that just gets better and better the more you delve into it -- highlights include the mournful "Till The End" and the robust honkytonker, "It Ain't Nothing New," about staying in love for the long haul. Duet singing is something of a lost art in the contemporary country scene, but this album evokes the style's glory days, and should thrill folks who yearn for the sweet sounds of yesteryear... Let's hope that this is the first of many such records from this pair!
Gene Watson "Best Of The Best: 25 Greatest Hits" (Fourteen Carat, 2012)
Re-recorded versions of classics by honkytonk legend Gene Watson, one of the finest country stylists of the 1970s and '80s... Hell, he's still one of country's best singers, period. A soulful, subtle vocalist who combines the wisdom of years with a remarkably robust vocal tone... this is a guy who know how it's done. You can track down the originals down as well, but you might like to check out how Watson sounds today... It's mighty sweet.
Gene Watson "My Heroes Have Always Been Country" (Fourteen Carat, 2014)
Gene Watson "The Best Of Gene Watson" (Capitol, 1978)
Gene Watson "Greatest Hits" (MCA, 1986)
Gene Watson "Greatest Hits" (Curb, 1990)
Gene Watson "Best Of" (Curb, 1996)
Gene Watson "Eighteen Greatest Hits" (Tee Vee, 1999)
Despite the cheapo packaging, this is a killer set of little-known (and hard to find) Watson goodies from his late '70s and early '80s stint on Capitol Records. Heavy Merle Haggard influence, with lots of earthy, relaxed cheatin' songs and slow country grooves. Nice stuff... well worth tracking down.
Gene Watson "The Ultimate Collection" (Universal, 2001)
A strong set of Watson's best tunes, most of which pegged out in the lower end of the Top 10 during the benighted 1980s. In retrospect, he was a real breath of fresh air, a hard country hero who kept things real, even when he'd try and sweeten things up a bit. Plus, he's a great singer, with a voice that doesn't fizzle out or falter the way some of his more frilly Nashville conteporaries often do... Nope: Watson was solid all the way through: nice voice, nice songs, nice music. Nice record.
Gene Watson "Memories To Burn/Starting New Memories" (Hux, 2011)
(Produced by Larry Booth & Gene Watson)
For a look back at Watson's older work, this twofer reissue combines two mid-1980s albums, 1985's Memories To Burn and Starting New Memories, from 1986. The swinging single "Memories To Burn" was one of Watson's last major hits, pegging out at #5 on the Country charts... There's other fun stuff: the creationist novelty song "I Want My Rib Back" is kind of a hoot (in which he references the Adam and Eve story, with the line "I won't let evolution make a monkey out of me" in the chorus...) Likewise, "The New York Times" is a nice rural-vs-urban country song, with a small-town gal heading for the big city lights... The rest of the record is dominated by slower stuff, ballads and midtempo tunes like "Cold Summer Day In Georgia," all of which Watson sings with his typical professionalism and economy. Starting New Memories has a similar sound, and although it fared less well on the charts, there are some well-crafted gems on here as well, such as "Atlanta Anymore," "I Saved Your Place" and "Everything I Used To Do." For a nice dose of simple, masterful, no-nonsense country singing, Mr. Watson can always be counted on for some classy material. Recommended!
The Farewell Party Band "Country Plus" (BRW Records, 1982) (LP)
(Produced by Gene Watson, Larry Booth & Russ Reeder)
A "solo" set by Watson's backing band, which I think may be the only one they recorded. The band, which hailed from Spring, Texas, took its name from Watson's 1979 hit single (and signature song) "Farewell Party," off the Reflections album.
Hick Music Index