Aaron Watson and I are scheduled to talk country music, and we’ll certainly get to that, but first, more pressing matters arise.
“I’m not even a football guy, but I’ve watched Case Keenum play since high school, and he’s got that Tom Brady thing – didn’t get a lot of love out of college, but he’s got that X-factor,” Watson said of Keenum, the former Houston Cougars and Houston Texans quarterback who recently signed with the Denver Broncos. “He gets Minnesota to within one game of the Super Bowl, and some commentators are saying they should move on and start Sam Bradford. Are you kidding me? Bradford – that guy hadn’t played all year.”
Now, the references to Keenum are not totally unwarranted. Both Watson and Keenum hail from Abilene, and Watson has followed his fellow West Texan’s NFL path, which has included stints in Houston (twice), St. Louis (twice), Minnesota, and next season, Denver.
Watson, who plays a post-race show at Sam Houston Race Park on Saturday night, isn’t quite ready to get into country music just yet. Turns out, he attended World Series Games 4 and 5 in Houston last fall, and this is also timely, considering the Astros recently began their title defense.
“You can’t explain the way that team played ball,” Watson said. “They defied gravity, day in and day out, and I’ve never seen such great baseball. It was truly something magical.”
Turns out, Houston holds a special place in Watson’s heart. His mother hails from the Bayou City, and his Houston memories include witnessing Nolan Ryan’s fifth no-hitter at the Astrodome, playing the Hideout at RodeoHouston, and later headlining his own Rodeo set.
And now we’re ready to talk country music, which is fitting, considering Watson – along with stalwarts like Pat Green and Cory Morrow – ranks among the pioneers of the Texas country movement.
“I remember opening for Pat, and we were playing all these small rooms, maybe a couple hundred people, and I thought that was big time,” Watson said. “I feel very blessed to have come up in that movement and to be that guy that was opening for the guy, to be there in the beginning. There was an excitement back in the day that isn’t there today. A lot of things have changed.”
Watson, 40, certainly hasn't slowed down as he’s grown older. An independent artist through and through, Watson has logged 13 albums over the past 19 years. That includes three studio albums in the past six years, each of which has charted in the top 10 on the Billboard Country Albums chart.
Having launched his career before the days of YouTube and social media, Watson adheres to an old-school, grinder’s mentality of thinking. Record music, tour in support of said music and cultivate a loyal fanbase that will remain in your corner, ups and downs be damned.
“It’s been a totally organic thing; we’ve done all this without having much radio success,” Watson said. “But I’m a Texas artist. When people bring you on stage at major festivals in places like California and introduce you as ‘Nashville recording artist Aaron Watson,’ I’ll just stop the show before we get started, take a quick break and remind people, ‘We’re from Texas.’”
Part of Watson’s appeal not only lies in his devotion to all things Texas, but his common man persona. He doesn’t have Luke Bryan’s looks, George Strait’s charm or Brad Paisley’s guitar skills. Rather, he comes off like a genuinely humble guy whose thankful to have made a career playing the music he loves.
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This isn’t speculation, mind you, but rather, from the man himself.
“I’m an incredibly average guy,” Watson said. I’m average looking. I’m an average singer. But I work my butt off. I tell my little boys all the time, ‘Everything about your daddy is average, except for his heart and his work ethic.’”
And, perhaps, his perspective as well.
“There are guys who are a million times more talented than me, but for whatever reason, it just doesn’t work out for them,” Watson aid. “We are blessed with the best fans, and they’ve been with us through thick and thin. I think it’s because we played in front of nobody for such a long time, we now truly have a great amount of appreciation that there’s somebody who wants to hear our music. We’re very fortunate. It’s all about heart and hustle, and we have plenty of both.”