Houston has always been and will always be a music town. Though not everyone is aware, the city has birthed and housed music superstars in all genres. Country singer Gene Watson is no exception. The 76 year-old artist was born in Palestine, Texas and has called Houston and Kingwood home for most of his life.
Watson and his band had most of the year booked and like all artists had to reschedule his dates. "Some of the dates that we had booked we've had to move to 2021. It's best to be cautious and keep your wits about you and still try to save the dates where the people will appreciate you moving them on their behalf as well as your own."
Watson did not have to move his scheduled performance at Main Street Crossing in Tomball on August 7. He and his band tour most of the year all over the United States but Watson says he will always call Texas home.
“I have people ask me every show, ‘How come you never moved to Nashville?’ Well I was born in Texas, raised in Texas, I still got my home in Texas. The reason I don't move to Nashville is cause I like Texas,” says Watson in his rich Texan accent.
Watson could have easily been swayed to make the move to the hub of Country music in his long and rich career. He achieved critical success in the ‘70s with his hit song “Love In The Hot Afternoon”, a racy number for the era.
He went on to have multiple chart topping hits including the often covered “Farewell Party” and grew his fan base around his rich vocal style, deriving straight from his country and gospel roots, and his live performances.
He has maintained a busy touring and recording schedule throughout his life and just this year was invited to be a member of the Grand Ole Opry, the highest honor in Country music.
“I was thrilled to say the least,” says Watson. To be asked to be a member of the historic institution is an honor held by only 213 country artists since 1925. It carries a huge significance and an open invitation to perform on the cherished stage anytime they want.
The Grand Ole Opry kept it under wraps and Watson was surprised by none other than Vince Gill. “I don't know how they kept it from me because it had been in the works for a while. Naturally, I was thrilled. I think that's the pinnacle of my kind of music, that's as tall as that tree grows so to say and I'm so honored and so privileged to be a member of that family now.”
Watson, like all artists and many others, has had to cancel his performances due to the outbreak of Covid-19. “I’m spending more time in the house than I have in years,” says Watson.
Watson has seen a thing or two in his time and offers some much needed advice to people today, “I think the people have just lost their minds. If they'd act natural, there wouldn't be a shortage of all these things that there is a shortage of.”
Watson has experienced shortages in his life, his childhood was not glamorous by any stretch of the imagination. Watson, his six siblings and parents lived and traveled in a remodeled school bus, traveling around the great state of Texas in search of work and much needed income.
“It was rough. I come from a poor upbringing and I've been on top, I've been on bottom and been many places in between but I think a person needs to keep their wits about them and use a little bit of common sense on your day by day walk of life.”
Watson was working as a mechanic in a body shop in Houston while singing in the honky tonk bars at night before he was plucked by Capitol Records. When asked what advice he would give aspiring artists today he says, “If you've got the determination and the drive, I think it's there for those who truly have the talent and the will to work for it. It took me a long time,” he says.
He has never forgotten his roots and where he came from. In 2014 Watson released an album featuring covers of some of the country songs he grew up singing titled, My Heroes Have Always Been Country.
“I recorded all of the older songs that I used to do before I had any songs of my own,” he says. “You know what's so scary, all the artists that were named on that album, all the artists are gone except for Willie Nelson. Willie is the only one left, it's a scary thing in my profession but all I can do is carry the torch as well as I can.”
“Willie has kept it alive for a long time, if anybody ever did lay down the groundwork for a career he did. We’ve all got a lot of admiration for Willie and what he's done for our kind of music,” says Watson.
In 2018 Watson released My Gospel Roots, and taking a page straight from Willie himself, Watson invited his siblings to play on the album and dedicated the album to his loving parents. My Gospel Roots produced three number one singles for Watson and is inspiring him to record a new album of original material in the near future.
For now, Watson’s shows are not canceled but rescheduled. He and his longtime backing band, The Farewell Party Band, are looking forward to getting back on the road.
Hopefully, when the corona virus dust settles and everyone can get on with their lives, Watson and his band will be back at it, spreading the gospel of country music around the United States. “I ask all the fans to hang in there and we're going to be back out just as soon as they let us,” he assures.
Gene Watson will perform at Main Street Crossing in Tomball on August 7, 111 W. Main. Doors at 8 p.m., $80-175.
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Gladys Fuentes is a first generation Houstonian whose obsession with music began with being glued to KLDE oldies on the radio as a young girl. She is a freelance music writer for the Houston Press, contributing articles since early 2017.