To celebrate his 50th anniversary in country music, Gene Watson will release Best of the Best: 25 Greatest Hits on his own Fourteen Carat Music label on February 14. He has re-recorded 25 of his classic hits to sound like the originals. Sonny Garish, legendary steel-guitar player, returns for the recordings and is joined by a group of players that recreate the original arrangements.
“My first recording ever was on a little ‘ol independent label that was started up just for this recording session, Sun Valley Records,” Gene said. “Maybe I thought I could sell them at my shows or something. I wrote the record, ‘If It Was That Easy.’ It was not any good, but, boy, I thought that was something. I had my own record.”
In the music business, a major-label artist usually pays for their recording sessions though the label owns the recording. Gene’s classics are owned by four different corporations and so by re-recording them to sound like the originals on his own label, he now ‘owns’ them all himself.
“I wanted these to sound as close to the originals as could be done,” he said. “I had to work so hard to capture them the same way I did them originally. All of these songs are in the same keys. I just thank the good Lord above that He’s let me keep my voice intact. In fact, I can probably hit the notes better now than I could back then. Whenever there was a question when I was re-recording these, we went back and listened to the original recording.
Gene’s performances of hits such as “Fourteen Carat Mind,” “Love in the Hot Afternoon,” “Farewell Party,” and “Memories to Burn” have earned him the reputation as a ‘Singer’s Singer.’ Joe Nichols, Brad Paisley, Trace Adkins, Vince Gill, Alan Jackson, Lee Ann Womack and Randy Travis all count him as one of their idols.
The Watson family, which included seven children, grew up drifting from shack to shack as their father took logging and crop-picking jobs. Home became a converted school bus and Gene dropped out of school in the ninth grade to join his parents in the field. He settled in Houston, where he developed a strong local following. Capitol Records picked up “Love in the Hot Afternoon” for distribution after hearing him perform and it became the first of Gene’s two-dozen Top 10 hits in early 1975.
“Seems like my career just kind of happened accidentally,” Gene said. “It was purely unintentional. Music was just a sideline. I was going to be playing and singing no matter what line of work I was going to do. I never did really have any high expectations out of the music business. Even today, I never know what to expect from one day to the next.
Gene refused songwriting credit when he re-wrote “Pick the Wildwood Flower” to make it an autobiographical track and songwriter Lawton Williams was so grateful for Gene’s performance of “Farewell Party” that he gave Gene his 1980 BMI Award for it. Gene quit drinking in 1980, quit smoking in 1990, and underwent surgery and survived colon cancer in 2000-2001. He was inducted into the Texas Music Hall of Fame in 2002.
“There is one thing,” Gene said. “As far as I know, I do have an impeccable reputation in the music business, and I wouldn’t take nothing for that. If anything in the world means ‘success’ to me, that right there does.”