In celebration of 50 years in country music, Gene Watson has re-recorded 25 of his classic hits to sound like the originals. Best of the Best: 25 Greatest Hits will be released February 14 on Gene’s own record label, Fourteen Carat Music, and features legendary steel guitarist Sonny Garish along with a band of players that re-created the original arrangements.
“I wanted these to sound as close to the originals as could be done,” Gene 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.”
The Watson family, made up of seven children, grew up moving from shack to shack as their father took logging and crop-picking jobs to make ends meet. Home became a converted school bus and Gene dropped out of school in ninth grade to help his family. He settled in Houston, where he developed a local following on the club circuit. 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 says. “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 Watson is a survivor. He quit drinking in 1980 and quit smoking in 1990. He underwent surgery and survived colon cancer in 2000-01. Through it all, he continued to record one critically applauded collection after another. He was inducted into the Texas Music Hall of Fame in 2002.
“It’s unbelievable to me that it’s been 50 years,” says Gene. “For most of those years, it seemed like it took everything I could do to keep working as steady as I needed to. Now that I’m older, it seems like everything comes to me without trying. I’m working more shows than I was 15 years ago.
“It’s quite a compliment,” he adds. “I think a lot of it is because there’s not too much of what I do around anymore. I think there is still such a hunger out there for traditional country music. So I’d like to stay out there as long as I’m able to do the job and do it well.
“Every time I step out on that stage and see that audience, it’s a new beginning,” says Gene. “Even though I’ve sung these songs millions of times, I look at each one like it’s brand new to me. Every night, I try to deliver that song the best that I can.”
Gene’s classic songs like “Fourteen Carat Mind,” “Love in the Hot Afternoon,” “Farewell Party,” and “Memories to Burn” have earned him the title of 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.