Aaron Watson has been through a lot in his twelve-year career: eleven albums, the birth of four children, countless hours on the road and many more still spent toiling away at his guitar, writing songs with Jesus on one shoulder and the ghost of Waylon Jennings on the other, making the country tunes he was born to play. But a year ago, the music nearly stopped for this lone star legend from Amarillo, Texas. Watson and his wife lost their newest daughter, Julia Grace, just shortly after her birth. And this man, who lives and breathes his craft, fell silent.
“I thought the last thing I want to do is make music, to get up there and sing,” Watson says, his Texas accent strong and smooth as molasses. “So I said, ‘God, I don’t think I can do this. If music is what you need me to do, then I need some help. Because I can’t write a song to save my life.’ And over the next month I wrote a record like it was no big deal – and I think it’s my best one yet.”
The resulting album is titled Real Good Time, and it’s testament to the power of music to lift us out from our lowest moments and bring joy and salvation though the wail of the fiddle, twang of a steel guitar or note of Watson’s rich voice. He’d give all the credit to God, but it’s also the result of a long career inspired by the greats of country music – George Strait, Chris Ledoux, Willie Nelson, Jennings. His music has formed into a unique sound that is at once both purely new, and representative of a grand, southern tradition. Because, as Watson points out, “country music, real country music, is cool. It’s the coolest there is.”
Watson’s career has been, as he would put it, “slow and steady; a long distance race and not a sprint.” Though he currently lives in Abilene, he was raised in Amarillo (“you can’t get any more country than that,” he laughs) on his father’s record collection that not only included classic country, but also acts like the Beach Boys and the Beatles. While his mother would encourage him to sing, Watson preferred other boyish pursuits like baseball, which he played up until college where he was derailed by an injury. It was at Abilene Christian University where Watson picked up the guitar and realized his God-given talent for songwriting. “Eventually I started selling records out of my backpack,” he says, and his crowds grew from there. It wasn’t an overnight rise. “We did it the hard way,” he says with pride. “We did it the old-school way.”
It was very early on when Watson learned the importance of fans – and how much he truly valued them. “I treat my fans like family, like royalty,” he says. To this day, no matter the time or size of the crowd, he still lingers after a concert to hug the audience and shake hands. “I sign anything and everything they’d like, and there isn’t one person who leaves the show thinking I don’t appreciate them.” And they’ve grown from a devoted Texas base to followers across the nation and beyond, even showing up in droves for concerts in Europe, which is now becoming a part of his normal touring schedule.
Ask Watson what inspires him – and his music – and he’ll list three things: family, fans and faith. He has an undying and steadfast dedication to all of these pillars, and every one influences the other. “They are what makes my music. When I’m writing songs, that’s what on my mind. What else is there?” Real Good Time has songs about Watson’s wife, his parents and grandparents, about his faith in Jesus. “It’s reflective of who I am. And I think that is what makes an artist an artist.”
After a series of records including one of gospel songs titled Barbed Wire Halo and another a dual disc CD/DVD, Aaron Watson LIVE: Deep in the Heart of Texas, Watson feels like Real Good Time is the pinnacle of his musical tenure thus far. “It really sums up what we have been doing the last twelve years, and I feel like it is the cream of the crop for us,” he says. He even recruited names like Willie Nelson and Elizabeth Cook to sing with him on “Honky Tonk Kid” and “Leather and Lace,” respectively. There are full-force fun swingers (“Real Good Time), tongue-in-cheek romps (the satirical “Hey Y’all”) and slow, heartfelt tunes (“July In Cheyenne”). What you won’t find are any songs that Watson doesn’t believe reaffirm his morals, his faith in Jesus and love for his family. “I don’t sing cheating songs,” he says. “It’s not about selling millions of records. It’s about making a positive impact, and my music is my legacy. I want people to listen and know what I was about after I have left this world.”
Watson has accumulated many accolades and critical accomplishments over the course of his career; including selling over 150,000 records, seven #1 singles on the Texas Music Chart, and 4 albums that debuted on the Billboard charts. He’s attended the ACM Awards (“I think I was the only guy there with a cowboy hat on!” he says), but in all he’d “rather have rewards than awards. My rewards are my family and fans. And having Lyle Lovett call and say that he and his mom listened to my gospel record driving across county. Or a disabled veteran coming up to me with tears in his eyes thanking me for the song I wrote for my father.”
The song, “Raise Your Bottle,” was written for Watson’s dad who was disabled in the Vietnam War, and he has used it to raise money and awareness for the Boot Campaign, a foundation that supports American troops upon their return home. Giving back not just in song but also in action is a huge part of Watson’s philosophy.
When Watson started making music, they called him the Honky Tonk Kid. At 35, they still do. He’s proud of it: though he’s gone from an old van and trailer to a tour bus, from sawdust floors to big stages, he still holds dear the core reasons why he first started writing songs and singing so many years ago. “We have a formula that has been working for over a decade, and that’s making good, wholesome, fun music reflective of what I believe in,” he says. This newest record is all of that, wrapped up in a rollicking ride and brought into existence through the toughest of tragedies but also by the grace of God. “It’s the best that I’ve got, no regrets,” he says. So kick your feet up, as Watson sings, and let a country boy show you a real good time.