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100 Greatest Men: #92. Gene Watson

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

He didn’t always top the charts or win the big awards, but Gene Watson’s legacy of traditional country music made him one of the most respected vocalists of his generation.

Born and raised in Texas, he grew up fully immersed in Western swing, southern blues, and gospel music.  By age twelve, he’d made his first public performance. Never liking school, he dropped out in ninth grade. He chose auto body repair as his career, but did music on the side at night, more as a hobby than anything else.

While singing one night in Houston, he caught the attention of the Wilburn Brothers.  They invited him to do some shows with him, and soon secured him an appearance on the Grand Ole Opry, where his performance of the Hank Williams classic “I Can’t Help it (If I’m Still in Love With You)” earned a standing ovation.

Soon, the young artist had signed with Capitol Records, the first of four successful major label stints that would produced nearly two dozen top ten hits. His big breakthrough was the steamy “Love in the Hot Afternoon” in 1975, and before he moved over to MCA in 1981, he’d released some of his biggest hits, including his signature tune, “Farewell Party”, which went to #5 in 1979.

His strongest run at radio kicked off with the lead single from his second MCA album, “Fourteen Carat Mind.” It became his only #1 hit in early 1982, but he scored several more big hits over the next three years, just missing the top spot again with “You’re Out Doing What I’m Here Doing Without.”

Switching labels again to Epic in 1985, the hits became less frequent. “Memories to Burn” went to #5, but the rest of his songs peaked outside of the top ten until he switched to Warner Brothers in 1988. Again, his first single for the label was a hit. Peaking at #5 in early 1989, “Don’t Waste it On the Blues” was his swan song at country radio, which mostly ignored his output from that point on.

In the nineties, Watson remained on the music scene, recording for several independent labels. The most successful partnership was with Step One, which produced a minor hit with “Change Her Mind” in 1997. In the years since, Watson has released additional studio albums, most notably the critically acclaimed In a Perfect World in 2007.  Like many stars of his time, he remains a popular live performer, touring recently with Rhonda Vincent.

Essential Singles:

  • Love in the Hot Afternoon, 1975
  • Paper Rosie, 1977
  • Farewell Party, 1979
  • Should I Come Home (Or Should I Go Crazy), 1979
  • Fourteen Carat Mind, 1981
  • You’re Out Doing What I’m Here Doing Without, 1983
  • Memories to Burn, 1985

Essential Albums:

  • Love in the Hot Afternoon, 1975
  • Because You Believed in Me, 1976
  • Beautiful Country, 1978
  • This Dream’s on Me, 1982
  • Sometimes I Get Lucky, 1983
  • In a Perfect World, 2007

Next: #91. Diamond Rio

Previous:  #93. Vernon Dalhart

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

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