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


  1. Some of my Gene Watson favorites from a cd I put together. Don’t recall if they’re singles or album tracks:
    You Can’t Believe a Thing I Say
    All Hat No Cattle
    This Could Go On Forever
    I Catch Myself
    Don’t Waste It On the Blues
    You Can’t Take It With You
    A Way to Survive
    Just in Case
    Hold That Thought
    I’d Settle for Just Crossing Her Mind
    and a great version of
    At Last.
    Gene’s another artist I would have much higher.

  2. I would have Gene somewhere in my top 50, probably somewhere between between 40 and 49, but I tend to weight the singer’s vocal abilities rather more heavily in my rankings. Based on vocal talent alone, Gene would be sitting in the top five

    Gene’s emergence was poorly timed – if he had come around ten years later or twenty five years earlier, he would have been a huge star

  3. I agree. I wonder if “Farewell Party” would’ve led to a platinum album if it had been released around the time of “The Dance”, or even after “He Stopped Loving Her Today.”

    Researching his work made me also think that he never quite had the full backing of a label that made him a real priority. Then, all the label-hopping made it hard to put together a coherent hits collection for many years, so even his legacy has been shortchanged by poor timing.

    He really is an amazing singer, which got him on the list before others who sold more records and won more awards. If he was a female artist with similar talent and achievements, he’d have made the top forty of that list with room to spare.

  4. …well, paul w. dennis, given that 35 years would make a decent lifespan, i don’t think, anybody can really blame gene watson for having been somewhat unfortunate when it comes to the timing issues of his career. also considering, that he resembles keith whitley quite a bit makes it hard to deny that the deck wasn’t exactly stacked in his favour.

  5. Kevin, I think one positive effect of living in the digital era is that today’s listeners can (generally) buy the singles of their choosing and compile their own hits playlist, with no regard at all for record labels. The iTunes Essentials series of playlists do a really good job of showcasing an artist’s discography. It’s probably too late for Watson to benefit from this, but I suspect that there are plenty of artists with comparable experiences not being properly supported whose legacies will be better captured by being able to circumvent the red tape that used to prohibit fans from having all the key hits from their favorite artists in one place.

  6. Unabashedly I’m a huge Gene Watson fan and feel as several here do that if the vote were on vocal talent, Gene would be top 5. While this article mentions only one #1, it failed to say they only accounted for Billboard charts which doesn’t allow for the other major charts of the time which gives Gene at least 5 #1 hits in his heydey. Hard to understand how “Farewell Party” wasn’t a #1 for many weeks but today, thanks in part to the internet and great sites like this one, maybe Gene will finally get the recognition he deserves.

  7. I’ve only heard selected recordings by Gene Watson, so I’m going to use your essentials list here as a starting point. As everybody seems to agree, Gene is a fabulously astute vocalist, so I think I’ll enjoy sifting through his catalog.

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