Ask any number of country performers from Randy Travis to Joe Nichols to Alan Jackson, and they will tell you that the music of Gene Watson has been one of their biggest influences. That makes the veteran performer beam. "I'm thankful there's some of the newer artists who value what I did then that bring my name up in conversation," he said.
In addition to his name, his songs have also made an impact. With titles like "Farewell Party," "Fourteen Carat Mind" and "Paper Rosie" to his credit, Watson has put together one of the strongest catalogs in the history of country music - which can be heard in part on his new compilation "Best of the Best: Twenty-Five Greatest Hits."
In an interview with Billboard, Watson said that assembling his hits on one disc was an idea whose time had come.
"I've been recording long enough that I've got so many songs on different labels," said the singer, who has been on the rosters of Capitol, MCA, and Warner Brothers during his five-decade career. "Each one of the labels, it seems like they have their own Greatest Hits package. Since we're celebrating fifty years in the business, we thought we would go in and compile a 25-song CD of not only the best chart songs, but the most requested, loved, and most talked about songs we could put together."
That being said, Watson said he has never really been a fan of artists re-cutting their hits, so he tried to make things sound as close to the original recordings as possible. "We were really particular about that. Throughout all of my listening to music, I never was one for liking the covers. I don't care who it's by, they always seem to lack a little luster from the original. We were so meticulous with this that when we went into the studio, we wanted so much for them to be like the originals that we took them in there with us. Of course, I still sing in the same key, and we tried to do them in the same tempo," he said.
The singer commented that each of these tracks bring back more than a few memories. "You have to create that atmosphere. I've been lucky in a long career. It seems like with every one of these songs, I can go back to the time when I recorded them, and remember certain situations when I recorded them. Of course, you're never going to recapture the warmth that we had on the original. There's too much magic in there, like on 'Farewell Party,' - that was a one take. I tried to live all the stories all over again, and recapture the same feel the original songs had."
One song included on the collection is "Love In The Hot Afternoon," which was his very first hit, from 1975. With the somewhat risqué lyrics at the time, it was a chance - albeit one that paid off. "I heard the song and loved it, knowing it had been recorded by seven different artists before I got. Jim Ed Brown recorded it, but everyone who had done it had altered the lyrics. It was a little suggestive for the time. My manager and I had talked about it, and I said 'This song has been recorded, but it hasn't been. I want to record it, but I want to do it the way it was written.' I'm sure some stations won't play it. So, we did it, and it turned out to be the No. 4 song of 1975," and after all the concern about the steamy lyrics, Watson reflected "I think there was only two or three stations that didn't play it."
Looking back on his long career, is there anything he would change? "You know, a lot of people say 'If I had to do it all over again, I sure would do it differently.' I'm not sure that I would. I've paid my dues - been there, done that, there's not many things that I haven't come across. I think it took all of that to appreciate the brighter side. If there was a pebble in the path, I learned from it. I was given the freedom to record my material. I believe I would do it the same way. With every step I took, I learned something. It cleaned me up a whole lot. I used to be a drinker and smoked like a freight train. I haven't drank a beer in thirty-one years, or smoked in twenty-five. I've learned that you've got to respect this business. Because, if you don't, it will kill you," he reflects, before proudly stating "We're working more now than we did fifteen years ago. There are a lot of country fans out there."