Golden Graham talks with the stars of country music

Gene Watson 

At Outskirts Wichita Falls  Texas

by Graham Lees


Gene Watson first entered the US Country Charts in 1975 with ‘Bad Water’ on the Resco label. Several top ten hits followed, gaining a strong fan base in the UK and mainland Europe. While taking a few weeks holiday during June and July travelling around Texas, I had the greatest pleasure in meeting Gene Watson after catching his performance at Outskirts, a honky tonk situated just outside Wichita Falls. Outskirts is everything I expected a real live Texas honky tonk to be. A crowded bar room with a few people playing pool as the rest of us were entertained by the house band, as we waited for the star of the evening.

 Gene Watson had lived in Wichita Falls some years earlier and as he took the stage around 10-30pm with his five-piece band, a great welcoming applause came from the audience as Gene opened with his 1985 #5 hit ‘Memories To Burn’. With the dance floor full of two-stepping dancers, Gene gave a sensational performance, including many of his former hits such as ‘Pick The Wildwood Flower’, his suggestive 1977 hit ‘Love In The Hot Afternoon’, ‘Paper Rosie’ from 1977 and ‘Farwell Party’ from which he was to name his band. Gene Watson took 21 singles into the Billboard Top-Ten Country Chart, but only charted at the premier spot once with ‘Fourteen Carat Mind’ in 1982. Announcing a soon to be released new album, Gene told us there were to be 12 tracks, mostly new songs and a couple of old ones, performing from the album ‘I Never Go Around Mirrors’, ‘Take Me As I Am’ and  ‘The Old Porch Swing’. With the whole room in full swing, all too soon Gene’s performance drew to a close, a thoroughly magical experience at Outskirts. 

For some months Gene has been receiving treatment for colon cancer and though he was still not 100% recovered, Gene Watson gladly found time to meet a small group of fans waiting outside the tour bus for an autograph or a chance just to wish him well. One young fellow summed up the feeling of everybody, "we are hear because we care!" I have to say that the generosity Gene Watson gave of his time was gratifying, as many artistes today, even in full health, can't find any time to meet their devoted fans. 

Introducing myself to Gene's band leader, a message was passed back and forth that Gene would be pleased to take the opportunity to talk to me and let his fans in the UK know, just how well he is doing now.

I am extremely grateful to Gene Watson for his time, as it was obvious that he was looking tired after his powerful performance and was not completely back to his former well being, therefore I kept my interview short and this is what Gene had to tell me.

"I was diagnosed with colon cancer about nine months ago, we were in fact in Nashville doing the Grand Ole' Opry when I got the symptoms. The guys got me on the bus and rushed me back here to my home state of Texas. I went to the hospital in my hometown and went through tests and everything. Then I went down to Houston, where I live now and they were the ones who diagnosed it positively, so I had it removed surgically. Of course I spent some time in the hospital down there and I had a real, real fine surgeon who specialised in Laparoscopic Surgery. They didn't have to cut me open, they went through a hole in me and removed the cancer surgically. But just for insurance purposes I went ahead and had six months of chemotherapy. Boy that was rough, I mean it was rough! But I made it, I'm still weak, you know it will take me a while to get my strength back. I just went back in hospital a couple of weeks ago for the first bank of tests, since the end of the treatment. They say everything is looking good, so I'm feeling good about that."

Despite all the problems of his own illness, Gene Watson expressed his loyalty and the gratitude he has for the musicians who play in his band, as their own livelihoods were also in jeopardy during these frantic few months. Gene told me what is happening work-wise with himself and the band at the moment.

"Well we are keeping up as heavier a schedule as possible, in fact we have been keeping it up too heavy for my doctors. They didn't want me to work that hard. Last week I overdone it a bit and had to reschedule a couple of dates. I had to take off last weekend because we'd been working pretty hard and I'd also been working on a new CD. Between jobs and between the recording studio and everything else….you know, I record in Nashville….it just beat me up. I just beat myself down and it got the best of me. I had to lay off for a few days, but we're working. My band have been extremely good about understanding all about it and they have been hanging on and hanging in with me and we're getting back to work now. So everything is looking good and we have a brand new CD coming out titled, From The Heart, produced by Ray Pennington."

A man who sings from the heart, talks from the heart and is loved in the heart of Texas. Gene told me a little more about the new album and his feelings towards his long time fans in Britain. 

"The single is due out at the end of this month (June 2001), the title of it is 'Next To Nothing'. I'm looking forward to that. We have got a very good recording contract, working with some very good people at RMG records and I can't wait to get back out there in the mainstream of what's going on and get my health back. You know that it all hinges on your health. If you don't have your health, the rest don't mean nothing. I'm real thankful for my health. I'm getting back on my feet and I'm so appreciative to the people over in England and the people all over Europe. They have always been so supportive and great fans. I missed Fan Fare this year and that is always something that I've always tried to do. You get to meet a lot of the people from overseas, but hopefully before too long we will be going strong and go over there and do some shows. We are looking forward to that!"

Thanks Gene, I'm sure your fans back home will be pleased to hear how well you are doing. I'm grateful for you taking the time to talk with me.



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