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Classic Country Style

Since arriving on the charts almost four decades ago with the classic "Love In The Hot Afternoon," Gene Watson has remained one of the format's most distinctive stylists. Hits like "Farewell Party," Fourteen Carat Mind" and "Got No Reason Now For Goin' Home" have helped to define his sound to a generation of country music fans. But, where did that love of the format come from? The singer tells Billboard that his latest disc, "My Heroes Have Always Been Country," offers a little bit of a history lesson. "I think the reasoning behind the CD project was to enlighten all the people out there where Gene Watson came from, and how I came to be. I think these artists that recorded these songs and these songs tell that story. I was listening to them in the clubs back before

Gene Watson had a song to sing or had a contract. These songs are some of my all-time favorites, and these artists are all heroes of mine. I just thought it would be nice to let all the folks know this is where it came from."


The collection kicks off with his take on Dottie West's Grammy-winner "Here Comes My Baby." Watson tells The 615 he was and is a fan. "She was a phenomenal artist. I loved her, and thought she was such a great singer and songwriter. We shared the same birthday, and I just always admired her. It's just one of those special songs. At the time, I thought I was the only man that had ever cut it. But, I was wrong – Dean Martin and Faron Young had recorded it. A good song is a good song, whether it's male or female. I just wanted to put the Gene Watson spin on it."


He also tips the hat to the late Ray Price on the forgotten gem "That's What She Said." Watson says Price will always be one of a kind. "That's an old song I used to do way back when. I don't know of any artist who was any better, and he wasn't just traditional

country - he could sing uptown or swing, whatever he wanted to do, he could do it as good or better than anybody else. To pay tribute to him on here was the least I could do."


He also covered Price on "Make The World Go Away," and paid tribute to Merle Haggard on two tracks. "It' Not Love (But It's Not Bad)' was a huge hit for Merle

Haggard back in 1972, but there's another of his songs that he had on an album that knocked me out years ago that I have wanted to record for so long. Finally, I got a chance to, and it's amazing to me that a lot of Haggard fans haven't heard 'I Forget You Everyday,' which has always been one of my favorites." The singer admits there's something that remains endearing about the lesser-known songs, and he loves bringing them to peoples' attention. "For a long time, before Gene Watson ever got his foot in the door, I lived off B-sides and album cuts. I couldn't find material. The writers weren't  writing songs for 'Gene Nobody,' so I had to go through albums and find songs that had been recorded, but not as singles. I would flip the A-side of a record over, pick out a B-side, and perform it."


Though next year will mark the 40-year anniversary of his first hit, he is not settling for a slowdown just yet. "We're still working and setting goals. We're planning on doing another Gospel project, and a new duet album with Rhonda Vincent. I have plans to do an original CD. We have a lot to look forward to. We're working the road harder than we have in years, and we answer the call at the Grand Ole Opry when we can.

We have so many fans who drive so many miles to see us. They keep us going." Watson believes that the numbers he continues to attract in concert offers proof that there is still a market for traditional country music. And, for that he's grateful - because he'd be a fish out of water doing anything else. "I am what I am. That's what I started out doing. I thrive on satisfying my fans. That's what we do. People are starved for traditional country music - the way it should be played on the radio, the way they want to hear it. We have people who will drive hundreds of miles to our shows. We owe everything to them!"



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