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Honky Tonk Kid, Aaron Watson knows how to have a 'Real Good Time'

Aaron Watson
Aaron Watson

Aaron Watson is an absolutely amazing person with a heart of gold. He loves Jesus, loves his wife and kids, and he is an amazing independent country music artist from Texas. His 12-year music career has produced 12 albums, eight #1 singles on the Texas music chart, and four albums that have debuted on the Billboard charts.

After him, and his wife suffered a parent’s greatest loss, their newborn baby, Julia Grace. Aaron put his own devastation aside, and wrote another set of grieving parent’s a song. In memory of the late, Lane Frost, Aaron’s latest single ‘July in Cheyenne,’ has earned him Song of the Year, Single of the Year, as well as Video of the Year at the Texas regional report awards.

I recently had the great pleasure of speaking with Aaron, and here is what he had to share:

Q. Tell me about yourself, and what have you been working on?

A. Well, my favorite color is… No, um, we just finished out 12th record with Keith Stegall. It’s called ‘Underdog.’ The title track is a song I wrote for my 2 little boys, Jack and Jake, ages 6 and 8. I wrote this song for them from the perspective that some day daddy won’t be around, that daddy’s not around forever. This song is a reference for them that when I’m not there, they can go back and listen to this song and know how much I love them, and how much I expect of them. It talks about faith, and family, and finances, and you know, love, and baseball.

It gives them everything I need for them to know. It’s a special record, and I am excited about it. It’s the first record we’ve recorded in Nashville as a whole. I’ve just always enjoyed recording my records at home in Texas, but the opportunity to work with Keith Stegall…The guy has produced all of Alan Jackson’s records, and George Jones, and Randy Travis. He may have produced Elvis for all I know. It seems like he’s produced everybody that’s big time. We just really hit it off and he really understands what makes an artist an artist. Well, I am not really an artist. More like a songwriter. That’s what I like. I like to write songs, and he understood the importance of making a record that was reflective of my song writing and what I’ve built up as an independent artist over the last 14 years, and not compromising that. So, we’ve been busy with that.

At home, I’m really busy with the family. My 3 kids, Jake, Jack, and Jolee Kate. Their baseball season just ended, and summer just kicked up so we have swimming lessons, soccer camp, and baseball camp. We’re working pretty hard for the next 3 weeks, and then headed to Seattle for a little family vacation. My wife’s family lives up there, so…

I wish I could tell you life was busier on the road, but it’s busier at home. I love it. I like country music, but it’s just my job, and that’s how I pay off my wife’s credit card every month.

Q. What’s next for you?

A. We just want to continue to grow our fan base, and expanding our markets. Last year, I think we played about 25 or 26 states, and 5 different countries. A lot of people say I am regional, and I’m like, yeah, regional like the world regional. The region of the world. We have really worked hard to broaden our fan base. We did probably play the first 8 years in Texas, which you can do that. You can play 150-200 shows a year, and make a good living, and never cross the state line, but we decided we’re going start franchising out. Our market over seas has turned out to be something incredible. They really love traditional country music, and we kinda toe the line, you know. I love traditional country music music, but I also like a high energy, rockin’, honky-tonk show. We really try to make music for everyone.

With this next record, we’re just looking to continue to grow things, and priority #1 is, we always give God all the glory, and we thank Him for our blessings, and blessing us with fans. We want to make sure we don’t take those blessings for granted, so, we take care of our fans, and produce a record that they’ll love. I always tell people, hey, 98% of the world may love the new mainstream country radio, and that’s okay, I like it too, but we’re after the 2% that still like fiddle, and steel guitar. That 2% is still a really big number.

Q. Was there a defining moment in your life when you knew you wanted to be a musician?

A. I played baseball in college, and I got hurt. That door closed, and that’s when I started taking music serious full-time. At the time, I was working a couple different jobs waiting tables, or working on the school grounds making minimum wage, under 5 bucks an hour back then. I would work all week and get like an $180 check, and I was like man, this is messed up. Then, people started asking me to play these gigs, and little private parties, little shindigs. I remember I played this gig for the American Dental Association, and they paid me $500. At the end of the night people started tipping me, and I ended up making like $1000 ,in 30 minutes. Either I could keep working on these flowerbeds on the school campus for $180 a week or, I could play for 30 minutes and make $1000. That’s where the motor started to turn, and the wheels started turning, and we started booking shows.

Q. What do you think you would be doing if you weren’t a musician?

A. I don’t know. I was pre-med. I thought about getting into optometry. I don’t know why, but I just thought that would be a real fun, relaxing job. I knew a guy that was an optometrist. He worked like, on Monday’s, Tuesday’s, Wednesday’s, and then played golf on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday’s. So, I was like hey, maybe I will be one of those. But, when I started playing music I quit worrying about grade point averages. I still had a 3 point something, but…I don’t know what God would had in store for me. Maybe, I would have been a baseball coach, or owned a landscaping business. Who knows, maybe I’d be working for my father-in-law. He’s offered me jobs, and I’m just like, no way I am working for you. I like what I am doing. I like being self-made. Whatever I was doing, I’d be giving it my best.

Q. How much time is spent on the road?

A. 150 shows a year. I tell people I kind of have a fireman’s schedule. We go out Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, and I always try to be home Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. When I am at home I am a full-time dad, and I revolve everything around the kids and my wife. It’s no different that any other job. You have to have priorities. Musicians that say that you can’t have a family, and play music, they have their priorities messed up, and that’s a fact. The fact is, they’re more focused on their career, and themselves than they are on their wife and children, and that’s just a fact. You put them first. There’s been times I have had to make sacrifices, things that could have enhanced my career, and that’s why we’ve been independent for so long. At the end of the day, I’ve never been able to commit to what is required, the standard that is required. When I am on my deathbed, I’m not going to be thinking about how many records I sold. I am going to be thinking about things like last Tuesday night when my boys’ and me had front row seats at the Texas Ranger’s baseball game. You know? Driving home at 12 o’clock at night singing Beatles songs on I-20. Those are the kinds of things I’ll remember. I won’t be thinking about music on my death bed. Not at all.

Q. How do you balance touring and family life?

A. Family first. It’s real simple. Family first. What is it? If mama ain’t happy, then nobody’s happy. That’s very true, and I am learning if baby girl ain’t happy, then nobody’s happy.

Q. Who would you most like to work with one day?

A. Oh, you know, I don’t know. I like a lot of the old school guys. I got to sing a song with Willy Nelson 10 years ago. Now, they call me the ‘Honky Tonk Kid.’ I wrote a song called ‘Honky Tonk Kid’ with a guy here in town named Chris Burgess. Chris is a great songwriter, and Will heard it and loved it, and wanted to sing with me on it. That was a dream come true. Obviously, I wish Waylon was still around. George Jones was still around, Buck Owns. We played at Buck’s place in Bakersfield, California, the Crystal Palace, and we’ve played there a lot of times, but the manager of that place says, man, I wish Buck was still around. He would think you’re the greatest thing since sliced bread. I would have liked to work with Chris LeDoux. I love Chris LeDoux.

I like some of these new bands too. I like Dierks Bentley. I always lean more toward traditional stuff, but I love Lady Antebellum. They make great music. I don’t dislike any kind of music. I just like good music. I like stuff that’s heartfelt. You can feel it when something is real. I put in a CD and I am just like geez, this is nothing but trying to write a bunch of radio smashes, but when I get that album, and it’s just like…deep. You can just tell. The writing and creativity, and it still has those hits. Lady Antebellum has been putting out those kind of records. It’s crazy.

Q. Who influenced you most in your early years? How about now?

A. I would say my daddy. I am who I am today because of my dad. Dad always had tons of vinyl records laying around the house. We listened to a lot of music growing up. Also too, my mom making me sing at church, and having dad expose me to Willie, Waylon, and Merle. All that good stuff.

Q. What advice do you have for aspiring musicians?

A. I have a real problem with shows on today like ‘The Voice.’ Society feeds off of this, and there are good circumstances where it does open opportunities for people who have never had the chance to share their music, but it also shuts a lot of doors on a lot of people’s faces that have the talent and have what it takes. The reason I have a problem with that is I knew a guy who was on the show, and he said man, they just shut the door. My problem with that is, if you have a dream, don’t leave it up to the opinion of 4 celebrities. Just because they don’t like you don’t mean you don’t have what it takes. What if Willie Nelson would have went on ‘The Voice?’ They would have slammed the door in his face so fast. They would have said he seems weird, his timing was awkward, they didn’t like his look, or his New Balance tennis shoes.

If you love music, play music because you love it. Don’t play music to be famous, and turn it into a business. Think about it. They say you have to sell millions of records. Well, you don’t. What if you have a band and you grew it to the point you could pay everybody $250 a night. You sold CD’s, and you sold 10,000 CD’s a year. 10,000 x $15 is $150,000. I mean you have taxes, and overhead and all those other things, but you can turn it into a legitimate business, and that’s what we’ve done. We’ve grown our business every year since the beginning, and it just continues to grow.

Don’t let people discourage you. I have had several big wigs at these record labels tell me I don’t have what it takes. I’m just kinda like, okay. It doesn’t get me down. I have a big house, a Ranch, a bus, a boat, a beautiful wife, beautiful kids. I am doing okay. You have to be thankful for what God blesses you with. This society so much compares itself with whoever is at the top of the mountain, but be thankful for what you have because there’s somebody who don’t have as much as you.

Q. What do you appreciate most about your life?

That I am able to do what I love. That I have a job that allows me to take care of my family. I am very thankful for that.

Q. What keeps you grounded?

My mama, and my wife. They bust my chops a lot. My faith keeps me grounded. At the end of the day, the only special thing about me is the fact that I love Jesus. That’s the only special thing about me. I am average looking, an average singer, an average songwriter. But, I understand that I can do all things through Christ. Anything I do is because He allows me to do so. It could all be gone in a blink of an eye.

Q. How much do you think your faith has helped you in your career, and why?

A. I think my faith helps me in my singing career just like it would help me regardless of what I was doing. The goal is salvation. I think my faith keeps me focused on my priorities, such as my family. Keeps me from getting wrapped up in a lot of the temptations singers get wrapped up into being out on the road, which those kinds of things usually destroy the family, and then splits the family up, puts financial stress on the singer. It’s a snowball effect.

Q. How do you think other musicians can avoid these pitfalls?

A. I could say stay focused on Jesus. You know, stay focused on being true to your wife. We don’t drink on the bus because the fact is, there’s no such thing as, I’ll just have a couple. When you drink, you make bad decisions, and is it a real job? What other real jobs can you go to the bank and ask for a loan. Is the president of the bank throwing down beer? These people, these fans, are throwing down their hard-earned dollars, and they deserve a good show. I can’t stand it when I go see other bands’ play, and they’re drunk. It’s dis-respectful. It’s ridiculous. I’m passionate about a lot of things, and I don’t like to get to vocal about talking bad about other people, but they get trashed, and it’s disrespectful to their fans. Their fans are supporting their career, and their fans deserve the best.

Q. You won’t sing about cheating. Is there anything else you prefer to not sing about?

A. I don’t really like to sing about drinking. I have some drinking songs, and some kind of cheating songs, but it’s not about me cheating. They’re more story songs, the pit falls. If there is a cheating or drinking song, there’s a moral behind the song. Like, I have a song called ‘Whiskey on Fire,’ the whole deal is, you can’t put out an old flame by pouring whiskey on the fire. It’s an old Gary Stewart sounding song. I don’t really like to sing about stuff that’s negative. If you want negativity, turn on the news.

Q. Does the music industry come down on you for sticking to your morals?

A. I don’t know. I don’t really care. I don’t think one day when I am being measured in weight…What am I going to say, well Jesus, the music industry, they were just kind of coming down on me for always talking about…You. I mean, I’ll be talking to the man who hung on a cross. So far, the industry has not hung me on a cross. You know? You have to stick to what you believe in, and so be it. If it ruins my career, then what a great way to ruin your career.

Q. How hard is it for you to stick to your morals living in a secular music industry?

A. I tell people, my marriage isn’t perfect. We’re just persistent, and I have temptations like anybody. I read this book by Billy Graham called ‘The Leadership Secrets,’ but it just talks about the rules he made while he was out on the road to protect him from things. We make simple rules like, unless it’s one of my guy’s wives, or real close friends, I don’t let girls’ on my bus. I tell people, I get on the road to get away from women, the 2 women who boss me around. When I get on the bus, I want to write songs, and drink coffee, and watch John Wayne movies, so don’t mess with my agenda (laughs). We just make rules that protect us.

Q. Which one of your songs means the most to you, and why?

A. ‘July in Cheyenne.’ That song was an answered prayer for my family. After we lost our daughter, I was having a hard time getting up on stage and singing because I was just heart broke. Singing to people about having fun while I was heart broke was just such a contradiction. I just struggled with it, and honestly, I felt like I was betraying my little girl being up there and pretending like I was having fun.

I couldn’t write a song to save my life, and I was supposed to be working on a new record. One night, I hung my guitar up on the wall and just said a simple prayer. I said, God, if this is what you want me to do, then, I could use your help. I don’t know, about a month passed by, one Sunday evening after I put the kids to bed and my wife went to bed, I turned on the T.V. and there was the movie, 8 seconds with Lane Frost. I watched it from a different perspective, the perspective of a parent who has lost a child. After the movie was over, I had this feeling that overwhelmed me. I just felt like I should write Lance’s mom a song. I came across something Lance’s mom said and it really put things back into perspective for me. She said, Lane was a world champion bull rider, but that wasn’t his greatest achievement. Lane’s greatest achievement came a year before he died when he asked Jesus to be his Savior. That just reminded me that hey, I’m going to see my little girl again some day. It also reminded me that I still have 3 kids under my roof to provide for, and you know, I need to get back in the saddle.

I wrote that song ‘July in Cheyenne,’ for Layne’s mom, Elsie, and Lane’s dad, Clyde. I’ve since become close with them, and the record came out on Julia’s one year anniversary, by coincidence, or by divine intervention, and we sold enough copies world-wide to chart it on the top 10 country billboard at #9.

The guy from the country billboard called me up and interviewed me. I don’t think they posted it on the interview, or I never found out, but he said, man, I don’t mean any dis-respect, but you’re an independent artist. How does an independent artist sell enough records to chart an album top 10? He said, look at your competition, you’ve got major labels, it seems impossible to me. I said, well, you’re right. For me, it is impossible, but all things are possible through God.

We got to sing the song for the first time to Clyde and Elsie in Las Vegas in front of 20,000 people, so that was a lot of fun. That song will always mean a lot to me.

Q. If you could ask your future self a question, what would it be?

A. I would say…I hope you stuck to your guns.

Q. Do you have a favorite saying or motto?

A. Psalms 118:14. The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.

Q. Where is your favorite place to eat in Nashville?

A. Virago

Q. What legacy do you hope to leave behind one day?

A. That I love Jesus. I love my fans. I love my family. I love country music. It’s just real simple.

Q. What do you want your fans to know about you?

A. I think I put everything out there for them anyway, so I kind of think they know everything about me. They should know, all the girls are always like, I want a man like you who loves his wife and loves Jesus. I’m not sweet all the time. I ain’t perfect all the time. I have my cranky moods. I am a man. There’s nothing perfect about that, but I want them to know that I love them. I am thankful for them taking care of me and my family.

Q. Is there anything you want to say to your fans?

A. Be looking for the new album, ‘The Underdog,’ coming out some time this year. I think. Projected.

If you want to know more about Aaron, or his touring schedule, click here. Be sure to check out Aaron's newest album, 'Real Good Time.' You can also find Aaron on: