When country legend Gene Watson released his latest record Real.County.Music. in February, the title wasn’t just a worthy description of what was inside, it was a clear statement of defiance about what country music has become, and a stance of solidarity with the folks who are still making country music the way it was intended to be. The record was released on the label “14 Carat Mind,” named for Watson’s #1 song from 1981, and has become a rallying point for many traditional country fans. Watson’s last record from 2014 was called My Heroes Have Always Been Country.
“I don’t want to live in the past and I don’t mind young kids making a living in country music,” Gene Watson said recently. “We all want that – but I sure wish they’d get more music out on today’s radio that has some meaning to it. Some depth. What some people just refer to as “real”. REAL life has love and it has heartache. There’s a lot of human emotion not being told today and I think that’s what we’re missing.”
Watson’s comments illustrate that the issues facing today’s country music don’t just boil down to preferences in style. Country music used to be more about conveying something of substance to the audience—a moment that gives you perspective, or makes you take stock in life. What led Watson to the subject was recalling a quote from Rory Feek about listening to Gene’s hit from 1979, “Farewell Party.”
“I recall driving with my father when ‘Farewell Party’ came on the radio,” Rory Feek said. “(He) pulled over to the side of the road and turned the volume button up, and we just sat there and listened. Then he pulled back onto the road, and we kept driving. It wasn’t enough for us to just hear it . . . he had to pull the car over, so we could listen to every word.”
Those are the moments country fans are missing in today’s format. Though country music has always had fun songs and silly songs (“A By Named Sue” anyone?), there were always those moments that made you take stock.
“I thank all of you that do still listen to Real Country wherever you find it,” Gene Watson says. “With that, it will live and thrive whether it’s on the radio or not.”
But if those radio listeners only knew what they were missing.