2019 CD FEATURE
RED BANDANA (BIG LOUD RECORDS)
WATSON CHANNELS GHOST OF GUY CLARK
“The old man was sitting on the tailgate of a '62 Ford flatbed/ picking on an old guitar, he looked at me and said ‘the engine's dead, it was a good run son', as he strummed a melancholy chord/ ‘now I've got nothing but time to kill until the coming of the Lord'/ he played me a few songs, one about a Randall knife/ one about a train, one about the pain of losing the love of his life/ he took a puff of that cigarette, he blew a breath of smoke that could smother/ he said ‘they always said these would kill me and they did' then he laughed and he lit another.” - The Ghost Of Guy Clark - Aaron Watson.
When Texan troubadour Aaron Watson wrote 20 new songs for his 14th album he didn't have to look far to pay homage to his heroes.
Watson, now 41, opened with The Ghost Of Guy Clark and included eulogies to the late Red Steagall on Riding With Red and vast cast of mentors in Legends.
Clark, a revered singer-songwriter, attracted celebrity studded audiences on his Australian tours, before he died of lymphatic cancer at 74 on May 17, 2016.
The famed mentor to younger peers wrote a song with Catherine Britt in 2003 when she arrived in Nashville as an 18-year-old after cutting her debut EP here with Bill Chambers.
Clark was also honoured by seven times wed Texas reared Steve Earle on his recent CD Guy.
But Watson used his tribute to Clark, whom he never met, to satirise his own experiences as a songwriter with record company executives on his Nashville invasion.
“I'm always on YouTube looking at old concert footage of him. And Ghost Of Guy Clark is the manifesto for my album. It's a song that I wrote for myself to hold me accountable to staying true to my brand, staying true to my faith, my family, and my fans. I wanted to write a song that I thought that if I sang it for Guy, he would love it. And I think Guy Clark would like the song Ghost Of Guy Clark . And I think he'd like the bulk of this record, because it's all heart. I've got a story behind every song. The wind chimes on the song were the chimes hanging outside on my grandmother's back porch when I was a little kid growing up.”
It's a sibling song of sorts to Dark Horse in which Watson recalls his ill-fated Nashville invasion and urges peers and listeners to rise above rejection to follow and achieve their dreams.
Watson's fierce independence was catalysed by watching many heroes and friends, like Pat Green, struggle once they signed record deals in Nashville .
“The record labels see Pat, a guy who made a million dollars in one night playing the Houston Rodeo , and they want a piece of that pie,” Watson explained.
“And rather than take Pat and his brand and music and share that with the world, they took him, and they completely butted heads with him every step of the way. That's stupid of them. Let's say you like a chain food Tex-Mex restaurant, and you buy it. And people love it. It's huge because they love that green sauce enchilada. But do you buy that restaurant and then the next night change the name and turn it into an Italian restaurant? What kind of idiot would do that? From a business perspective, you don't go in and buy some brand that is successful for being what it is and then completely flip it upside down. And I don't know why Nashville does that sometimes, but they're absolutely notorious for doing that. Dark Horse is that message to my children and all the fans out there who are working hard to chase their dream. To not let discouragement be something that makes you give up on yourself - you take that discouragement and turn it into fuel for your fire.”
Watson also explores some psychedelic posthumous humour in Legends where he casts his heroes enjoying the after-life in exotic locales.
“No, Elvis ain't dead, he just got tired of the velvet and the press/ he's hanging out with Emmylou and Gram Parsons on a boat out in Key West/ and speaking of Memphis, the best blues band in town/ plays every Tuesday night Stevie Ray & Jimmie, tune it up and burn it down.”
WATSON PATERNAL PAEAN
“They could sing them all, two-part harmony tune/ like Loretta and Conway, Johnny and June/ I could hear momma laughing as daddy swept her off her feet/ you know the sound of love has never sounded so sweet/ and thirty years later, I've got three kids and my wife/ their love song's a legacy, the soundtrack of my life.” - Country Radio - Aaron Watson.
“Growing up, he had this dolly with a trashcan wired to it. It was southern ingenuity at its finest. And he would hang the cleaning bottles around the rim of the trashcan. And then he had a hangar with a little AM/FM battery-powered radio wired to the handle of this dolly. As we cleaned toilets and classrooms at churches, we were listening to music, and he'd not only tell me who sang the song, he'd tell me what year it came out, the writers and some of the players on the songs. So I learned a lot about music like that, and I took that old radio and recorded the fuzz of the AM signal.”
Watson also adorned Trying Like The Devil with loco audio.
“But I wanted to give fans a more mature album than anything I've ever put out this time and give them something that's different but still my brand of music. The train in the song Trying Like The Devil - that's the train that passes right by my ranch, so I hear that train every day. I hear it in the middle of the night lying in bed.”
RIDING WITH RODEO RED
“By about the time that I came around/ he'd grown tired, his health was headed southbound/ he was slow climbing in the saddle/ but once he was up he could fly/ Lord, he could fly/ he told me stories about the California gold/ working with Shorty in that West Texas cold/ he was rough as a cop, tougher than nails/ but when he talked about her, he would cry/ oh, how he'd cry.” - Riding With Red - Aaron Watson.
“And we just sat there just me and Red riding right next to each other, and he was passing down all kinds of knowledge and advice on life, and it was the most amazing thing. And when we got back I looked at my wife and she said how was it, and I said ‘I had the most amazing time riding with Red.'
“I called him later and told him I wrote you a song but in the song you're dead. I just wanted to say sorry about that. And he said, ‘it's alright partner, it makes for a better song me being dead and all.' But that song is not just for Red, it's about my granddaddy, my pawpaw, my John Pop and an old man named Mr. Pete - these four old men who have been in my life and had such a profound influence on me, the song is for them and for Red.”
Expat Texan singer-songwriter and Heathcote producer Doug Bruce's bassist dad Dale toured Australia in 1979 with Steagall & The Coleman County Cowboys for veteran promoter Wally Bishop.
Steagall's band, including brother Danny, played a Hoppers Crossing rodeo and Cross Keys Hote, Essendon, three decades before the nearby oval became a double homicide Underbelly crime scene.
“Red and the Coleman County Cowboys played the Will Rogers Coliseum every year,” Bruce recalled.
“When I was eight while they were doing The Orange Blossom Special they invited me on stage so I got up and did the lonesome train whistle like Boxcar Willie . My dad did the train whistle too. He used to play guitar Chet Atkins style but he moved on to bass - got frustrated with guitar - and settled for bass at it only has four strings.”
RED BANDANA DUST TO RUST REQUIEM
“I still wear his old, faded, red bandana/ I use it to wipe the sweat away from my brow/ you know I used it to dry my eyes on the day that he left me/ what I wouldn't give to have him here still wearing it now/ it's hard to believe it'll be 20 years come November/ man, sometimes I swear it seems like only last fall/ I can still hear the wisdom in his words like well-spoken poetry/ I can still see the salt rings on his old 20X Resistol/ oh, but the days turned to months into ages/ just as sure as barbed wire turns into rust/ old cowboys ride off into the sunset/ ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” - Red Bandana - Aaron Watson.
Watson produced his album with Jordan Lehning and utilised expat Adelaide guitarist Jedd Hughes and recent Australian tourist Charlie Worsham on banjo.
It followed The Underdog, (first independent album to top Billboard country charts) and 2017 album Vaquero.
Lehning produced Rodney Crowell's 2017 album Close Ties and follows dad Kyle as producer.
“Obviously Jordan 's dad and his brother are both incredible producers, and he caught my ear when he did Rodney's last album. I met with him and we just vibed and he has a little bit of that hipster edge to him and I think he brought to the table some tools that helped make me a better artist and we enjoyed working together. I think he was shocked, like why would this West Texas cowboy want to work with me. I don't even think the guy owns a pair of boots. But we bring different things to the table, and it really works. And he was just passionate about my music. And I needed somebody who was hungry like me. And Jordan is hungry. And being in his studio and singing on the last microphone that Ray Price sang on, him saying things like ‘that guitar hanging right there, that was the guitar that Waylon Jennings played on Dreaming my Dreams With You when he recorded with my dad' was just so great. So it just fit me.”
Watson also maximises salient sequencing.
"I wrote a lot of these songs in sequence. Every song is married to the next," Watson explained.
“I've never worked this hard. I've been writing every day. I've been working on this album since three months before Vaquero came out. The concept was there."
Watson pays tributes to family - Heartstrings came out of a song-writing lesson with his daughter
He also wrote Old Friend after Tom Petty died.
“We're a very unforgiving society today, somebody makes a mistake, and we're ready to make them walk the plank into the shark infested waters,” said Watson about Instagram and Twitter tripe.
“And when you think about Johnny Cash, he was such a great man. I read one of his books about the Apostle Paul, and in the beginning of the book Johnny shares a lot of his struggles,” Watson explained.
“And had there been Twitter and Instagram back then, gosh, some of the mistakes he made - but guess what, he's just a man, he's not perfect. And you know what else I love Johnny Cash and I love Billy Graham, but I relate a lot more to Johnny because of the struggles he had. And the reason I look up to Johnny Cash so much is he needed Jesus because of his many imperfections, and that's me. People think that well, he's a Christian he's got it all together. No, I need Jesus because I'm more messed up than most.”
Kiss That Girl Goodbye - first single on the album - was a celebratory tune about breaking up and moving on.
"If there ever was a good day/ it's the day that boy kissed that girl goodbye."
Watson lightens his mood with celebratory coupling of Burn Em Down and sensual Shake A Heartache.
Family love earths Home Sweet Home and unrestrained romance fuels Time On Your Hands and dream drenched To Be The Moon.
Watson finishes his album with 58 - a psalm for victims in the Route 91 festival in Las Vegas.
“I played the Route 91 festival the year before the tragedy and when it happened it turned into a big political mess and that made me sad, because people just lost the loves of their lives - sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, and the media was making it out to be some sort of political agenda,” Watson said.
“I wrote the song because I had a person who was severely injured at Route 91 and came to one of my shows months later and told me they loved my song Bluebonnets - a song I wrote for my daughter who passed away seven years ago.
“They told me I needed to write a tribute for the Route 91 victims and their families, and I wanted to write something that was simple and sincere and uplifting, and it's only 58 seconds long and the last song on the record because they deserve to have the last song on the record. Because a year and a half later we've all moved on because that's just the world, that's just the way it is. But those people who lost loved ones they woke up this morning still feeling that heartache, so it's important to let them know we still think about them and we're still praying for them.”