Aaron Watson Talks to Pitstop for Country About Being a Leader, National Country Radio Play, and Supporting independent Music
Rejection can be a crippling experience for anyone. It can be like a weight, pulling you down further and further. Even worse, is if you begin to believe that you aren’t good enough anymore. You question why you waste your time doing what you enjoy, and soon it works its way into many aspects of your life. Then you give up. You walk away and think, “they were right, I suck.”
I’m a believer in success being glorified to a fault. We spend no time realizing what amounts of dedication, sacrifice, time, and mistakes go into someone ‘making’ it. I’m not talking about a viral video star or someone who lucked out. I’m referring to the real true talent - the ones that had to bust their ass to prove themselves and then do it another ten times before coming out victorious. I’m talking about people like Aaron Watson. Someone who was pushed down by the big machine of Nashville in his early 20’s and realized that nothing would be easy. He would have to pave his own way and 18 years later, he has emerged in a big way riding his loyal horse named Hustle.
The career of Aaron Watson is not some overnight success story or some big break, as I’m sure many of his new fans believe to be the case. Watson’s story goes back 18 years and 13 albums - before the tour bus, the ranch, his children and his loving wife, Kim. It goes back to a young man who’s dream was to simply play his brand of country music.
When we see someone who has become a well known figure of any profession, we only see their success. Not the long nights practicing or the times of feeling so frustrated that they almost gave up. Hearing Aaron talk about his interview in Nashville in his 20s puts everything into perspective. He felt like he had a record deal locked up and he would be walking out of Tennessee with a boat load of money. Imagine the heartbreak when he was told by a large record executive that his music was garbage. Put yourself in his shoes - whatever your profession. Think about someone essentially trashing all of your hard work and you must decide whether to take it to heart or use it as fuel for your fire. Aaron thankfully chose the latter when his dad explained how Willie Nelson took nearly 25 years to break through. It’s about the passion, the inspiration and the love of ones craft, not the immediate return on investment. And in music, nothing my friends, is guaranteed.
Being a supporter of Aaron for nearly six years, I knew this story and it has stayed with me. It’s a real life example of someone who had a dream and never took “No” for answer when it came to keeping that dream. I view Aaron as a role model for anyone who seeks to follow the road less traveled, for musicians, or anyone who appreciates the victorious story of the underdog. You have to remember, Aaron owns his own record label and made history by being the first independent artist to ever have a #1 Billboard Chart album. He went against all the executives, all the big businesses, and did it the old fashioned way: through hard work, perseverance, and loyalty among family, friends and fans.
When asking Aaron about his thoughts on being a mentor and leader, he is not only humbled, but embraces it. And further more, he never hesitates to refer to the very artists that once helped him grow and learn his way through the music business.
“When I have younger artists come up to me and tell me that I inspire them or they look up to me… it’s an honor. There were a lot of older artists when I was first getting started, that really mentored me. From Larry Gatlin, to Garry P Nunn, Ray Benson of Asleep at the Wheel…they were always such a positive influence on me and always giving me guidance.”
So naturally, when I mentioned his friendship with another West Texas boy, Hunter Hutchinson, he shared that same positive attitude of working to make a difference. He explained how Hunter had lost is father at a young age and when he and Hunter’s paths crossed, Aaron took Hunter under his wing. While certainly not a common situation, it displays the willingness of Watson to help others. A true leader is someone who never forgets where they come from and works to develop talent. A leader takes a genuine interest in others and sees the potential, not just what they’ve accomplished at that point in time. It’s an investment of time, care and guidance that helps young professionals and it leaves a lasting impression on their career.
“I’ve watched Hunter grow up, when I met him he was about up to my shoulder and now he’s so tall I’m about up to his shoulder. But I definitely want to pay it forward and take the time to nurture the younger generation’s dreams. It’s important. It’s kindness. It’s love. And you never know, one of those young artists might turn into the biggest star in the world and I can ask to open for them and they can pay me really well!”
(Be sure to check out my review of Hunter’s new album, Keep Rollin’ On)
Unfortunately for those up and coming acts, it might take a little while for some of them to surpass Aaron’s impressive rise. Yeah sure, he had the number one album without any mainstream radio play. But this just in: Outta Style is in the top 25 nationally on country radio. Imagine how that must feel and what it is doing for his brand of Texas cowboy country. Although, I’m not sure who is more excited, my mom (who I have made into a huge AW fan and cheers every time the local station plays Outta Style) or Aaron himself.
“First off, tell your Momma I love her… everyone needs a good Momma.” says Aaron, referring to my mother’s cheers when Outta Style comes on Cat Country 98.1 and listening to Vaquero Every. Single. Night Since February.
“Getting national radio play has been a trip. It’s been something that I’ve really enjoyed because we’ve been at this for such a long and we’ve never had it before. It’s amazing the exposure that it’s given my career. You know, people hear me for the first time, they think I’m new and look me up and realize we’ve been at this for 18 years and 13 albums and buy them all. Then they come to a show and they’re singing along. It’s just been a real blessing for me, my music, my family and we can’t say thank you enough to all those radio stations that are giving us their time.”
If you think for a second that Aaron doesn’t want you to share his music with your friends, then you’ll be surprised to learn that he encourages people to make copies. It’s the old fashioned way of spreading the word and as many of us know, it’s quite effective. Sure, buying band shirts, tickets and albums is an encouraged way to help, but word of mouth is one of the most incredible ways for any business or brand to grow. Aaron has not risen to his current level by radio, it’s been by passionate fans who have experienced his warm personality and dedication to those very fans. After each show, Aaron hangs around and takes the time to talk to EVERYONE that wants to. It certainly becomes harder as the shows get bigger, but he hasn’t strayed from this yet. He knows his growth will come from true connections, many of which I witnessed that Sunday night in Boston at Cafe 939 as he stood talking to people about their families, friends, baseball or other country artists. This interview? You guess it: he stayed with me until almost midnight to do it. This cowboy, is incredibly grateful of that and Aw’s show was a night I will never forget.
When asked about his legacy 50 years from now? “I hope people know that I love Jesus and my family and that my music would have been a positive influence on lives. I hope they know I wasn’t perfect, but always tried to be the best that I could be. And also, how much I love to write a song. Hopefully I’ll keep kicking for a few more years, I don’t know about 50 though.” (Aaron says with a wide smile).
I don’t think I could have said it any better myself.
Just a Massachusetts guy supporting Texas and other independent country/Americana artists.
Check out my spotify for good tunes!