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Gene Watson celebrated five years with Capitol Records in 1980. Many agree that Gene Watson’s tenure with the label between 1975 and 1980 produced some exquisite country music and that these years of Gene’s musical life are considered to be his 'glory days'.
Gene Watson began 1980 with 'Nothing Sure Looked Good On You' (written by Jim Rushing), which reached No.4 on the Billboard country music singles chart. However, Gene Watson's next three single releases, 'Bedroom Ballad', 'Raisin’ Cane In Texas' and 'No One Will Ever Know', only achieved Top 20 status on the Billboard country music singles chart.
It was at this time that Gene Watson expressed an opinion that these latter recordings for the label could have attained a higher chart position than they did had Capitol Records promoted them adequately. Gene also felt aggrieved that Capitol Records appeared to be unwilling to properly promote him the way he felt they should have been.
Capitol Records apparently felt that there was no need to invest heavily in promoting Gene Watson as his records were selling consistently and his concert appearances were sell-out events.
Gene Watson was so annoyed at the attitude of Capitol Records that he was simply uninterested as to what the label called his last album; as it turned out, the album in question was called 'No One Will Ever Know' (Capitol Records, 1980).
Gene Watson felt that he was at a crossroads as far as his career was concerned and so he took some time off to contemplate his options. A number of record labels, including MCA Records and Curb Records, became interested in adding Gene to their roster. Gene decided that his next musical home would be MCA Records, so he signed to the label in 1981.
However, before his career got underway at MCA Records, the single 'Any Way You Want Me', from the soundtrack of the Clint Eastwood movie 'Any Which Way You Can', reached the Top 40 of the Billboard country music singles chart.
Somewhere along the way, Clint Eastwood had heard the song as a demo recording by its writer L. Ofman, but he insisted that Gene should record the song. Gene flew to Los Angeles, California to record 'Any Way You Want Me', which was co-produced by Gene Watson, Snuff Garrett and Russ Reeder.
Gene Watson’s first release for MCA Records was the title track of 'Between This Time & The Next Time' (MCA Records, 1981) and it was another exquisite song written by Canadian Ray Griff. The song reached the Top 20 of the Billboard country music singles chart and was followed by the Top 25 single 'Maybe I Should Have Been Listening'.
Gene Watson began 1982 on the ultimate high when he achieved his first, and only, No. 1 on the Billboard country music charts; 'Fourteen Carat Mind', which was co-written by Dallas Frazier and Larry Lee, was No.1 on the Billboard country music singles chart for one week in January 1982.
Sadly, Larry Lee, a native of Grand Rapids, Michigan, passed away at his home in Lebanon, Tennessee on Saturday 26 May 2001, as the result of a heart attack.
Sheer determination though was responsible for Gene even hearing the demo of 'Fourteen Carat Mind'. One night, while his Farewell Party Band members were asleep, Gene was spending his time listening to demo tapes. In the bottom of a large box of demo tapes, he discovered that someone had sent him a song on a reel-to-reel tape. He wondered who in the world would have sent him a demo in such an antiquated format.
However, Gene was determined to hear the track, so he dug out an old reel-to-reel machine and managed to thread the tape up. Upon hearing the opening sixteen bars of 'Fourteen Carat Mind', Gene knew that he had a hit song on his hands and was determined to record it as soon as he could.
It was also around this time, in the early 1980s, that Gene Watson’s entire appearance changed, from the slicked-back 'Elvis' look, to the longer-haired, facial haired presence of today.
It was such a radical change, that it became the focal point of nearly every interview and article printed about him at the time. Gene and his Farewell Party Band had been playing in Lake Norman, North Carolina, when the police arrived and impounded his tour bus. Someone had booked Gene in North Carolina and he had to cancel the gig because he was ill and was on medication. Someone else informed this guy that Gene was playing somewhere else the same night, so he filed a suit against Gene. A warrant was issued stating that if Gene came into the state of North Carolina, his bus would be seized and he would be taken to court.
The police officers allowed Gene and the band members to get a few changes of clothes, along with whatever instruments they could carry off the bus. Gene’s next gig was at the Lone Star Café in New York City, but he and the band had to fly there because the engine of the impounded tour bus froze.
With all the commotion going on, says Watson of the incident which was thrown out of court, but whose impounded bus engine froze, Gene forgot all his shaving gear, so he decided to quit shaving and stopped getting his hair cut. The next time his fans went to buy his next album release, 'Old Loves Never Die', they didn't even recognise who was on the cover.
Gene Watson’s brand of beautiful country produced three more hits on the Billboard country music singles chart in 1982; 'Speak Softly (You're Speaking To My Heart)' (Top 10 hit), 'This Dream's On Me' (Top 10 hit) and 'What She Don't Know Won't Hurt Her' (Top 5 hit) were all included on Gene Watson's 'This Dream's on Me' (MCA Records, 1982).
Gene Watson’s reign at country music radio continued in 1983 with the hit singles 'You're Out Doing What I'm Here Doing Without' (Top 3), 'Sometimes I Get Lucky' (Top 10) and 'Drinkin' My Way Back Home' (Top 10). Gene’s hit songs in 1984 included 'Forever Again' (Top 10) and 'Little By Little'.
The song 'Got No Reason Now For Goin' Home', which reached No.7 on the Billboard country music singles chart in the early part of 1985, was written by Johnny Russell, who sadly passed away on Tuesday 3 July 2001 at the age of 61.
Johnny Russell pitched the song to Gene Watson one night when they were both guests on Ralph Emery's 'Nashville Now' television show the previous year (1984). Johnny was one of Gene’s best friends in the music business and he said he wanted Gene to take a tape of the song back to Houston, learn it and come back to Nashville and record it.
Gene told Johnny that he would listen to it. Johnny replied by saying that he could get anyone to listen to it. He wanted Gene to take the song, learn it and immediately record it. Gene Watson did indeed record the song - it was included on 'Heartaches, Love and Stuff' (MCA Records, 1984).
In 1985, Gene Watson moved to Epic Records and returned to the Top 5 of the Billboard country music singles chart with the western swing-influenced 'Memories To Burn', which was also the title of Gene's first album for Epic Records.
The album also included 'Cold Summer Day In Georgia', a track which featured Leona Williams (Leona was married to Merle Haggard between 1978 and 1983) on backing vocals, along with the exquisite guitar work of Dave Kirby (Sunday 10 July 1938 - Saturday 17 April 2004).
Sadly, Dave Kirby passed away on Saturday 17 April 2004; he was sixty-three years old. Dave, a native of Brady in Texas, where he was born on Sunday 10 July 1938, was a masterful songwriter and had the privilege of having twenty-four of his compositions recorded by Gene Watson.
Speaking of Leona Williams, she recorded 'Memories To Burn‘ and included the track on 'Honorary Texan' (Heart of Texas Records, 2003).