Faith, Family, and Texas Country Music
By Susan Thornton
Photography by Lindsey Cotton
He walked into the room looking rather nondescript in his blue jeans, boots, and t-shirt just a few hours before his concert at South Padre Island, Texas Country Music star and songwriter, Aaron Watson sat down for the interview. Only two weeks since releasing his 16th album, Red Bandana, which had already made it to the “most anticipated country albums of 2019 list” he was warm, friendly and so easy to talk to.
“Something I want my kids to learn is heart & hustle – that means you’re giving it all you’ve got, doing the best you can, and putting pride into your work.”
It didn’t take but a second to see that with Aaron Watson, what you see is what you get. He has worked hard for 20 years to get where he is in Texas Country music. He is old school, embracing his family values and staying close to his roots. He’s the real deal. Not afraid of hard work, getting the door slammed in his face in Nashville gave him more of a reason to prove them wrong, and he has done just that. Over a dozen recorded albums, more than 2,500 shows in the US and Europe, Watson delivers music directly to his fans, and he does it his way.
Born in Amarillo, he was raised by parents who instilled in him the importance of hard work and taking care of family. “My dad was hard but loving. He pushed me and didn’t take any excuses. I’ve remained an independent artist because of an independent streak my dad instilled in me, says Watson. “It has allowed me to stay who I am.”
Watson’s dad was a 100% disabled vet from serving our country in the Vietnam war. “In a way, I think that forced me to grow up quicker,” he says. “My dad was a custodian, and my mom was a school teacher. I watched them work tirelessly so they could provide for my sister and me and never heard them complain,” recalls Watson. “My mom was my encourager and still is today. You could say I’m a momma’s boy. Together, my parents were a great team and the biggest influences in my life.”
The 41-year-old Texas country music sensation said he dreamed of growing up to play baseball for the Astros. “I remember my mom telling me, ‘I’m not saying you can’t be a baseball player, Aaron, you just need a backup plan.'” “Ok,” I said, “country singer.”
It’s a good thing he had a backup plan because he injured his back during a lifting class in college and it ended his baseball career. An honest Watson says, “I was in a bit of a slump too.” Suddenly he had time on his hands and found music to be very therapeutic. This was a turning point that prompted him to start his music career. He still owns the pawnshop guitar that he learned to play on in college. It’s not worth anything, but to me, it’s worth so much. “I played a song for my Grandad before he died with that guitar,” recalls Watson.
When asked about his favorite song that he has written, Watson replied, “it’s usually the one that I wrote that week.” His favorites on his new album, Red Bandana are “Trying like the Devil” and “Old Friends.” “I like the ones that are fun to play live,” he says.
But the song that is probably the most special to him is “July in Cheyenne,” a song about the bull rider, Lane Frost. “The words from Lane’s momma got me refocused on my faith. She told me that Lane was a good bull rider, but that wasn’t his greatest achievement. His greatest achievement was when he asked Jesus to be his Lord and Savior the summer before,” Watson recalls. “July in Cheyenne” was the first song that he wrote after he and Kim lost their daughter, Julia Grace 8 years ago. “I thought, if Elsie Frost can use her heartache to share her faith, I can too, and I have a great platform to be able to do that. I want to write music with meaning that has a positive effect on people’s lives.”
Watson makes no bones about it; faith and family are the most important things in his life. “I’m not perfect, I’m more like Johnny Cash than Billy Graham. I lose my temper, I’ve messed things up and had to fix it”, Watson admits. “Yes, I’m a Christian, not because I have it all together, but because I need Jesus more than most.” It’s very important to him that his fans know that he isn’t perfect and that he makes mistakes and has to ask for forgiveness just like everyone else does.
He is crazy about his family, saying that over the years, his love for his family has become part of his brand. Watson describes his wife, Kim, of 16 years, as “his good side,” saying “she never gets mad, she’s got a really sweet spirit.” His kids, Jake, 13 Jack, 11 and Jolee Kate, 9, are the apples of his eye. And their best times are on the ranch outside of Abilene.
An extremely intentional man, especially as a husband and a father, everything in the conversation goes back to his family; how much he loves them and how much he enjoys being with them. Along with his crazy busy travel schedule, Watson still finds time to coach his son’s baseball teams while adding, “and I’m a ballerina dad too, we can’t forget that!”, remarking that he often takes Jolee on daddy/daughter dates from driving around the ranch in the old jeep, to going to get a milkshake at Whataburger, and going shopping at the mall.
When asked what was important that he wanted to teach his kids, Watson replied, “something I want my kids to learn is heart & hustle- that means you’re giving it all you’ve got, do it the best you can, and put pride in your work. I don’t mind if you lose as long as you did everything you could to win. If you gave it your all and you come up short, there are no regrets.”
Watson refers to himself as a “first-generation hunter.” With his father being a Vietnam vet, he had no desire to hunt. His friends took him dove, quail and pheasant hunting when he was younger and he enjoyed it a lot. “It was important to me that I learn to hunt so that I could teach my boys. We like to deer hunt and hunt dove and quail,” Watson said.
“I have great memories of the first time I took them hunting.” Watson got on a lease outside of Sweetwater. “It wasn’t the best lease- but I built a giant deer blind, fully insulated with nice windows. It was 8 feet off the ground, almost like a watchtower. The boys were little, but they helped me. We’d stay 3 nights at a time and hunt, hike and drive around.”
“I like to hunt and fish with my kids, but by myself, I like to bow hunt, sometimes I’m not even hunting, I’m just enjoying being out there. Sometimes I write songs in the deer blind,” he says. “The boys and I enjoy the process of putting in the time of hunting then going home and preparing a meal, it’s old school, but it’s about the whole experience.”
Watson says his daughter Jolee, will go to the ranch and hang out, but hasn’t caught the bug. She’d rather hunt for good deals at the mall with her mom.
“We love venison and dove at our house. I make sure and harvest at least one doe every season so we’ll have enough jalapeno cheddar hamburger patties for the whole year and my favorite way to eat dove is with cream cheese, bacon, and jalapenos.”
Watson, who shoots a Browning 12 gauge, says, “We have memories on every acre of the ranch. The boys shoot 410’s. When they’re shooting, I don’t even take my gun. I’m more concerned about them learning to hunt the right way. It’s my responsibility to make sure they don’t shoot me or each other. For me, I would rather give up the quality of hunting for safety. When dove hunting, you can’t be too careful. Things happen fast, so we take our sweet time.”
“For us, whether dove or deer, hunting, it isn’t always about shooting something. Even if the hunt is unsuccessful, it’s still successful because of the time with the kids. It’s about spending time together in the outdoors, hiking, great snacks and working hard.” The life of a Texas country music star isn’t easy and takes a lot of time away from family. He opts for leaving home around midnight after his kids are in bed and riding through the night so he can spend the waking hours with his family. Watson covets the time he has at home and doesn’t take one minute for granted.
When asked how he wants to be remembered, he replied, “I want to be remembered as a nice guy who was passionate about my family, music, and Jesus, not necessarily in that order. It won’t be a perfect legacy because I make mistakes, but I hope it’s a good legacy that makes my children proud.”