FROM THE HEART is more than just an album title for Gene Watson. True, it's his new cd from RMG Records, but the phrase "from the heart" is also definitive of the way the Texas troubadour delivers a song, whether live or in the studio. From the minute you hear "Next To Nothin’", the first track on FROM THE HEART, you understand instantly that Gene Watson is a stylist who's incapable of singing by rote. Every lyric carries an indisputable emotional punch. He wouldn't have it any other way.
"The feeling's either there or it's not," Gene says. "If it's not, it's going to tell on you, because the minute you hit the stage, the audience is going to know the truth. When I'm in the studio, I'll sacrifice a little technical perfection for the feeling."
But on FROM THE HEART, it's evident that Gene sacrificed nothing. Every tune on this cd is destined to become a classic, from the aching, "Next To Nothin’" to the working man anthem, "The Man An’ Me And You". The roster of songwriting talent is a veritable "Who's Who", with compositions by Eddy Raven, Skip Ewing, Bill Anderson, Max T. Barnes, Leslie Satcher, Steve Dean and songwriting legends Whitey Shafer, Lefty Frizzell and Boudleaux Bryant.
"I have been holding onto some of these songs for the past five or six years. I'm a pack rat that way!" Gene laughs. "When I come across a good song, the next session I go into might not be the right session for it, but that doesn’t mean I get rid of it. I hang on to something until the time is right. I think if I ever did have a talent, it is the talent of knowing a good song."
Good "song sense" is just one of Gene's talents. The unassuming vocalist also co-produced FROM THE HEART, alongside long-time friend and producer Ray Pennington. Their collaboration in the studio has resulted in an unforgettable collection of traditional country music, including two cover tunes, "I Never Go Around Mirrors" (the signature song of the great Lefty Frizzell) and "Take Me As I Am or Let Me Go" (which was a huge hit for Ray Price).
"We've been doing those two songs in the show for a while," Gene says. "In fact, we worked up the demos at a sound check, and I took them into the studio. I kind of knew what I wanted on them, and in the studio, we basically duplicated what me and my guys have been doing on stage for quite some time."
Amazingly, Gene concluded recording FROM THE HEART just as he concluded treatment for colon cancer in May 2001. Following surgery to remove a tumor, he even managed to maintain a light tour schedule while undergoing an intense round of chemotherapy. Now he's got a clean bill of health. "To my knowledge, I am cured," he says with a smile. "I heard the rumors - that I was dying any day. It was never to that point."
Like any true Texan, Gene didn't let his medical treatments put a halt to his work ethic. Although the chemo weakened his system, he still hit the road for a couple of dates a month during the six-month period of treatment.
"I worked all the way through it," he says. "I had to watch over-doing it - the doc told me, 'I don’t know what pace you have been going at, but you should at least cut it in half.' I had to make a few alternations in my schedule - I told them not to book two shows a night and not over 75 minutes in the shows. I work so hard on stage that after 75 minutes, I am done! But I have that all over with and I'm getting back more and more energy every day. I'm getting back to signing autographs, and I'm thankful for that."
In fact, Gene might be one of the few country entertainers who can give music a contemporary sound without sacrificing his trademark traditional style. "I am probably singing better than I ever have in my life. I work extremely hard at what I sound like - in fact, I'm probably my own worst critic. I try to take care of my throat as much as I can - I don't drink, I don't smoke, I don't get enough rest, but I try."
With an array of hits like "Farewell Party", the steamy "Love In The Hot Afternoon", "Fourteen Carat Mind" and "Sometimes I Get Lucky And Forget", Gene's voice is instantly recognizable. He's been touted as one of country's most under-rated singers for years. His distinctive style is unmatched, and that style starts with, yes, a talent for finding the right songs.
"I will take someone else’s song and make it my song," Gene explains. "I might change some words here and there, maybe the melody a little bit, but thank the Lord for the songwriters who have enough faith in me to let me do that. I can listen to a song and know pretty much what I am going to do to make it my song, and to make it a song that other people are expecting from me. You can be a great singer, but if you don’t have a song to sing, you are in great trouble. I believe this is some of the strongest material that I have cut in my career."
The 12 tunes on FROM THE HEART are Gene Watson in his vocal prime. Whether it's the ache of a broken heart or the ecstasy of a new love, Gene’s soulful interpretation of each and every note comes from the heart.
"Ninety percent of my singing comes from my gut," he explains. "I sing real hard, real deep. Red Sovine once told me, 'If the song deserves a tear, then cry. You've got to believe in what you're doing before you can sell it to somebody else.' That's what I do every time I step on stage, and that's what I did on FROM THE HEART. I think this is one of the most up-to-date traditional albums you're going to hear anywhere."
Born in Palestine, Texas, Watson was one of seven children of a sawmill worker and crop picker. Gene Watson started his recording career in 1974 with his first hit called â€śLove In The Hot Afternoon.â€ť From that point on, Watson has had over 20 top 10 singles