Watson cites other influences, who had varying degrees of success in the '70's. "There are a lot of people I grew up listening to, people like Moe Bandy and Mundo Earwood, that you just don't hear anymore that were original," he says. He also cites Gene Watson, who is not related.
When you're short on radio play, you have to reach the people another way. Watson just returned from Europe, where his type of music has never gone out of style and where radio play has always been less crucial to sales. "I'd been to Norway before, and Sweden, but it was my first time for the other places. It was really great. The first record had been the Number One import country album in the U.K. Radio over there is wonderful. If they hear something they like, they play it. That's the way it should be."
Back home, Watson recently embarked on a "Truckstop Tour." It began in California the day before we spoke to him, and over the next four months will wend its way East. The gigs benefit The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Watson will also do some club dates along the route to support the trip.
Like almost all small-label acts, Watson sells his music at his shows and gets a large percentage of his sales that way. It's one of the classic dilemmas of the indie artist. Selling at gigs gets you a lot of sales you might not otherwise get. ("You're touching the people right there. A lot of those people don't go to record stores" says Watson.).
On the other hand, this leaves few sales to be made in stores, creating a bit of a vicious circle in which stores have less incentive to consider stocking music by these artists, and many of the possible store sales are lost from lack of availability.
Hightone, now distributed by WEA through Rhino, has an easier time getting into stores than it had previously ("It really is easier to find my albums now, a lot of people are telling me that," Watson confirms) but most indie labels are not.
But Watson isn't really bothered by this. "I'm not worried about keeping Tower happy. It's me paying the bills. This is what I do for a living."
And then he utters what may be the creed of many musicians. "I found out that to do original music, all you need is a CD and a place to play. If there were no stores and no label, I could still put out CDs to sell at gigs. That's what a troubadour does."