What would you say if someone told you that in order to be successful at your job, your career or your dream, you would have to change who you are? That means you would have to change the way you dress, the way you do your job and even deny your roots. Would you do it? Could you do it?
We’re sure that it depends on the circumstances for most of us, but for an artist — whether a singer, dancer, painter or writer — it might be more difficult.
It wasn’t difficult for Aaron Watson. It was impossible.
Aaron, whose tunes and grooves are more like those of George Strait than Florida Georgia Line, and whose look is more Chris LeDoux than Luke Bryan, has done pretty well by just being himself. He has released more than a dozen albums since he began his independent recording career. His current album, “Vaquero,” debuted at No. 2 on “Billboard’s” Top Country Albums chart, and boasts the Top 10 smash, “Outta Style.” The album before that, “The Underdog,” has the historic acclaim of being the first album by an independent male country artist to debut at No. 1 on that same “Billboard” chart.
Of course, that got the attention of Nashville’s big music industry, which courted the Amarillo, Texas, native in an attempt to bring him into its fold. But there were conditions.
“We had a lot of very influential bigwigs in the music business reach out and tell us, ‘Hey, you guys are doing great, but if you ever want to break out into the mainstream you’re going to have to get away from being this regional Texas act’,” he tells Rare Country.
Tell a Texan not to be Texan? Ummmm … nope.
“I really can respect anything that anybody tells me,” Aaron calmly continues. “I love constructive criticism if it’s something that makes me a better artist. But to think that I have to abandon who I am to get further along in life? Who’s going to believe in that? Who is going to buy that product? Nobody likes a sellout. For me, if you’re going to sit here and call me a regional act, then call me a regional act, but the fact of it is that I’ve played in 40 states in two years, and I’m selling out shows wherever we go.”
Wherever he goes also includes crossing the ocean to take his brand of bona fide country music to places like the U.K., France and Italy.
But where Aaron may meet the most resistance in getting his music played and heard is, ironically, Music City. There has long been an unexplainable barrier between Texas and Nashville country music. Georgia country stars like Alan Jackson, Jason Aldean and Luke Bryan seem able to sing about their home state without any repercussions, as do Jake Owen, Kenny Chesney and Reba McEntire. But for artists like Aaron, Pat Green, Randy Rogers, Cody Johnson, Wade Bowen and Casey Donahew, singing about Texas and their lifestyle seems to meet with resistance.
Aaron explains it quite simply, “Some of my songs are about Texas, but not all of them. How can I not sing about home? How can I not sing about my heart? How can I not sing about the place I raise my babies, the place where I buried my grandparents? I mean, it’s home. And you know what? I would feel the same way about Tennessee had I been born and raised in Tennessee. It’s just me singing about home.”
That makes perfect sense. As much sense as it does that Aaron is sticking to his guns.
“We have built a brand of country music that is dependable and long-lasting,” he says. “We don’t chase after phases and stages and flavors of the month. We stay true to ourselves. We work hard and we ride a horse named ‘hustle.’ And you just can’t beat someone who won’t give up,” he says.
Can’t beat an attitude like that, either.