Dallas fans of country music recording artist Aaron Watson have a lot to be excited about. His new album, Red Bandana, a 20-track record marking his 20 years performing, was released June 21 to positive critical reception, and he’ll play selections from his newest work — alongside hits from the past — on Saturday, July 20, at Texas Live!
Born and raised in Amarillo, now based out of Abilene, Watson’s Texas roots are not only influential in his music, but they’re laced into its very DNA. Those same Texas values can be credited with giving Watson a work ethic and independent spirit, which led him to do far more than opt for the road less traveled in his career. Instead, he chose to pave an entirely new path that brought him to success. That isn’t to say the 20-year path has been easy or without setbacks, but each bump or detour contributed to a mental scrapbook that Watson views with pride and no regret.
“Looking back now, there was probably some really hard times, but I really didn’t think they were hard times at the time,” Watson says. “Yeah, I mean in the beginning I was basically homeless, and living out of an old closed-down gas station, but when you’re 20 years old, life is simple. It didn’t take much to keep me alive.”
From the beginning, Watson operated as an independent artist, never benefiting from the push a large studio could provide with radio airplay or displays on store shelves. Undeterred, Watson inched his way forward, laying down brick by brick a road filled with booking his own shows and releasing his own music. Before long, each show was easier to book, his music was bought by fans who didn’t need to be sold, and he was sailing along
with a top-10 hit — 2016’s “Outta Style.”
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His music, much like every aspect of his career, is created without interference from the shifting trends that major record labels dictate as mandatory to create hits. Red Bandana reflects Watson’s freedom and creative final cut. It’s an album that moves between a campfire tale to an instrumental track, boastfully presenting itself free of fingerprints from any studio executive. And now with a rapidly expanding fan base, he won’t change his approach anytime soon.
“If I wanted to sign a record deal, I could go sign a record deal,” Watson says. “We’re selling enough records, and selling enough tickets and selling enough merch that there’s not a record label in the world that wouldn’t want a piece of my business. But I’m just in love with Texas music, and there’s a lot of young Texas artists out here — that they’ll never have the opportunity to sign a major record deal, and I like the fact that I can use my career as a formula to show them that, ‘Man, you don’t need a record label to still achieve your goals and chase your dreams.’”
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As the music industry changes to a friendly environment for independent artists, Watson has watched the road become less lonely, the lanes filling with more artists eager to do things their own way. Without realizing it or intending to, Watson’s years of carving a path alone cleared the way for younger talent to start their own journeys.
“Once I was the young singer asking all the questions to these guys who’d been doing it for 20 years,” Watson says. “And now one day I turned around and I’m the guy who’s been doing it for 20 years, and I’ve got all these young guys asking me questions.”
Even with two decades in the rearview mirror, Watson feels he’s now hitting his stride as a songwriter and performer. For him, Red Bandana might commemorate two decades of making music, but by no means is it an album of nostalgic musings as the sun sets on his journey. It was a thank you to the people along the way that helped him one further inch down the highway when he needed it most, and a welcoming invitation to join him as he continues. There’s still plenty of gas left in the tank, and a new song is one twist of the dial away.
“After this record comes out, man I’ve already started writing the next one,” Watson says. “And I’m going to try and put out a better record than this one. I don’t compete with other artists. I compete with myself and try to be a better artist today than I was yesterday. That’s all that you can do.”