SHERIDAN — It was shortly after his daughter Julia Grace passed away that Aaron Watson hung his guitar up for what could have been the last time.
“After I lost her I was so heartbroken the last thing I wanted to do was get on stage and sing songs for folks who just wanted to have a good time,” said the critically-acclaimed country music star from Texas. “I got frustrated one night at my house and hung my guitar up on the wall and prayed and asked God, if this is what I’m supposed to be doing, I could sure use some help.”
A little while later, late one night after putting his other three children to bed, Watson sat down and turned on the television.
On the TV was a familiar movie, one he had seen many times before, but this time he was watching it through a new set of eyes: the eyes of a father who had lost a child.
“8 Seconds” tells the story of three-time bull riding world champion rodeo legend Lane Frost, who died during a ride in Cheyenne in 1989.
“I don’t know why,” Watson said, “but it just touched me to write Lane’s Mama’s song.”
“July in Cheyenne” was released as the fourth single off “Real Good Time” under Watson’s independent HTK Records banner on the one-year anniversary of baby Julia’s passing and against all odds it climbed into the top 10 on Country Billboard charts nationwide.
“To me, that album charting top 10 like that was just a sign from God that he didn’t give me more than I can bear,” Watson said. “I’m gonna see my little girl again some day and I still have three babies under my roof to care for.”
It has been 2.5 years since Watson and his wife lost a child but through the power of music, the privilege of performing “Cheyenne” acoustically for Frost’s parents and Watson’s continued focus on “what matters,” his music career stayed alive and thrived.
On Thursday night, Watson will perform this song and many of his other hits for Sheridan County at Big Horn Country USA.
Watson said it will be a real treat to join the weekend line-up as, although he has probably played with each of the other bands at one festival or another, they don’t get to cross paths often as the rest are out of Nashville and he is out of Texas.
“We kind of do our own thing but any time you get to cross paths with other bands it’s great,” he said.
The Texas country music scene offers many unique aspects and Watson has been topping charts in his area for many years.
“July in Cheyenne” swept the Texas Regional Radio Report awards winning Single of the Year, Song of the Year and Video of the Year. His single, “Summertime Girl,” hit No. 1 on The Texas Music Chart, making eight total No. 1 singles on the chart.
Though he may not be a household name nationally, yet, Watson has released 11 albums in 12 years and has toured the nation headlining his own tours for many years.
“We’ve been doing this a long time, so while a lot of people call us up-and-coming, I call us slow and steady,” he said. “Anytime we get to go to a new market and show them what we can do we appreciate it. When we can get on stage and play our songs, we really consider that to be an incredible blessing.”
Though his career has been spattered with a slew of highlights, Watson said the peak of his performing came when he got to sing with Willie Nelson.
“Willie heard my song called ‘Honkey Tonk Kid’ and loved it,” Watson said. “I always tell people I could quit tomorrow and start a construction business and you could never take away from me that I sang a song with Willie Nelson.”
A lover of traditional country music, Watson said he prefers the sounds of steal guitar and fiddle.
“Nothing against the guys that are doing the more pop, rap, country stuff because to each his own; it takes all kinds to make the earth go round,” he said. “But I’ve always just loved traditional country music and we’ve always stayed independent so we can do what we love.”
The impressive number of records released, the demanding schedule of being on the road and the family matters needing tending might leave on-lookers wondering how Watson has time for everything, but he says it all comes down to staying focused on what matters.
“A lot of people wonder how you do the family thing and the road thing but there are a lot of guys that do a lot of jobs that spend a lot of time away from their family, not just artists. Sometimes artists just get wrapped up in doing things that pull them away from their faith and their families and I put God first and focus on my family,” he said. “I love country music, but not as much as I love my wife and kids.”