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The Underdog

Aaron Watson made it to the top on his own terms.
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Aaron Watson
The Underdog
BIG Label Records; aaronwatson.com

If there’s a constant in Aaron Watson’s music career, it’s his dogged determination to make it on his own terms.

Where many country artists aspire to break into the Nashville scene and rocket to stardom as quickly as possible, Watson has spent the past 15 years as an independent artist, building his base one live performance and one album at a time.

As he relates in “Fence Post,” the semi-autobiographical tale of a singer/songwriter bucking against the single-mindedness of the Nashville system on his latest album, The Underdog: “I do have a problem with someone who can’t even play a D chord on a guitar telling someone with a dream that they won’t get far.”

“There are certain things that I’m not willing to give up,” Watson says from his home in Abilene, Texas. “I want to be the guy writing my songs. I want to be the guy who decides what I'm going to sing. I don't want someone else telling me what to wear. I have to be able to make decisions that are best for me and my family.”

That stance has worked well for Watson. His tour bus is paid off, as he says. He has the “little ranch he’s always dreamed of” where he lives with his wife and four children. And he’s landed seven No. 1 singles on the Texas Music Charts and debuted four albums on the Billboard charts—all on his own terms.

And yet, “I feel like I’m just getting started,” he says.

Never one to rest on his bootheels, Watson spent more than a year working on songs for The Underdog before going into the studio, focusing on getting the lyrics and melodies just right. Keith Stegall produced the album—he’s written songs for George Strait and produced albums for Alan Jackson, George Jones, and the Zac Brown Band—which Watson says lent a special kind of urgency to the project.

“Working with someone like Keith really lights a fire under your rear,” he says. “It motived me to dig deeper and to be better.”

The album is a testament to those who stand tall despite long odds and never back down. It’s a polished, rollicking album that has an internal rhythm of its own, moving from upbeat shuffles and waltzes through rocking numbers like “Freight Train” that sound tailor-made for blasting from a truck radio on a summer afternoon.

It’s also a deeply personal album, and Watson’s songwriting is best displayed on tender tunes like “That Look,” the album’s first single and a song Watson wrote for his wife, and “Bluebonnets,” a song about appreciating every little moment.

Now that the album is finished, it’s time for Watson to get back to work.

“After spending so much time with these songs, they kind of become a blur and by the time the album comes out, I've had about enough of them for awhile,” he says. “But that's when you’re only really just getting started.”