Country music sensation Aaron Watson made it the old fashioned way: through hard work, grit and determination. The only recording artist to make it without a record label, Watson credits his parents for teaching him about hard work and never giving up. He treasures one story, in particular, about the heartbreaking day a record producer told him he didn’t have the right stuff.
“After he said we didn’t have what it takes, I went back home, and I was pretty heart broke,” Watson said. “And I told my dad, ‘They don’t like my songs.’ And he said, ‘That’s alright. They said the same thing to Willie.’ And then dad said, ‘When Willie turned 45 years old, he made it.'”
At the time, Watson was 21 years old.
“I’m thinking, ‘Whoa, dad, so are you saying that it’s going to take me 24 years to make it?’ He said ‘Yeah, if you want it bad enough.'” Watson recalled.
Eighteen years, 13 albums and 2,500 shows later, Watson is at the top of his game.
“I just applied all the principles that my mom and dad taught me growing up of being all heart, all hustle, giving God all the glory, and I used all of those things they taught me. My business model is very simple: Faith, Family and Fans,” Watson said.
Enjoy the complimentary clip above or read the transcript below for details.
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This is a rush transcript and may contain errors.
GLENN: Hello, America. It is Friday. And I know there’s a ton going on today. And we’re going to get to it but this hour, I want to introduce you to a guy that I believe is one of the greatest American entrepreneurs alive today. How you can apply what he has learned to your life and rock the world. Aaron Watson joins us right now.
Aaron Watson is here. Aaron, in case you don’t know. In case you’re not a country music fan, Aaron Watson put out an album called the under dog a couple of years ago and was a guy who walked in to — can I say what company?
AARON: We walked into all the companies.
GLENN: All the companies. And he is a Texas-born guy, and he just knows who he is and walked into all of the record companies and all of them said “You ain’t got it, kid.”
He decided to go and do it on his own, and you are the very first artist of any format, if I’m not mistaken, that has been independent. No record label, nobody, and you’ve made it to number one.
AARON: It’s incredible. I mean, such a blessing. I mean, it was two years ago pretty much this week, and it’s still hard for me to believe. We have an exhibit at the country music Hall of Fame.
GLENN: That he was amazing.
AARON: It’s exciting because I get this a lot. I’m up and coming. 18 years, 13 albums, and 2,500 shows later, I’m still up and coming. They introduced me as up and coming as this big radio get together in Nashville, and he said, yes, I’m up and coming 18 years, 13 albums, 2,500 shows later, and I’m flattered that you still find me young and fresh, you know?
So we have fun with it. But it’s just — we’ve been so blessed. It’s incredible.
GLENN: I will tell you. I can’t wait — because Pat doesn’t really know anything about you and I am so excited to have the audience get to know you because you’re one of the most genuine people that I know.
AARON: Thank you.
GLENN: And one of the really truly good guys. You’re — the way you run your business alone speaks volumes. You have three principles.
AARON: Faith, family, and fans.
AARON: Well, that’s my brand. I mean, that’s my manifesto. And in everything I do, I ask myself am I staying truth to my faith, my family, and my fans?
I mean, just like you said, we’ve been turned down, rejected by every record label there is. And at some point, I just was, like, I’m going to do this. They can’t tell me that I can’t do this. Like, I believe in myself. I’m willing to put in the hard work and, you know, the greatest thing now is that now that we’ve divide the system, it gives me this wonderful platform to tell all these people, these other people that are shooting for their dreams, like, listen, I don’t care what career path you want. If you want it, you go get it. Don’t you dare let somebody discourage you from your dreams. No one has the right to discourage you from your dreams.
GLENN: Would you guys just play a little of — is it outcast? No, underdog.
AARON: Underdog. Yeah, we can play. So much part are you talking about?
GLENN: Isn’t that the one with the —
AARON: Oh, you’re talking about my fence post. You’re talking about my —
GLENN: You’re not changing anything.
AARON: Oh, you’re talking about this one. Oh, absolutely. So I was driving back from Austin.
AARON: And I was just — it’s in the middle of us recording the underdog. And we were almost finished with it, and I got to thinking about my career path and how things were starting to take off, and I was, like, man, we’ve got — I’ve got to share my story more on the underdog. So I went in, and I wrote this song. And my producer didn’t even know I was putting it on the record. I mean, I’m paying him out of pocket, so it doesn’t matter at the end of the day. We did two takes of it on a little SM58 mic just like this. And I told the kid that was engineering it just pick the best take of the two. I’m only going to sing it twice. I want this to feel like I’m singing this song on my back porch.
And we haven’t sang this song in forever so, you know, nothing quite like not rehearsing a song in front of Mr. Glenn Beck.
STU: Now you know how our day is every day. Every day we deal with this.
AARON: And I wrote this song for that record executive that sent me back home. And what’s interesting is that when I went — after he said we didn’t have what it takes, I went back home, and I was pretty heart broke. And I told my dad they don’t like my songs. And he said that’s all right. They said the same thing to Willie. And then dad said “When Willie turned 45 years old, he made it.”
And at the time I was, like, 21. And I’m thinking whoa, dad. So are you saying that it’s going to take me 24 years to make it?
He said “Yeah, if you want it bad enough.”
And that changed the way I was thinking. I realized then I was going to have to be a go-getter. I was not going to be able to run that dream down sitting on my can. I was going to have to go after it, go get it. And really, I just applied all the principles that my mom and dad taught me growing up of being all heart, all hustle, giving God all the glory, and I used all of those things they taught me. My business model is very simple. People are, like, what’s your musical background? And I’m, like, I grew up listening to Willie and Waley on my dad’s vinyl records and my mom would thump me on the head not singing in church. Those are my musical influences, but that’s everything I am today.
Everything my mom and dad surrounded me with are loving, supportive, it was all heart and all soul. And I have a story. Remind me to tell you this story about what changed me. It happened at 10 years old and what made me who I am today. But I’ll sing this. I wrote this for that ol’ boy at the record label.
He said some don’t get offended by about what I’m about to say. I can see you have a passion for the songs you write and play. You like what we all call commercial milk. We just don’t have what it takes to make it here in Nashville. Ouch.
Well, my heartfelt like a train wreck, but I wore a smile on my face. I said thank you for your time, sir, and I’ll put this old guitar back in its case. Well, our little conversation was like a revelation redirecting my dreams because God knows I would never sell my soul to rock ‘n’ roll or rap or wear those tight fitting skinny genes.
Yeah, you know I pray the prayer of my own song up on a string. I wear what I want to wear. I’m going to sing what I want to sing. Heaven knows all I need is my faith, my fans, my friends, and my family. Besides, I rather be an old fence post in Texas than the king of Tennessee.
GLENN: And explains everything. And now what excites me about you so much is that you are progressive that the old model isn’t even necessary.
AARON: Absolutely. I mean, absolutely. It’s not necessary, and it’s one of those things I’m honored to be, like, the poster boy for hard work. Persistence. The grind. I mean —
GLENN: Nobody’s willing. It seems as though nobody’s willing to do that anymore. They want the instant YouTube hit and just be a star tomorrow.
AARON: You know, so I was telling you about my dad. So a defining moment in my childhood, my dad’s 100 percent disabled from serving the country in the Vietnam war. My dad’s my hero. My dad has made so many sacrifices not just for this country but for my family. And I am who I am today because of my dad. And my dad was a custodian. And one summer, all of my friends were swimming at the swimming pool across the street from the church that dad was cleaning, and I wanted to go over there, and I wanted to be with my buddies, and I wanted to swim. I mean, I’m 10, 11 years old, I just want to be with my buddies naturally. And my dad was, like, well, I would really like you to help me out. And of course I’m 10, so I’m complaining about it. And we were cleaning the men’s bathroom, and my dad was in one stall, and I’m in the next, and I can remember those big, yellow gloves, and we’re cleaning away. And I’m just griping. I’m just complaining about having to clean toilets and not getting to swim with my buddies.
And my dad looks around the stall, and he’s on his knees, and he’s got on yellow gloves too. And he said “Hey, do you think that I like cleaning toilets?”
And I said “No, sir.”
He said “But God’s blessed me with a job. Because of this job, I’m able to take care of my family. So I show up here every day, and I make these the cleanest toilets in Amarillo, Texas.”
And that hit me because my dad’s my hero, and he’s a custodian, and it kind of goes back to that Martin Luther King Jr. street sweeper comment where he says to the street sweeper “Clean those streets. Make them so clean that if Jesus walks down those streets, he says”Man, these are some clean straights.
And that instilled in me work ethical for me to be the best that I can be. And I’m not half the man my dad is. So, for me, I’m pushing myself to be the best that I can be because I just had that role model in my life. And my mom’s amazing too. I’m a total mama’s boy. If I don’t bring up my mom in this, I can’t go back home to Buffalo Gap, Texas.
But that instilled in me work ethic. If you want it, go get it. And I’m so proud not just of — I’m not really — well, really, I’m not really that proud of my accomplishments. I mean, I’m proud for my guys who work with me. I’m proud for my fans who have stuck with me. I mean, I got asked by rolling stone magazine how in the world does some west Texas boy with no record label outsell mainstream major label artists? And I said “It’s simple. God has blessed me with the best fans in the whole wide world.”
And I mean that. They take care of me.
GLENN: Between god and all the fans in this program, that’s how everything that has been built has been built.
GLENN: When you are loyal to your fans, and you’re loyal to yourself, your fans see that. And then you’re loyal to them, they’re loyal to you, it is the greatest. I know people who despise their fans.
AARON: I’ll never understand that.
GLENN: I don’t understand that.
AARON: I’ll never understand that. After every show — you know, it’s midnight. It’s 1:00 a.m. I’m tired. I mean, I’m an old married man at this point with kids, you know? It’s, like, I would like to go to bed. I would like to get in that bunk on the bus. But I have people lined up at my merchandise booth at every show. So I say, hey, after the show, I’ll meet you at the merchandise booth. Hugs and selfies are free tonight.
And I spend time with the fans, and I let them know how much I love them. And when I’m too tired to get out there, I think about my daddy with those yellow gloves on cleaning toilets.
GLENN: His name is Aaron Watson. The name of the CD is Vaquero. He’s going to play some stuff with us and talk about how to disrupt whatever industry you’re in. He’s proof positive, and I also want to tell you I have an ulterior motivate to have him on. And it’s for his benefit. I really believe that this man and his group are a source of inspiration for anybody who is — about to give up on their dream, about to give up and say, man, nobody’s getting it. Don’t. Look to Aaron Watson.