Aaron Watson has had a rather unconventional career in country music. Hailing from Texas and growing up playing in the clubs and bars frequented by the Texas country music community, the singer may have been a big star in the Lone Star state — but in Nashville things have been a little bit different.
“I’ve had every label in Nashville tell me that I’m not good enough,” the father of three, 39, tells PEOPLE, but perhaps it’s Watson who’s getting the last laugh now. Two years ago, the “Outta Style” singer released his 12th album, The Underdog, and made history being the first solo male artist to self release an album that debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard top country albums chart.
Now, with his 13th album Vaquero out, he’s not holding a grudge against Music Row, but using his experiences fighting his way to the top to set an example for his three children: sons Jake 10, and Jack 9, and daughter Jolee Kate 7.
One look at Watson’s Instagram account and it’s clear that while he may be on the road playing 125+ shows a year, it’s his kids and wife Kim who command the most love and attention in his life. When he’s not on stage, soccer games, ballet lessons and piano recitals occupy his time — that’s exactly how Watson likes it.
While Jolee Kate has two big brothers to look up to, Watson is adamant about making sure she knows that no matter what anyone says, girls can do anything boys can. He uses his experiences being turned down by Nashville music executives to impress upon the importance of tenacity and hard work. “I say, ‘Listen, every label in that town has told me that I didn’t have what it took, so what did your daddy do? I got out there, I worked hard and I earned it, night after night, fan after fan. And you know what? Fifteen years later, we made history by having the No. 1 record on country Billboard,” he says.
Frequently asking Jolee what she wants to be when she grows up — “at the moment a baby animal doctor, but she only wants to deal with baby animals and they have to be cute. We’re working on that!” — Watson makes sure she realized that “if you want that, then you gotta be willing to work hard.”
“Having a little girl is probably the greatest gift that could happen to a man because it makes him look at both sides of the coin,” Watson explains. “I’m thankful for that — it’s affected how I’ve written songs.”
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Both a songwriter and performer, Watson wrote the title song “The Underdog” from his last album for his boys Jake and Jack. But that didn’t sit well with Jolee Kate — and he paid the price. “When Jolee Kate found out her brothers got a song on the last record, she was hot — I had to promise her that on the next album, she would get her own song.
And she did. “For a year and a half I worked on this song — ‘Diamond & Daughters,'” Watson tells PEOPLE. “I wanted to be able to tell Jolee that her song is the last track because I saved the very best song for last.”
Vaquero is available now on iTunes and Spotify.