In 1964, the Grand Ole Opry duo, The Wilburn Brothers, took Gene on the road briefly. It was The Wilburn Brothers who brought Gene to Nashville for the very first time and allowed him to sing on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry. Gene notes “I sang the Hank Williams song ‘I Can’t Help It if I’m Still in Love With You’ and got a standing ovation so not knowing what to follow with I just went out and did a gospel standard ‘It Is No Secret What God Can Do’. After that, they carried me down to the Ernest Tubb Record Shop and I got on stage and broadcast on The Midnight Jamboree.”
Then it was back to the Texas honky-tonks and a string of local singles throughout the ‘60s.
In 1974, one of Gene Watson’s small-label singles caught the ear of Capitol Records. He was an auto-body repairman and the featured performer at Houston’s Dynasty nightclub when the label picked up the steamy, sexual waltz “Love in the Hot Afternoon” for national distribution. It became the first of Gene Watson’s two-dozen top-10 hits in early 1975.
Gene Watson quit drinking in 1980 and quit smoking not long after that. He underwent surgery and survived colon cancer in 2000-01. Through it all, he continued to record one critically applauded collection after another. He was inducted into the Texas Music Hall of Fame in 2002 and into the inaugural class of the Houston, Texas Music Hall of Fame in 2013.