Graham Reid | | 6 min read
From Elsewhere's side of the fence, we'd say few musicians in recent memory have worked harder promoting their album than Darren Watson.
Almost undeterred by the Covid lockdowns which meant the cancellation of shows and interviews, Watson took whatever opportunity he could, got onto social media, released live performances and . . .
Basically just kept doing the work to draw attention to his excellent new album Getting Sober for the End of the World.
It was an object lesson to younger artists in how to put your energy into what counts.
Elsewhere has followed and championed Darren Watson for decades since he started out playing fiery (and sensitive) Chicago blues to the present day where he has found a deeper and more resonant voice in acoustic-framed songs.
If you haven't heard Getting Sober you owe it to yourself (and Darren for the work he put it).
Meantime he answers some questions for us . . .
Where did you grow up, and with who?
I was born in Wanganui but I understand that was just ‘cause they had a hospital and I was a troublesome little bugger who apparently didn’t want to leave the womb. I was eventually cut out, something my mother reminded me of almost every day for decades. As if it was somehow my doing?! Anyway I think my parents were living in Taihape at that stage? It’s all a bit blurry as we moved around a lot.
I went to primary school at Terrace End in Palmerston North, then Manchester Street School in Fielding, then Miramar North School, then Strathmore Park School, both in Wellington. The Evans Bay Intermediate in Wellington before Hutt Valley High School in Lower Hutt.
My parents separated when I was about five and got back together when I was about seven, with a mysteriously and to-this-day unexplained change of our surname - and then split again when I was thirteen. I have two sisters. So where and with whom I grew up is slightly more difficult than many really. But there you go. WAY more than you bargained for.
Was music an important part of your childhood?
It was massively important. During the first parental meltdown my mum gave me her record player and a bunch of 45s. Pretty sure it was to keep me locked in my room and not hearing the yelling. Mostly worked.
What are your earliest childhood memories of music which really affected you . . .
I remember seeing my Grandad blowing Trombone at the Sallies – made a big impression on me as a youngfella. So the first instrumentI learned properly was Eb Cornet. Then Bb Trumpet. Also one of the records my Mum gave me when I was five was my cousin Rod Stone playing guitar on a cover of Jerry Lee Lewis’ Great Balls Of Firewith his band,the Librettos. My cuzzie could make a record – which made me believe from an early age that I could too. Only natural.
Was there a time when you felt it was going to be music and nothing else?
I was pretty much convinced it was music and nothing else by the time I got through my first year of High School. Of course in those days if you were any good there really WAS a way to make a decent living playing music.
When you started on your music career were people around you supportive or did you have to find those people?
For whatever reason I think I have always just met the right people at the right time in my life. I was playing in a semi-pro covers band during highschool.
Meeting Terry Casey soon after that time was what really led to the Smoke Shop thing. Real blues fans were pretty hard to find in the Hutt Valley in 1985 but here was a guy who dug Little Walter and Muddy Waters as much as me.
The first song of yours which you really felt proud of was . . .? And why that one?
(You Want) Another Man. I wrote that in 1986 as a twenty year old and I felt SO mature... hahaha it was the cleverest lyric I’d come up with to that point and I thought it was really catchy. It still stands up pretty well I reckon.
Any one person you'd call a mentor, angel on your shoulder or invaluable fellow traveller?
I don’t think I’ve had anyone one person in that role but heaps of people have been that for me over the years. Midge Marsden has always been amazingly supportive. Terry Casey, my original ‘blues brother’ of course. Bill Lake has been a constant inspiration. Rick Bryant once I got to know him and got over my fear of the gruffness and stand-offishness that was just a facade... well what can I say – what a diamond geezer, may he rest in peace. And my brother from another mother Richard Te One – we’ve had years where we’ve fallen out, but I’ll always love that man. He helped me with music so much more than he’ll probably ever know.
Where and when was the first time you went on stage as a paid performer?
I actually can’t remember the first time but I do recall playing a Xmas party for my mum and step-dad’s CB radio club in Avalon in 1981 or ‘82. We must have sounded awful. I bet they got shit for booking us.
Ever had stage fright or just a serious failure of nerve before going on stage?
I still do. It’s why I used to drink far too much. Turns out I have a generalised anxiety disorder – crowds are a big trigger. Butwith meds for a while and learning some coping mechanisms I’m dealing with it much better now.
As a songwriter, do you carry a notebook or have a phone right there constantly to grab ideas they come? Or is your method something different?
These days I just use the voice recorder on my phone. Too easy.
What unfashionable album do you love as a guilty pleasure?
When I grew up I adored and thrashed The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds which then was considered the height of unfashionable. But that’s ‘hip’ now, right? So there’s no guilt involved any more. I like a lot of Paul McCartney’s 70s records but I refuse to feel guilty about that. Does Huey Lewis And The News’ Small World count? Probably.
Any piece of advice you were given which you look back on which really meant something?
I remember Smoke Shop (and former Gutbucket) bassist Steven Hemmens when left on stage by the band by mistakeat the end of a gig leaning downto a mic – dryly and sagely opining, “Folks.... some days it’s chicken salad, and some days it’s chicken shit. Goodnight!” Indeed Steve!
It's after a concert and you are in a hotel room or back at home, what happens then?
Usually as much sleep as I can get these days. After packing the gear, sorting the paperwork for the day etc.
Is there any fellow artist you admire for professional and/or personal reasons?
BB King and Louis Armstrong. Both of them overcame utterly shit upbringings and yet did nothing in their life but bring joy to others. A design for a rewarding life I reckon.
And finally, where to from here for you do you think?
Home for a cup of tea and a lie down.
Check out Darren Watson talking at length with Marty Duda on 13th Floor below