Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

December 23, 2011

Native son lives rock and roll dream

Robert Cox Jr.
Daily News

Greensburg — GREENSBURG - Few musicians would point to Thanksgiving as the origin for their dreams of rock-and-roll greatness.

For one Decatur County rocker, though, "Turkey Day" is where it all began.

Gabe Watson's rock-and-roll odyssey blossomed in fifth grade.

Mrs. [Gale] Wiley divided her music class into groups and gave them a week to write a song.

"I brought in my Casio keyboard and programmed a beat," Watson said of his first songwriting venture. "Our group started writing rap lyrics about Thanksgiving."

Watson doesn't recall the exact words, only that "Turkey Day" centered on things in life for which the students were thankful. He remembers clearly, though, the song being a hit when he and fellow students Sam Worland, Aaron Oakly and Jason Davis performed for the class.

"The kids thought it was hilarious," he recalled.

ÒTurkey Day" became so popular that, at week's end, Watson and crew performed for all of North Decatur Elementary School over the school intercom.

"That was the first time my music was publicly broadcasted," Watson said.

It wouldn't be the last.

Watson joined his first rock band, Beg, Borrow and Steal, at 14.

The group progressed through numerous permutations Ð changes in name, musical style and personnel Ð ultimately enduring until 2004. By then, they were The Burning Couches, and Watson was singing lead vocals, playing guitar and writing songs.

By the time The Burning Couches played their last show, Watson had earned a degree in Telecommunications from Indiana University; most importantly, he'd completed a music minor.

Formal musical education would serve him well when, in October 2004, he hit the road for Los Angeles, throwing aside any pretense for a work-a-day life to pursue his own rock-and-roll fantasy.

"I think formal education in music is a giant plus for anyone wanting to attain success in music," Watson said of his IU education. "The basic fundamentals exist in all musical genres."

He took along much more than book learning when set off for the City of Angels, though.

He also brought along more than 12 years of hard-earned stage experience Ð experiences earned in Minary Sorrow, Five Star Porn and Good Fryday Ð the three incarnations of Beg, Borrow and Steal that preceded The Burning Couches.

His "classrooms" during those years included places like Mo & Johnny's in Indianapolis, Bogart's in Cincinnati, and The Bluebird, The Cellar Lounge, and Kilroy's in Bloomington.

During his stint with Good Fryday, Watson even took an "independent study" of sorts when the band played with Nancy Sinatra and Eric Burden at the world-famous Whisky-A-Go-Go in Hollywood, CA.

"I could write a book on the lessons I learned in those early days," Watson said. "Being in a band is like being on a team. You rely on everyone to attend practice and shows, to arrive on time, and to be able to handle constructive criticism."

He continued, "All the band members have to be mentally focused and able to compromise. Everyone has their own personality and priorities. Members leave for various reasons - further education, a job, a girl or and to start a family; sometimes they just can't commit."

Watson also cited substance abuse, falling into a bad crowd and a sense of entitlement as other factors that can tear a band apart.

"It's always hard when someone leaves," he said, "but I've always managed to pick up the pieces, find new musicians and rebuild."

He stressed, too, that small arguments within a band can easily mushroom into major disagreements that destroy the band.

"That's what happened with the Burning Couches," he explained. "I wish we could've resolved our issues back then, but we were at different places in life."

There were numerous other intangibles that went along with Watson to California, too.   

He took along lessons learned during his time in Mrs. [Laura] Diddle's madrigal show choir at North Decatur High School Ð critical lessons about stage presence and engaging an audience.

The most important intangibles Watson carried with him, though Ð and still carries Ð probably came from his parents, Reita and Howard Watson.

"My mother often held two to three jobs while I was growing up," Watson recalled.

Howard Watson has owned and operated Greensburg's Watson Tree Service for almost 50 years.

"I started helping my dad every summer beginning in junior high," Watson recalled. "He instilled the importance of hard work in me from an early age. Most of my friends hung out at the pool, doing teenager things, enjoying summer, but I went to work with dad every day. To this day, I still carry the lessons he taught me about work ethic."

Watson had no shortage of sibling role models, either. The youngest of six children, his four sisters moved out before he was born, embarking on their own careers and lives.

Watson's older brother, John, who's next in birth order, graduated North Decatur High School in 1983; he currently owns Greensburg's Watson Chiropractic.

In Los Angeles, Watson wasted no time in once more "picking up the pieces, finding new musicians and rebuilding."

In January 2005, he and British bassist Tristan Hendy formed Native June, rounding out the band's lineup with guitarist Martial Chaput and drummer Jake Desouza.

The group's been together ever since.

Native June has yet to write any songs about Thanksgiving, but one listen to the lyrics of their second album, "Ocean to Sunset," makes clear Greensburg's never far from Watson's mind and heart.

Contact: Robert Cox at 812-663-3111 x7011.