Reed Watson is a musical jack of all trades. He drums. He manages recording artists as they tour the world (when that’s something you can do). He advocates for musicians as they struggle during the pandemic. But we know him best as label director and partner in Single Lock Records, based in our hometown of Florence, Alabama (though he lives in New Orleans, another city close to our hearts).
That’s where we met up with Reed recently for the record company’s Songs of Love and the Lack Thereof, live-streamed on Valentine’s Day from the Shoals Theatre, co-presented by Billy Reid. The concert continued Single Lock’s mission to spread Southern music far and wide, pandemic be damned. “We’re here because we want to provide a moral, sober-minded and enthusiastic home for musicians who deserve nothing less,” he says. “We want to properly represent our homes of the Shoals and New Orleans. We want to spread some joy in this world and leave the creative community better than we found it.”
Doing this means Single Lock is far from a one-man band. “Well, it certainly isn't just me,” Reed said. “We’re all in this together. We don’t have this company if we don’t have Ben Tanner’s talent and vision as a producer. We don’t have this company without the attention to detail and never-ending care and creativity of Addy Kimbrell. We don’t have this company without the generosity of spirit and council from Will Trapp. And we don’t have this company without the global reach and willingness of John Paul White. I cannot stress enough how much everyone here matters.”
That idea — everyone matters — also plays a part in Reed’s side gig as chairman of the Advocacy Fund for Alabama Musicians. “Musicians are always the first to step up and donate their time and talent for benefit concerts and philanthropic efforts, and I thought that it was time to give something back to them for that,” he says. “We were the first to stop working and we’ll be the last ones to come back. I don’t really believe our local, state or federal government understands what it’s like to work in this business, but I guarantee you they all enjoy the work of this business. Someone needs to advocate for our state’s musicians, and if not us, who?”
The organization has raised more than $15,000 since the start of the COVID pandemic, and all of that has gone directly to musicians. “We made it as simple as possible,” he says. “Make a donation and we’ll turn around and send it to musicians who demonstrate a need. We keep nothing.” This isn’t a short-term tour, either. “Once we’re back to some sort of normal, we’ll use our voice to advocate for artist needs in the state of Alabama at a local and state-wide level.”
Not that Reed lacks for things to do in his downtime. He is credited as “human jukebox” on the show True South, co-hosted by John T. Edge (of the Southern Foodways Alliance) on the SEC Network. “Isn’t that show a miracle?” he says. “To put that kind of content in between football games… I don’t think people yet grasp how groundbreaking that is.”
How does he keep his energy level high? Inspiration, and the power of yes. “All I’ve ever wanted to do is have a career in music. It’s just something I truly love, and if you love your work, it isn’t really work, is it? Some of the best advice I’ve ever been given is to make your default answer ‘YES.’ I try to live by that.”
As for repping Southern music, through his day job, his philanthropy, and other avenues, he’s only too happy to do it. “The South is, and always has been, home to the most exciting, challenging, dangerous, brilliant and beautiful music this country has to offer,” he says. “We set trends, we break ground, we sing from the gut and we tell stories from the heart. We gave the world jazz, blues and country, and perfected rock-and-roll and hip-hop. Our music represents pain and struggle and triumph. It is so rich and we, as a culture, are rich for being able to claim it.
“It’s an honor to represent our small part of Southern music culture and it’s an honor to contribute to it in my own way,” he adds. “Music is forever. I feel like music can also be a force for good in our society, and I’ve been lucky enough to play behind people who take that responsibility seriously. There is a lot of work to do in our part of the world, but musicians and artists can lead in that effort… and that’s where I get really excited.” Color us excited, too.
And now, for our five lightning round questions.
1. What are you reading or listening to at the moment?
Barack Obama’s A Promised Land because I’m a bit of a junkie for that kind of stuff. I’ve been listening to Mardi Gras music like Cha Wa and The Wild Magnolias cause it’s that time of year. I got to hear some of the new music from The Prescriptions in the studio a couple days ago… that stuff is going to blow people away. I’ve played the hell out of the test pressing for the new Pine Hill Haints record. One of the cool things about running a record label is putting out music you like!
2. What is a principle you try to live by?
Work hard and be nice to others. And let your default be “yes.”
3. What is one hidden talent you possess, and one hidden weakness you overcome?
Well… I can bake. That surprises people. All of my weaknesses are pretty public… I’m not good at hiding anything… but I have a short fuse. I apologize a lot. I’m working on it.
4. How do you keep your inspiration / imagination fueled?
Community. And that’s obviously really tough right now, since we’re all stuck in our little boxes. But I’m lucky to have really creative friends, and that is an endless source. I also love to travel, and since I am a touring musician with a significant other that writes travel guides, I get to scratch that itch. I’ve also found that really good coffee and really good sleep help, too.
5. Do you have a daily practice or ritual?
Whether I’m on tour in a random hotel, or at home in New Orleans, or at the office in Florence, I try to get up a little bit earlier than I’d like and make a really good cup of coffee and gather my thoughts. I’m usually the guy in the lobby of the hotel when everyone else comes downstairs, you know? I’m also a habitual and poorly organized note taker who gets gifted notebooks all the time but prefers loose leaf paper. I don’t get it, either.