Music

Country Rewind: Gene Watson Makes Friend Dallas Harms' 'Paper Rosie' a Hit

"Paper Rosie," a top three Billboard Hot Country Singles hit for the great song interpreter Gene Watson, came from the pen of one of his longtime friends and peers, Canadian singer-songwriter Dallas Harms.

Harms first recorded his song as the title track of a 1975 album. As a single, Harms' recording entered the Canadian charts' (RPM Country Tracks) top 25. Although Harms scored bigger hits, namely 1982's  "Honky Tonkin' (All Night Long)," "Paper Rosie" played a huge role in his legacy as he entered the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame in 1989 and got celebrated after his Oct. 12, 2019 passing.

Two years after Harms recorded his version, a cover by Watson became a hit in the states and sat atop the Canadian country charts.

A singer the caliber of Watson finding success with someone else's lyrics is par for the course in country music. In fact, Watson built a legacy on adding new life to others' compositions, including Lawton Williams' "Farewell Party," Jim Rushing's "Nothing Sure Looked Good on You" Larry Gatlin's "Bitter They Are, Harder They Fall" and Dallas Frazier's "Fourteen Carat Mind"--not to mention "Don't Look at Me (in That Tone of Voice)" by another songwriting great from Canada, Ray Griff.

"Paper Rosie" wasn't just a chance for Watson to cut a song suited to his vocal style and score another hit for Capitol Records. It represented a way to celebrate a great talent and devoted friend.

The day before his Feb. 7, 2020 induction into the Grand Ole Opry cast, Watson shared a touching memory of Harms.

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"I've got the guitar he wrote 'Paper Rosie' on," Watson says. "It's a Del Veccio metal plate resonator guitar. He was going to give it to me, but I wouldn't let him. Cool story: I wouldn't let him give it to me, and he didn't want me to pay him. I gave him an American half dollar that I had in my pocket, and he gave me back four Canadian dimes in change. He said, 'Rosie sold her roses for a dime. I'm giving you this guitar for a dime.'"

"Paper Rosie" Lyrics:

The sun goes down in Calvin county
Neon lights from an old beer sign
Shown through the window out on the sidewalk
As I walked in to pass the time
I looked around, sat down at a table
Ordered beef on rye and a glass of wine
And through the door came a little old lady
She was selling paper roses and they only cost a dime

Paper Rosie, paper Rosie
She sold you paper Roses
But they only cost a dime

Silver hair that's lost its' gold
Trembling hand as she passed the rose
Red Crepe paper, made nature's bouquet
Help a little old lady buy a rose today
I took the rose from her trembling hand
With eyes of age, she smiled and walked away
Like a breath of spring I could smell the rose
It came alive and I heard her say

Buy my Roses, pretty roses
They're only made of paper
But they only cost a dime

I went to look for her outside
A spray of roses lay by her side
The sky lit up and the choir sang
A thousand voices as the church bells rang

They sang Rosie (Rosie), paper Rosie (Rosie)
She sold you paper Roses
But they only cost a dime

Paper Rosie (Rosie), paper Rosie (Rosie)
She sold you paper roses
But they only cost a dime

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Country Rewind: Gene Watson Makes Friend Dallas Harms' 'Paper Rosie' a Hit