A FEW DAYS BEFORE THE KKOA 30th Anniversary Lead Sled Spectacular in Salina, Kansas, R&C Hall of Famer LARRY WATSON passed away. Although Larry had been ill for a number of months it still hit all of us attending the Anniversary get-together very hard, myself included.
As the owner of Manuel Arteche's INVICTA, I knew that the car Manuel did after the INVICTA was a perfect clone of Watson's first version of the "GRAPEVINE" Chevy...which Watson had seen and heartily approved. This was Manuel's last car as he was very ill as the car was being built, and he was so very proud of it when it was finished...so was Larry who said that Manuel had done a spot-on job of the build. Sadly, shortly after finishing & showing his "Grapevine" Manuel passed away.
So, I had always wanted to make the trek to California to Interview Larry for this Site as there was a true connection between us with Manuel as the solid link, and my old friend Steve Stanford urged me to do it also as he and Larry have been friends for years. Of course, I never had the time to travel to get that Interview, BUT in Salina I knew my friends GEORGE BARRIS & JOHN D'AGOSTINO would have some great memories of Larry.
Larry worked for George on many occasions back in the early days and, in fact, Larry had taken his soon-to-be ground-breaking '58 Thunderbird to the Barris Shop shortly after he got it for some mild modifications which were done by Bill Hines & Bill DeCarr, before Larry painted & panelled it.
In addition to that, John D'Agostino had met and become friends with Larry back in the mid-70's, and two of his cars the "CARIBBEAN" & "EMERALD MIST" had won Awards from Larry at Paso Robles in 2001-2002. And John told me he wanted to dedicate this Interview and his participation at the KKOA 30th Anniversary Celebration to Larry.
Armed with all of the above information, I set out to record the memories of George & John on this legendary pioneer who had been Inducted into the KKOA Hall Of Fame, Darryl Starbird's National Rod & Custom Hall of Fame, the West Coast Kustoms Hall of Fame, and many others.
George & John's words will bring Larry to life for many who've never had the opportunity to meet him, and I personally hope you enjoy this Tribute that I've worked hard at putting together to honor & respect one of the longest-running, ultimate best in the Rod & Custom Industry: LARRY WATSON. JK
"THE BELLFLOWER CLOCK DRIVE-IN" POSTER:
THE SUPERB ARTWORK ON "The Clock Drive-In" poster at the top of this page is by STEVE STANFORD. Steve told me a humorous story about the poster:
The poster itself is extremely intricate and depicts many of Larry Watson's personal cars, plus a multitude of those that he painted & worked on back in the 50's & 60's. Steve said that while he was doing the artwork on it Larry would call him and say: "Steve, we need to add ____________ to the poster!", or, "Steve, there's one more car I'd like to put in there." Steve said he thought he'd finished the poster a number of times, BUT would have to re-do a part of it to put in the other cars that Larry wanted to add. Steve finally had to tell Larry he was running out of room ! Whatever the case, with Steve Stanford working on the project, it came out perfectly.
LARRY WATSON WAS BORN JULY 21, 1938, AND DIED JULY 20, 2010, just one day shy of his 72nd birthday. But, in those years of life that he had, he packed more talent & creativity into them than many half his age will ever acquire...no matter what their lifespan.
Larry was a born-and-raised-Californian, and for him it was truly a matter of being at "the right place, at the right time". California was a hotbed of Hot Rods & Customs after World War II with George & Sam Barris, Gene Winfield, Neil Emory & Clay Jensen, the Ayala Brothers, George Cerny, Joe Bailon, and others, having shops and building great cars. Then to add to the mix, Von Dutch, and, Dean Jefferies came along with striping, scalloping, and other ways to add to the painting & overall schemes of those finished machines.
Enter a young Larry Watson, still in high school, 16 years old, hanging out at the Barris' Lynwood shop watching Von Dutch & Jefferies work their magic. He asks Jefferies where he gets his brushes. Dean won't tell Larry anything 'cause he says Larry might want to "take his job", SO Larry finds out where to buy brushes on his own, figures out how to do some cool striping on his own car, on a dare does a fantastic job on a friends car, AND, the rest, as they say is history !
Many others have paid Tribute to Larry on WebSites all over the world, so I won't duplcate much of what has already been said. What I WILL say is that the Rod & Custom Industry has lost one of its true innovator's. I was personally blown away by Larry's work when I was still in High School and followed his career through the years.
One of my earliest memories is seeing the work that Larry did on Duane Steck's "Moonglow", then of course the "Grapevine", and, the panel-painted '58 T-Bird was just a knock-out ! I still have my original issue of the Custom Cars 1959 Annual which is one the favorite pieces in my Archive. IN FACT, I loved those '58 Thunderbird's so much that I ended up buying one as my first car in the Summer of 1960 ! (See photo's of it at bottom of this page.)
Larry could do it all: striping, scallops, panel-painting, flames, cobwebbing...if it could be painted, Watson could paint it. And, with paneling, he started a trend of the "No Custom-Custom" which proved that you could customize a brand new car and make it look rare & individual without major body mods ! He let the painting of the car do "most of the work" and owners flocked to his shop to get the "Watson Look" !
Larry Watson was a friend to many, a man who later successfully changed careers and went into acting in film & tv, and, like many other pioneers in the R&C Industry, had enjoyed a richly-deserved resurgence of popularity over the last 15-20 years. Going along with that renewed interest, a few years back, Larry and the super-legendary GENE WINFIELD, began a Fall Classic dubbed the "Winfield-Watson Gathering", a Rod & Custom get-together held at Gene's shop in the Mojave which turned out to be a much-anticipated yearly event.
Larry Watson will be missed by all whose lives he touched...all over the World.
(Above left: Larry's ground-breaking, panel-painted 1958 T-Bird featured on the cover of the 1959 Custom Cars Annual; Above right: The 'Bird named Custom Of The Year ! )
(Above left: Manuel Arteche's "Grapevine" clone featured in Custom Rodder; Above right: Watson's original version of the "Grapevine" . )
(Above left: Watson's "House Of Style" Shop; Above right: Larry's personal worked-over '59 Caddy. )
(Above left: Watson giving the thumbs-up to Alan Mayes' '61 Ventura done Watson-Style (Photo Courtesy of Anna Marco); Above right: Thom Taylor's "Kustomland" book which features a great section on Watson, his shop, and the cars he did through the years. See the "HOT OFF THE PRESS" Section of this WebSite for my complete Review of "Kustomland". )
THIS IS A GREAT BOOK published book by Thom Taylor & Larry Watson. It's a personal book that covers Larry's cars, his life, and his loves. The book was finished, ironically, the night that Larry died, and the initial press-run was limited to 1,000 copies. I have a Review of this superb volume on the "Hot Off The Press" Section of the WebSite, and you can get much more info there on this amazing book. Just go to this link: Hot Off The Press
(Above left & right: John D'Agostino's '56 Packard Caribbean & '58 Eldorado Brougham (Emerald Mist)...Both Won Awards From Larry Watson At Paso Robles)
(Above left: My first car, a '58 Thunderbird Hardtop that I bought in the Summer of 1960; Above right: My buddies Jim D. & Jack R. checking-it out with me shortly after I got it. Talk about "Stylin' " ! An early "Watson Inspired" T-Bird Buy ? Maybe ! )
NOTE: Pictures used on this Tribute Page Courtesy of Rik Hoving, Kustomrama, John D'Agostino, Car Kulture DeLuxe, Street Rodder Magazine, and various other respective owners.