Forty-three years ago, when “Paper Rosie” was released, Gene Watson was able to build a legacy on adding a new life to others’ compositions.
The song was the first single and title track from his album of the same name, and it peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart in the spring of 1977. It even reached No. 1 on the RPM Country Tracks chart in Canada.
A Song Written By A Longtime Friend
But “Paper Rosie” wasn’t just a chance for Gene Watson to cut a song suited to his vocal style and score another hit. It was also his way of celebrating a great talent and devoted friend. “Paper Rosie” was written by Watson’s longtime friend, Canadian singer-songwriter Dallas Harms, who originally cut the song in 1975. Harms’ version peaked at No. 21 on the RPM Country Track chart.
“Paper Rosie,” set at a roadside tavern, sings about the viewpoint of a man who purchased a paper rose from an elderly female vendor. Shortly thereafter, he heard the church bells ringing and the choir singing. The man realized a funeral is happening nearby. And when he heard the choir singing “Paper Rosie,” he realized that the funeral is for the woman who’d just sold him the rose.
“I went to look for her outside, a spray of roses lay by her side. The sky lit up, and the choir sang 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,” the song goes and suggests that it was actually the spirit of the woman who sold him the paper flower.
Although Harms scored bigger hits, like “Honky Tonkin’ (All Night Long) in 1982,” “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 passing in 2019.
Gene Watson shared a touching memory of Harms the day before he was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry family.
“I’ve got the guitar he wrote ‘Paper Rosie’ on,” Watson said. “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.'”
Watch Gene Watson’s one-of-a-kind performance of “Paper Rosie” below.