Before there was George Strait, there was Gene Watson, Texas-born hardcore country crooner and sometime car mechanic. Watson had his first hit — “Love In the Hot Afternoon,” an undisguised tribute to a hookup — in 1975, and, unlike others of his generation, his rich vocal timbre hasn’t diminished one bit. He offered the ultimate proof a couple months back with Best of the Best: 25 Greatest Hits. It wasn’t a compilation of his Capitol, MCA and Epic recordings. Nope, he actually re-cut his best-known songs — with the original arrangements and in the original keys, no less — for his own label, all but asking listeners to measure what he can do with his voice now that he’s almost 70 against what he did with it as a much younger man. 3rd and Lindsley had more gray heads than usual in the audience when Watson played a recent Sunday night Lightning 100 show. But that doesn’t mean he couldn’t grab the sort of younger fans who profess a love of George Jones and a loathing of current mainstream country — Watson doesn’t need florid belting or Auto-Tune to delve into matters of the heart.