For the past twenty years, what gets called country music and what traditional country music is, has created a divide that gets more and more expansive with each passing year. In the world of big country music, there have been those who’ve stayed true to their roots, no natter what the industry thinks they should do with their music. You may not know what Ameripolitan music is, but you can bet that the genre has been lead by Dale Watson. Watson has always stayed true to his roots, crafting a traditional honky tonk sound that’s earned him a loyal and large fan base as well as hit songs and appearances on The Late Show with David Letterman and Austin City Limits to name a few. Now, after a move to Memphis and his own Ameripolitan awards show moving from Austin to Tennessee, Watson is back on the road supporting his latest release Call Me Lucky. We sat down with him to talk about the ride he’s taken since he began forty years ago.
When Dale Watson got his start, he was between a job at the Shasta bottling facility and performing regular gigs in a band with his two brothers-as an emancipated minor. “Back then we played about ninety percent covers and ten percent originals. I was in high school and we couldn’t get into the bars to play, so my brothers, one on lead guitar and one on bass were in my band until I fired them for fighting on the advice from my dad. They’d played with him and he went through the same thing with them. I asked him, ‘who’s gonna’ play lead if I fire them, and he said you will.’ So, that’s when I learned to play lead guitar,” says Watson of his early days.
In the nineties it seemed there wasn’t a stage that Watson didn’t perform on in Austin and the surrounding areas. After taking some time off in the early 2000’s, Watson returned in 2006 with renewed energy and passion, earning him a spot on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry. As a self described outsider, it looked like things were really starting to click with the hit song “I Lie When I Drink” and spots on Letterman and ACL. “Once I did Letterman and ACL, things felt like they started to click. I never look at it like that, I pretty much just think that I have enough songs for a new record and I just make it. The machine(music industry) is different from year to year.”
After the flow of success, Watson started the Ameripolitan Awards in Austin, Texas. The show only has a handful of categories, making it a truer to country awards show than the big ones thrown by the music industry. “When I signed to Curb Records in the nineties, they said ‘we love what you do, now change.’ We wanted the Ameripolitan Awards to be an award show for artists being themselves. It started when Blake Shelton put out a song with hip hop on it, and when asked about it he said that no one wanted to hear grandpa’s music. Ray Price took offense to it, and I wrote a song about it all. So, we did the first awards show in Austin for artists who weren’t making that type of country. We just wrapped the sixth year and this was the best year we’ve had yet. Artists like us, we’ve been kicked outta’ country. I tell people I’m Ameripolitan music because it’s easier to explain than to say why I don’t consider myself country. We’ve had some artists win award with us who went on to get recognition from the industry. Margot Price got Best Outlaw Female Artist and she’s gotten recognition in the industry. It’s just quality music,” remarks the guitarist.
That representation of quality music has been at the core of what Watson has done throughout his career. With his new album Call Me Lucky, it feels like Watson is getting more personal with his music. Alongside a move to Memphis, Watson says it all felt natural to do. “My girlfriend and I love Memphis. It’s a nice spot to be at, I can take the band guys to visit Graceland. The city gave me incentives to move the Ameripolitan Awards there, they really bent over backwards to bring it there in Memphis. For this record, I’d done so many sessions at Sun with Matt Ross-Spang and he became the main engineer for this record and we headed to Sam Phillips Studio. Once I was in that room, all of the energy there, I knew I had to do my next record there. This album is inspired by fans and a lot of fans were there while we recorded the album. It was all organic, that studio has mojo on it. The whole place has the feeling of holding Willie’s guitar or plugging in Lucielle,” remarks Watson.
For years the live show was where you got to experience so much of who Dale Watson is as an artist and as a person. Tales told by anyone venue owner who’s booked him tell of him playing to his fullest whether the room was packed or nearly empty. For years Watson played a Thompkins adorned in coins, before switching over to a Fender Telecaster. Says Watson, “I moved to Fender after they became a sponsor for the awards show. Those are European coins to remind me where I’ve been. When I went to Europe on tour in 1999 or 2000, they’d just switched to Euros and I had all of these Deutsche Marks and Italian Liras, and I’m not one to throw away money so I just stuck em’ on my guitar. The live show this tour will feature a lot of new songs in the view of the fans that inspired them. “David Buxkemper” as an example, I will probably just do what I wanna’ do live. We don’t have a set list, so if people yell out a song, I’ll play it for them.”
You can stream Call Me Lucky on all streaming sites, you can purchase it in all digital retailers or you can buy it in physical formats directly from Red House Records. Dale Watson will be on tour in Texas tonight in Austin at The Long Center for the Performing Arts, On Thursday in Silsbee at Honky Tonk Texas, on Friday in Houston at The Continental Club, and then two more sets in Austin on the 10th and the 11th. His tour will then head to Pawling, NY at Daryl’s House on March 13 before ending July 12 at the Devil’s Backbone Tavern in Fischer, TX. A complete list of his tour dates can be accessed here.
Image Credits: Photo Courtesy of Artist.