Dale Watson is one of the hardest working musicians, well, ever. He’s released nearly 30 albums in his 20-year career, plays about 300 shows a year, owns two venues and does some acting when he finds the time. Oh, and he drives his own tour bus.
Honestly, he’s a bit of a legend.
Not to mention he essentially invented a genre of music — “Ameripolitan”, which he classifies as a mix between honky tonk, western swing, rockabilly and outlaw country, and which even has its own award show (entering its third year this February).
Watson’s star has been on the rise, too. He was one of David Letterman’s final guests on The Late Show, he sat in as the guest on the Jimmy Kimmel Live! house band and his latest release Call Me Insane went No. 1 on the “Roots Music Report.”
In the middle of all of that, Watson somehow found time to step away from the studio and chat with Wide Open Country about his new album and the road ahead.
You decided to do something you don’t normally do on Call Me Insane, which is work with a producer. And not just any producer — GRAMMY-winning Texas legend Lloyd Maines. What was it about this record that made you seek that change?
Me and Lloyd have been trying to get together to produce a record for 20 years. Usually I’m such a control freak that I have to produce it, but I’ve always looked up to Lloyd and had the utmost respect for him. With this record we were really going for a studio album, and he’s a man about details. He knows me as a player, that I’m not technical like a Nashville cat. He’s a perfectionist but he allows my roughness — he wants you to be you, but to be the best you.
So there was a certain attention to detail this time around?
He crosses the T’s and dots the I’s, which I never do. If I hear something that’s good enough for me, I keep moving, but for him close enough don’t count — he don’t deal in horseshoes.
Have fans and critics noticed?
Definitely — the production went up a notch, and it’s good that everybody noticed that! Switching it up is how I keep things fresh for me. My music is honky tonk, western swing, rockabilly, outlaw — some people think country music can be the same old boring song, but there’s so many different styles of country. It’s the same thing with recording.
You’ve said before you do most of your writing on stage, making up songs in the moment. Have you ever bombed?
Oh yeah, 90 percent of the time! (Laughs). But part of it is knowing I’ve got a very forgiving audience and an audience that’s in the moment like I am. It’s all about having fun. I don’t ever take myself too seriously.
You’ve got to be able to just throw it out there. If it’s a total train wreck, laugh about, have a beer and move on.
Sometimes it works on great, like on the new tune “Everybody’s Somebody In Luckenbach, Texas.” I’m actually amazed that song hadn’t already been written.
(Laughs) That was one of those songs that during a show in Luckenbach, somebody was dancing and wearing the shirt with that slogan. So I said to myself, “Hey, we could use another two-step,” and just started playing it right there. It does seem like the song just wrote itself. I believe that as a songwriter the songs are in the air and every now and then you’re lucky enough to catch one. That one was floating around Luckenbach forever.
One of the most moving songs on the record to me is “Burden Of The Cross.” You go into it thinking you may hear a gospel song but come out with something different entirely.
This song is very literal for me — sometimes I write in symbolism, but this is something that happened in my life. I had a girlfriend who died in a car accident off of Highway 71. We put a small white cross out there. It meant a lot to me to take a motorcycle ride out there and reflect on it, to leave her CDs or flowers. When they widened the highway, they dug up the cross. So I went out there and I put it back. It was the only memorial she had. I’m glad I wrote that song, because there’s a lot of people that identify with it.
In addition to your touring, you’ve also somehow found time to be a venue owner. Well, two venues actually. What inspired you to own clubs?
Temporary insanity, I guess (laughs). The first venue, Ginny’s Little Longhorn I just wanted to keep from going under, so I bought it. Then one day I was looking on craigslist for a pinball machine for the venue, when I saw a listing for The Big T Roadhouse in St. Hedwig near San Antonio. The property had a house on it and at the time I was considering moving because the city of Austin was giving me a hard time about parking my bus in front of my house. I actually ended up being able to stay in Austin, but I’ve got The Big To now too. And I got the pinball machine!
It’s funny how seemingly little purchases can become so much more expensive.
(Laughs) I gotta tell you man, I learned to stop making plans anymore.
On top of all that, you’ve been acting a lot more too.
Yeah, we’ve just finished a short we’re hoping to have in the South by Southwest festival and we’re shooting for a feature in April. And we’ve got the third Ameripolitan Awards coming up in February. I’ve always loved acting, ever since the 80s. Even though it’s not my forte. But hey, I wasn’t good at music when I started out either.
Maybe by the 29th film people will be calling you a legend?
(Laughs) Exactly. I’ll be playing the part of the old…OLD man.