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Real Country: Dinner with Dale Watson

Dale Watson is unknown by many people who listen to country music. And to others, he is one of the very few remaining country artists that actually embody the soul of the music and where it comes from. David DeVoe had the chance to sit down for a spaghetti dinner with Dale and his band, The Lonestars, in a noisy little restaurant and get a few stories out of them.

Hybrid Magazine:I listened to the spot on the radio today, and you made a comment that pretty much sums up how I feel about your music, as opposed to what most people consider country music. I think you and I are the type of people that don't consider Shania Twain country music. What's your take on the Nashville Country-politan scene?

Dale Watson: I think it's pretty well known that I don't think that [music] belongs on a country station. The fact is they've taken that market over. That's why, when I play, over the past couple of years, I tell people to not even call me a country music act. Cause I don't fit in that mold anymore. They've absolutely succeeded in stealing the moniker - it doesn't apply to the music I do anymore. The guys in the band, when people come up and say "What kind of music do you do?", the first thing we all say is - because we're musicians growing up when country was country - we say country. But I say, no no, just say original. Because when you say country, they immediately think Tim McGraw, Shania Twain, all that shit. I don't even want them thinking that. Then when you say Johnny Cash-type, you can explain a little more, explain in a little more detail. But I just say original anymore, and let them sort it out because it makes me feel better about playing the music I'm playing. Because it's totally disowned me, as far as country music goes, and I don't want to be associated with it.

HM: It's interesting, the alt-country market, the rock country market, embraces honky tonk and real country more than the real country markets.

DW: Because it's got roots. That's why. Anything roots oriented is country. Like Americana music, you know what I mean? Just as much as blues and bluegrass and gospel, the common ground is roots. It's where it comes from, and it's not a manufactured sound. That's why I think it fits so well into the Americana format.

HM: There are a lot of questions I want to ask, but I'm trying to think of good places to go in the short time we've got… Can you tell a story about Johnny Cash? Because, obviously, he's been a big influence.

DW: Oh yeah. I first met Johnny Cash when I was doing a tribute to him… That's not a fair way to say it. I was a featured artist in a program that was a tribute for Johnny Cash, Buck Owens, Harlen Howard, Roger Miller, and Hank Cochran. It was for them five, and Rosemary Clooney was putting it on, because the money funded head injury victims. And Ray Charles was on this show… Hal Ketchum, Trisha Yearwood, Marty Stuart… who else was on it? Well, they were all doing songs that were written by these famous people. I was called in to do a Roger Miller medley. And so I was backstage… I first went on, and all five of them - well, only four, because Roger Miller had passed on - All four of them were sitting there and we had to do our songs for these people. I did "Dang Me' and "Chugalug" as a medley… I used to do "Dang Me", but never did "Chugalug", so when I went to change for the medley, I couldn't remember the first line. So instinctively, I don't know why I did this, I stayed on the chord of my guitar and went "Hmmmmmmm". I don't know why I did that. Didn't think about it, but it gave me enough time to remember the line. I felt bad about it afterward, but just let it go. And then when the show was over, Johnny and Buck Owens , Harlen Howard and Hank Cochran were backstage, and I thought, I'm going to go get my camera. So I had to walk by the crowd of people that were gathered around Johnny, and he goes " 'Scuse me. 'Scuse me." And he grabs my shoulder as I'm walking by. He says, "Here's that boy. June, here's that boy." I was in awe, you know. He says, "I just wanted to tell you thank you. You made my and June's night. Roger Miller was our best friend, and we felt like he was here tonight because Roger used to do that on stage, what you did, to let me know, and kinda say hi." And June came over and hugged me. So ever since that, whenever he'd come to Austin or whatever, I'd go see his shows.. And he would always remember. He was always welcoming… that's my story. That's my most favorite story about meeting a legend.

HM: With him, you know, that's the real deal. He was always a real person. I met him once and just had the chance to say Hi… But I know he was like that… You mentioned Marty Stuart. Do you have any connection with him? Because before I knew about you, I felt like Marty and Dwight Yoakam were some of the only ones making country music. At least songs that were being heard.

DW: Yeah, I can agree with that. I think Dwight more than Marty. I know Marty, and he's got quite the collection of country music stuff. He's definitely got the pedigree; he's seen it all, when it was real. But he's also right there in the middle of it when it went sour… Travis Tritt and all. So I give him his cudos where I think he deserves them, but…

HM: Yeah, there are a few black marks here and there.

DW: I mean, I'm not dissing him, I don't really hold him in as high of regard as I do Ricky Skaggs. Ricky Skaggs has been doing his thing from the get go, you know? That's one of the most under-rated guys, that ever come out. And you can tell it's him when he sings, he's got his own style and his own thing and he's carrying on a tradition. There's not a lot of people you can say that about. Dwight Yoakam is one of them, too. You know, you can't say that about Randy Travis anymore, because he changed his deal. Even before he went gospel, his first album was great, and then the rest of them were total Nashville mix. I'm just calling it like I see it. I'm not saying that that is the way it is, I'm just pretty vocal about what I think.

HM: Have you ever played the Opry?

DW: Oh yeah, quite a few times. About eight or nine times.

HM: How is that as an experience?

DW: I love it. I mean, that's what I always dreamed of, growing up. The thing is, part of that dream is that when you play the Grand Ole Opry, is that it means you've made a dent in country music, and that they've accepted you. That isn't what it means now. That's what it used to mean. But I'm still just as honored to play the Grand Ole Opry, because I know its roots. What was cool about it then was, if you played the Grand Ole Opry, then everybody knew - hey, this guys made it. He's done something for country music. But nowadays, that isn't what it is. The only difference is: Then, when you played, everyone knew it. Now, only you know it. Know what I mean? Cause you ask anybody that listens to mainstream radio some of their favorite artists that played the Grand Ole Opry in the past month, and they wouldn't tell you one person's been on it.

HM: Yeah, that is the cornerstone of country music, and there are people that don't even know what it is.

DW: They think it's a TV show. You know, it comes one very now and then.

HM: I guess this kind of leads into… other than the guys we've already talked about, like Ricky Skaggs… Are there any other people out there making music that you kind of look up to?

DW: Well, Ray Price is still making good music. Or are you talking about new people?

HM: Well, anyone making music currently. They don't have to be new people.

DW: Oh. Well, I like Dwight's music still, even though it's changed a lot. It's still great. There's a lot of great singers that come along, but I've got to say, as far as inspirations and things that I have the most respect for are ones I looked up to in the past, and one's I still look up to now. I still go to a George Jones show if I'm off. I've got to say, Billy Joe Shaver is a guy that is a singer-songwriter who is still out there doing it… just because they're out there doing what they did and what they always have done. I don't consider him a vocalist, but I consider him a singer-songwriter that is somebody I look up to. I can't say that I look up to, other than Dwight.

HM: What about outside of country music? What about rock or anything?

DW: Ummm. No, that's not something I do. I kind of stay where I am. I listen to old records. And actually, I get CDs from these friends of mine… Jackson Taylor Band. There's lots of bands in Austin popping up. And I listen to them every now and then on my stereo. Brenda Lee (?) is a girl that has been coming on real strong in Austin, and I think she's got a great voice. One of the most country voices I've heard in years. Not contrived, not Nashville sounding and contrived. You know? You hear these folks doing their best Loretta Lynn impersonation, and they fall short. But there are real people out there. I can't say that I look up to anybody, just the legends that I keep looking up to. Because I think they are still teaching us new things. Like Willie. Willie is a great example. I look up to Willie huge.

HM: What about Waylon [Jennings]? The Texas guys, like Bob Wills?

DW: That's what is kind of sad about Texas. What's going on right now. You know, Texas had the most unique sounds and singers that ever came out of… I don't want to say anywhere, but it… That have ever come along. Lefty Frizell, Roy Orbison, Waylon, Bob Wills, George Jones. They've got so much to be proud of, that heritage is vocalists - Vocalists and stylists, people that made such a mark that they were imitated along the way. Buck Owens, he's from Texas. Now, it's so sad that the only thing we know from Texas is these singer-songwriters that have songs that are weak. Their songs are weak and the vocals are extremely weak. When you put them side by side, there sure isn't any comparison as far as quality. And of course that's me looking at it. You know, we have Ray Price. You know when you've got that quality of song, there's a certain level that you should… you know, there's a bar that's been raised in Texas, and now it's been lowered quite a bit. You've got these people now that are singing barefoot on stage that can't hold a pitch.

HM: I think that's fairly universal. That's not just Texas. There's been a huge explosion, and I think the last 3 or 4 major movements in rock music have been based on singers that can't sing.

DW: You know, just because you can't hit pitch , doesn't mean you are a great songwriter. And for some reason that's been accepted. Obviously, if someone can't sing they must be a great songwriter.

Don: You can forget Bob Dylan and those guys. They can be forgiven.

HM: Yeah, just because one guy can do it, doesn't make it universal.

DW: That's my point. Yeah, Bob Dylan and Kris Kristofferson, they had hits by other people.

HM: What's the story behind the guitar covered in coins?

DW: Drunk night in a hotel after a two month tour of Europe. Back then, before the Euro-dollar, every time you'd cross a country line, you'd have to change your money. And they wouldn't take the coins. So after a two month tour, we'd hit four continents in two months, and I had about five pounds worth of change. Bought a beer in a hotel one night and thought, hmmm. I went down to the store and got some super glue and thought, this is a good way to remember where I've been. O I started gluing it on.

HM: So that Tele's about five pounds heavier than when it started?

DW: You'd think it is, but it's not. It probably only added a pound to it. I kept some of those coins, though. Even though they are worthless now because of the Eurodollar. Just in case some fell off. Sometimes fans come up and ask if they can have a coin off of it. I say sure.

HM: If you can get one off!

DW: They're easy to come off.

-David DeVoe


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