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A Q&A with Dale Watson 

Pompadoured baritone keeps the country music flame.

click to enlarge AN AMERIPOLITAN: Dale Watson.
  • AN AMERIPOLITAN: Dale Watson.

Ameripolitan legend Dale Watson drives his own tour bus, and owns the Big T Roadhouse in St. Hedwig, Texas, both of which are reasons he may feel right at home at Jimmy Doyle's Country Club. I spoke with Watson in advance of his show Friday at Jimmy Doyle's, which just celebrated its 42nd anniversary.

Jimmy Doyle's might be the Ginny's Little Longhorn of Little Rock.

Yeah, that was the vibe I was getting, yep. I've wanted to play it for about 25 years, ever since I've seen it, maybe 30. From what I know about the place — just from the outside, you can tell it — I've read some stuff on Jimmy himself, and it sounds like he runs it kinda like I run my little beer joint in Texas.

I'd like to ask you about the term "Ameripolitan."

Sure. Country music today, or what they're callin' country music, is exactly why we created the term "Ameripolitan." I don't feel I have a home there, in that country music. I mean, you look at the last awards show they had there, and they had Cheap Trick, Pitbull — and well, it doesn't feel like a home for us. We don't belong there. So Ameripolitan is the new neighborhood we live in.

It's almost like you have to invent a new word to get people to think outside of that box, outside of what they think of as country music.

Right! A lot of people are like, "Why don't you call it 'real country?' Or 'roots country,' or something like that?" But anything you have to draw from a root word, you have to think of the root word first. So, people who like what is called country music, they think of country music as Kenny Chesney and Jason Aldean and Taylor Swift, stuff like that. That's what's happening inside country music. It's a little bit like a snake eatin' its tail. Now that we've got Ameripolitan, I'm trying to accentuate the positive, and not dwell on what's bad. Like I said, they've taken over the neighborhood and we've moved out. They've kind of gentrified what used to be country music, so instead of tryin' to fight it, we just moved and set up somewhere else. I'm tryin' not to be a hater and complain about what's going on in their neighborhood, 'cause that's their neighborhood. And we're really proud of what we've got going on.

I read somewhere that you guys play about 300 dates a year. That's unreal.

Well, sure, when I'm in Austin, I play three or four nights at C-Boy's, or Continental Club, or Broken Spoke, or say, when we're at home outside of San Antonio, we play at Big T Roadhouse, which is where we recorded the "Live Chicken Shit Bingo" album.

And is it true that you drive your own tour bus?

I do, but I share it with my brother Larry, who's got his CDL [Commercial Driver's License], too. He's drivin' right now, while I'm talkin' to you.

I'm glad you're not driving! So, there are a lot of acts that, when they get big, they try, maybe necessarily, to create some distance between the audience and the performer. You have a big button on your website that says "Book Dale Now."

Oh, yeah. Well, I run the website, too, so if anything's on there, I put it on there.

On that topic — your connection to the audience — I know you like to take some of your lyrics directly from your audience, like you did with "I Lie When I Drink." And for "Truckin' Sessions," you had people call in to you on Sirius XM, and some of those lines, you actually used.

Oh yeah, a lot of songs come that way. Yeah, we wrote a whole song that way, and I gave that song to Sirius XM — I think they were supposed to use it for a fundraiser for a trucker's health alliance. But yeah, co-wrote by truckers. I've got three albums full of truckin' songs. I don't think being on the road that there's much you can't be inspired by. And you know, I've got my CB radio, too. That'll give you some ideas.

What's your handle?

Troubadour! My brother's handle is Workin' Man.

Speaking of your improvisational skills, can you tell me a little about "Jonesin' for Jones," and how that happened?

Yeah, that was when we had two or three days where we'd just come off tour, it was a Monday night, and [George] Jones had passed away about three or four days before. I'd been listening to George — really, for a couple of weeks, but right before we played the Continental Club, I just got out all my albums, CDs, eight-tracks, whatever, and that song just kind of came out. I said, "You know, I've been jonesin' for Jones all day long," and thought, well that's the song title right there. So I asked the bass player to give me a "White Lightnin' " type of bass run, and all the rest of the guys jumped in, and that's how the song got born.

You bought Big T Roadhouse when you went looking for a pinball machine on Craigslist.

Yep! I was just going looking for a pinball machine and they said, "Well, we're actually selling the whole place," so I said, "Well, let's talk." I love that place — you know, in St. Hedwig. It reminds me of the way Ginny's used to be, just a smoky little beer joint. People can still smoke in there, and I don't think it's changed much since it was opened 35 years ago.

I'm hoping you can find some Lone Star beer around here.

I've heard in Texarkana you can get it, still. I might have to call Jimmy.

My college roommate used to smuggle it back in from Texas on our school breaks.

That's the way to go. We'll do an "Eastbound and Down."

You know, that movie ["Smokey and the Bandit"] was set in Texarkana!

Yeah! "There's beer in Texarkana ..." You know, I always thought it was Lone Star they were transportin.' I think originally that was the idea, but I guess it's ... Coors?

Coors.

Well, I think probably what happened was that Coors paid more money for it. It should've been Lone Star.

I wonder if I could challenge you to name one of the best things that's happened to country music, or one of the worst.

Yeah! I can say one of the best things ever to happen to country music is probably Merle Haggard. And the Grand Ole Opry. Worst thing ... well, it lost its identity. It got embarrassed to be country music.

Dale Watson and his Lone Stars play at Jimmy Doyle's Country Club at 9 p.m. Friday, June 24, $10.

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