Brandy Lee Dixon sat down with Texas Country Music Legend Dale Watson for a look into his colorful family history, a discussion of his recent projects, and his feelings on meeting musical icons.
BLD: How old were you when you started playing music?
DW: I was probably about ten when I started playing.
BLD: Who were some of your major influences?
DW: My dad played music, so he was probably the biggest influence. People I grew up listening to – Elvis, Johnny Cash, Ray Price, and George Jones.
BLD: Your father is from Hazzard KY, have ever been there?
DW: I’ve never been there. Here’s something most folks don’t know. My daddy’s daddy, apparently he was an asshole. He was not a good man, he wasn’t a good husband, but he was a coal miner. The reason my grandmother died is because he came home one day from the mines and she didn’t have supper done on time. This was back in ’37 or ’38 and the helmets they wore had them big batteries on em’ and weighed five and a half or six pounds plus the actual helmet, and he threw it at her. She was pregnant at the time and it hit her right in the stomach. She miscarried and the company store of the coal mining company in Hazzard paid for the midwife, but a midwife ain’t really a doctor. They didn’t get all the placenta out and she died from gangrene poisoning. He was a widower for awhile. He ends up fucking his best friends wife, and his best friend caught him out on the street in Hazzard, Ky. And had a duel with him and shot and killed him.
I’ve always wanted to go there and look it up in the old newspapers. I might get there and find out it’s all full of shit. I got a lot of family that has a habit of embellishing. My dad said that, he said “Son, I never was the man I used to be.” In other words, the more he told those stories the more he realized how far he was away from them.
It was said that my great-grandmother killed her husband with a wagon wheel. She got pissed off at him. They were the first people that settled in Hazzard or KY, period. The reason they stayed there is because they were settlers, reason they called them settlers is because they settled on being there, cause their fucking wagon broke down! He couldn’t fix the wagon wheel. Now, this wheel was made from iron and wood. She picked it up over her head and hit him with it and killed him. Later on whenever her son,(my granddad), got killed she was in the street smoking a corn cob pipe and she vowed to kill the man that killed her son. She was ninety- something years old. Now, this is how it was all told to me. Point is…I tend to believe my family was horse thieves, cause I’d steal a fuckin’ horse!
BLD: How do you feel about popular “country music” today? I use the word country loosely…
DW: (laughs) Ya know, I gotta say there is more of an opportunity out there to hear stuff that is good, but that’s not the mainstream stuff that you hear. There’s some stuff that Rhonda Vincent does that I like. Dwight (Yoakam), I’ve always like his stuff. There’s even a song that Alan Jackson does but the production still sounds Rock’n’Roll, no that’s not right. If it was Rock’n’Roll it’d be different, it’s just pop Rock without the balls, ya know?
BLD: Tell me more about “Ameripolitan”, the word you have used to describe your music.
DW: I thought of that with some friends, out of frustration. I was looking for some other terminology. It isn’t Americana cause that’s more Neil Young, even Bruce Springsteen, all these guys that really don’t need a new genre, they’ve kind of taken over Americana. It just focuses on that alone, it doesn’t really allow for newer music, just seems to be focused on folk and some rock.
BLD: Let’s talk a little bit about your latest release From the Cradle to the Grave, you recorded that in a cabin that once belonged to Johnny Cash? What was that like?
DW: Man, that was a fantastic experience. Johnny Knoxville owns it now and he told me about him buying that cabin and kept telling me to go up there and write. Told me to stay a few days, whatever I wanted to do. So I said ‘Alright, I’ll go up there and do it.’ Took me a while to get out there and I finally did. I’m sure glad I did cause it was a great experience and the feeling up there, the vibe was there. I felt Johnny all around it. Johnny (Knoxville) bought it from Cash about a month before he died.
BLD: Favorite song from From The Cradle to the Grave and why?
DW: “Time Without You.” It’s a song that lives forever with me.
BLD: So speaking of Johnny Knoxville, he just did an interview with you recently…
DW: (laughs) Yeah, I don’t know where you’ll be able to find it. I think it will be on Jackassworld.com but I don’t think it’s on there right now. At some point it will be…(The interview is up and can be viewed on www.jackassworld.com).
BLD: So how did it go?
DW: It went great. He didn’t make it to the show. I don’t know, he brought some moonshine. I’m thinking maybe he couldn’t handle the deal. (laughs)
BLD: You’ve made around fourteen albums?
DW: I’ve made a lot of albums. There’s a Warner Bros. Album that was never released and there’s some stuff in Europe that’s just been released there and not here.
BLD: You did an album that I’m not sure you’re pleased with…
DW: Yeah, The Little Darlin’ Sessions.
BLD: What’s the story behind that?
DW: Well the producer was an old school producer. That was one of the things that attracted me to it. Using a producer from that era, he would know the sounds and not over produce the record, make us record like the ones I liked growing up. The problem is if you ask for that type of producing, you’re gonna get the good and the bad. The bad part of it was he just wanted to record songs that he had the publishing on and he tried to get as many of his songs recorded as he could. No overdubs. I didn’t even know all the songs. I was just reading off a piece of paper. Me and the musicians weren’t happy with what came out of it.
BLD: That’s understandable. So tell me about the documentary ‘Crazy Again’ and when’s that gonna be released?
DW: It’s in the hands of Zalman King. He’s trying to put it out before Christmas but, whether that will happen I don’t know. He owns it. I don’t own it. If it’s not out by Christmas then it will for sure be out by Spring.
BLD: And you’re writing a book?
DW: The book is done. We have three publishers that want to put it out. It’s not like a thing where I want to make money on it. The lady that edited it is the one who stands to make any money on it, so I let her decide what publisher, again that wont be out until April. We decide what publisher by the beginning of the year but every publisher won’t release a book until thirteen months after they sign it. I have already had the film rights bought for it so it will probably be a movie the same time the book comes out.
BLD: You’ve been involved with some movies and some TV. What all movies have you been involved in?
DW: The movie, it was a musical Zalman King was directing. A country singer sells his soul to the devil to save his daughter, called ‘Austin Angel’. We started shooting it and it was supposed to have been done through Burnt Orange of The University of Texas and we started doing the B roll and before we could finish, Burnt Orange folded up. We never got to finish it. Actually, I got a movie I’m doing right now, called ‘Ballad of Gunner Blue’ which is a little bit of the same vibe, I play a country singer. They wrote it kind of around me, years ago. So now they just got some backing, it’s gonna be a low budget $600,000 movie. There’s a bunch of people in it you’ll probably recognize. Billy Joe Shaver, Kinky Friedman, and people like that.
BLD: Tell me about ‘Naked Nashville’.
DW: I think they filmed that back in 1998. Oxford Television, channel four in England, is who did it. They’ve won many awards. Whatever type of awards you’d win for documentaries. They did a ‘Naked Baseball’, a ‘Naked Football’, ‘Naked Hollywood’. Basically stripping down things to what there really is. They chose me as the guy. They asked everybody in Nashville who’s the guy out there doing, but not using ‘the Machine’, the Nashville way. If you notice when you’re watching the documentary there’s no narrator in their documentaries. So there’s no one leading you to a conclusion. You hear the people talk, they ask you a question and you have to answer the question with the question in it. If they say ‘How long have you been playing?’ you would answer, ‘I been playing music since I was ten years old’. In other words you can’t mislead the viewer by your answer. Cause you’re making a statement that has the question in it. It was really well done. They won many awards for it. I was really proud of it.
BLD: Is it available somewhere?
DW: I don’t know. I’d sure like to find out cause it’s been ten years ago. What’s funny is that it was ten years ago and it’s still just as pertinent as it was then.
BLD: Other than touring right now, what else do you have goin on?
DW: I’ve been writing stuff on the road here. Definitely getting geared up to go into the studio to record.
BLD: I want to know how “chicken shit bingo'” is played… (Dale started Chickenshit Sundays at Ginny’s Lil Longhorn Saloon in Austin several years ago).
DW: Well, for a two dollar donation you get a ticket and if the ticket you grab has the number that the chicken picks, in its chicken pickin’ way – and there’s only one way for a chicken to pick a number, if it’s the same number then you win $114.00 dollars. We also have free hot dogs and $2.00 LoneStar beer all day long.
BLD: Has anyone ever made you star struck?
DW: Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson – those are the only two. I’ve met Merle Haggard and I should have been star struck by him. There’s a difference in walking in a room and feeling, not just seeing, the person. When I first encountered Johnny Cash, I didn’t even see him. I was in a room with some musicians that were there playing with him and I felt electricity on the back of my neck. When I turned around, Johnny had walked into the room. Willie Nelson was kind of the same way- but exactly the opposite way. I didn’t see him come in the room, but when he did I felt this calm, this peace come over me. When Cash came in the room it was electricity and when Willie came into the room it was like there was peace in the whole world, everything was good. I consider it more awe than star struck cause it’s awesome, its unbelievable, their presence. I identify more with Merle Haggard, but meeting Merle, it felt like Merle was more of a teacher. Somebody I can learn from. A regular guy that has so much talent but doesn’t put you below or above anything. Merle Haggard felt to me like a man with thoughts and differences and troubles. Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson are like angels that were sent here to give us a certain feeling. I’m not dissin’ Merle Haggard I think he is God’s gift, too. Willie Nelson gave calm, Johnny Cash electricity, and Merle- I just related to him more.
BLD: Anything you want to add?
DW: The only thing I’d add is, Thank God for the Internet. It keeps original music, non-mainstream music alive. It’s great for stuff like this. It sure has been a useful tool.
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Brandy Lee Dixon is from Nashville, Tennessee by way of Somerset, Kentucky. She’s a writer as well as a songwriter, passionate music lover, and a self-proclaimed Country Music Snob. She likes to drink, smoke, and fight the bastards of the Universe with the help of her faithful four-legged companion, Leafy The Wonder Dog.
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