Almost from the moment you put it on, you realize there’s something different about Dale Watson’s new record, Call Me Lucky.
Not that the Ameripolitan music pioneer (a sound firmly grounded in traditional country music) normally walks around with a rain cloud over his head. But if there’s one standard you can count on with a Watson record, it’s a “heartbreak song” that rips your guts out, but only in the most positive, therapeutic way.
That type of song is missing on Call Me Lucky. For Watson, a guy who has seen more than his share of heartbreak over the years, that’s just fine.
“I’m in a great place and the songs I’m writing reflect that,” Watson tells the Current.
Watson rolls into town on Friday, March 22 at the Hard Rock Cafe in Station Square for a show with legendary singer/songwriter Kinky Friedman, the Jewish Cowboy. Seeing Friedman is always a unique experience and although they’ve been friends a long time, this is their first show together. So, what can the audience expect?
“Arranged Chaos,” says Watson laughing. “Neither of us are going up there with a set list, it’s going to be real organic. We’re both playing acoustic, which is weird for me because it’s not something I do. I’ve been wrestling with that instrument for awhile now, but I’ll get up there and I know the friends and fans who come out will be forgiving.
“But I’m looking forward to this show. It’ll be like walking a tightrope.”
There are several reasons for Watson’s current outlook on life. First is his relationship of the past several years with fellow singer/songwriter Celine Lee. The two are nearly inseparable on the road and on stage, and they often collaborate. On the new record, they perform a duet on a song called “Johnny and June,” an homage to Cash and Carter, respectively.
“There ain’t no doubt that where I am has a lot to do with Celine,” Watson says. “She writes great lyrics and is really talented. She constantly inspires me and we try to stay together on the road.”
Another reason for the positive outlook is a recent partial move from Austin to Memphis. He splits his time between both cities and has a house in both. But making the move to Memphis had a tremendous impact on his music and his career. Over the past decade, you’d be hard-pressed to find a musician more synonymous with Austin than Watson. He owned businesses in the city, performed on a regular basis and was a good ambassador for Austin in media appearances and commercials.
But, he says, the city known as the place to hear live music has changed way too much for his liking. Not that he’s gone all together, in fact the move may have made for an easier commute.
“No one was more excited than me to be living in the live music capital of the world,” Watson says. “But now, you have shows that keep getting bumped for marathons and other events like that. The city is not as conducive to live music as it used to be. It’s so congested that you can barely get downtown to see a band.
“But now, when I come to Austin, I jump on Allegiant Air and it’s a 70-minute flight,” Watson says. “Hell, these days it will take you an hour-and-a-half to drive from North Austin to South Austin.”
He found in Memphis the things that he missed about Austin. Earlier this year, Watson held, for the second year in-a- row, the Ameripolitan Music Awards in Memphis. The show was in Austin for several years, but city leaders made it tough to put on a show of this size, an awards show that also featured four solid days of artist showcases at area venues. The last two years, though, the City of Memphis has been extremely accommodating “rolling out the red carpet.” Watson also recently purchased the legendary Memphis club Hernando’s Hideaway and wants to once again make it a must-play venue for acts coming through town.
“It’s been so nice, that I’m almost the relaxed guy I was in the 1980s,” Watson says.
It’s good that Watson found a place to recenter and recharge. While he may not want the accolades, Watson has been essential in carving out a niche for roots-based Ameripolitan music. It started in the mid-90s when he was an aggressive combatant against “new country music.” He fought a constant battle to take back the name “country” for more traditional country music. Watson eventually realized, however, that it was a battle that even Don Quixote would have abandoned long ago. That’s when he coined the phrase Ameripolitan Music and started something new. And while he is an extremely talented artist (a claim he tries to brush off,) he’d rather be known as the guy who helped keep music in the vein of Ray Price and Bob Wills alive.
“At the end of the day, I’d be happy to be known as someone who helped give new artists a leg up,” Watson says. “Someone who gives a darn about this music. There are so many great artists out there making really good music like Jimmy Dale, Jessie Daniels, Summer Dean, Whitney Rose, Big Sandy and the Fly-Rite Boys and Mike and the Moonpies.
“That’s why the Ameripolitan Awards are important. It brings the musicians, the booking agents and the record label together in one place to network. And now that we’re in Memphis with all of the support from the city and others, I can say for sure we’ll do it again next year.”