By Christine Bolaños
Growing up in poverty in the small town of Pasadena, Dale Watson looked to music to feed his soul and mind.
“My dad was the biggest influence in the way that he played music on the weekend,” said the American country singer. “His influences became my influences.”
He recalls that local musicians performed songs heard on the jukebox at the time in beer joints all around Pasadena. He quickly became a fan of Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Bob Wills, Jerry Lewis and the like. His brother also played in a band so no matter where he was Watson heard music.
Watson became an emancipated minor in his mid-teenage years splitting his time between school during the day and music at night.
“It’s just because I was a hard-headed kid when I was 14,” he explained. “My mom had been through three other boys and knew how difficult older boys were. I had that independent streak and wanted to do what I wanted to do.
“They knew it was just healthier,” Watson said. “I told them I’d finish school if they let me be an emancipated minor and I went all over the country by myself.”
He ended up in Los Angeles, Calif., where he honed his musical skills by joining the house band at the Palomino Club in north Hollywood. He said the time he spent in the City of Angels was pivotal to his career success.
“I come from Pasadena where the bar owners wanted you to play just the top 40,” Watson recalled. “All these people had hits, but it was starting to change and wasn’t the direction I was going.”
Los Angeles was much more evolved musically than Pasadena he said.
“I could play my own music and I became a better musician,” Watson shared. “Out there musicians are more open to doing original music.”
He recorded two singles for Curb and then moved to Nashville, Tenn. He eventually moved back to Texas, making the capital city of Austin, his permanent home.
“It’s the same thing that took me to LA; it was open to original music,” Watson explained of his reasoning for moving to the “Live Music Capital of the World.” He visited Austin in the early 1980s and realized how different it was from Pasadena.
“I realized, ‘Heck, if I move back to Texas, I’m going to move back to Austin,’” Watson recalled.
The vibrant, growing city had everything he was looking for. “I could come back home and you could do your own thing instead of being reprimanded like in Nashville,” he said.
Once he moved back to his home state, Watson formed a backing band called the Lone Stars.
“The reason I wanted to go with that name is that the musicians really make up the specialness of it, the uniqueness,” Watson explained. “They are stars in their own right. I tried to pick musicians that shine in their own light.”
He has called Austin home for nearly a quarter of a century after moving to Baltimore, Maryland in 2004, for personal reasons, and then returned in 2006.
According to his Wikipedia page, Watson starred in Stephen King and John Mellencamp’s musical, “Ghost Brothers of Darkland County” and released “The Sun Sessions” via Red House Records in 2012. The following year, he released “El Rancho Azul”, featuring his signature hit “I lie when I drink.”
The single helped launch a new genre of music known as Ameripolitan, and, Watson made his first appearance on ‘Austin City Limits”.
“I think (Ameripolitan) speaks to me, and musicians, bands and singers like me, because we don’t really fit into any other category,” Watson said. “We’re too country for country and we’re not rock and roll enough for Americano. We just needed a genre because country music is gone from what we knew it as.”
He said he and this group of musicians essentially created their own genre to keep the old country music flame going. A game-changing moment in his career came in 2014 when he appeared on the “Late Show with David Letterman”, performing “I lie when I drink.”
That same February he took part in the inaugural “Ameripolitan Awards Show”.
“That really helped me a lot in my career,” Watson said. “I’d never been on a late show and gotten that kind of exposure before. It came at the same time as we did ‘Austin City Limits’. That was the biggest year.”
He said the Letterman team was kind to the musicians. “David Letterman, especially, was nice to us,” Watson recalled. “I think he realized we were underdogs and knew this would give us good exposure and experience so it was a great chance for us.”
In January 2015, he toured with The Reverend Horton Heat as part of The BADDEST of The Bad Tour. He took part in the second annual “Ameripolitan Awards Show” at The Paramount Theatre in Austin the following month. By March, he appeared on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!”, alongside the house band on the night the show broadcast from Austin during the South by Southwest event. He said touring with The BADDEST of The Bad Tour was one of the best experiences of his career.
“It was the first time I ever had a mosh pit at one of my shows,” Watson said. “The best part of it was seeing the cross-section of ages. We used to get a relatively good mix when we tour, but with The BADDEST of The Bad, we had a much younger crowd.” Whereas their average young crowd was around 25, touring with The BADDEST of The BAD, gained them new fans among the teenage crowd. Watson is gearing up for the June 9 release of his new album “Call Me Insane”, via Red House/Ameripolitan Records. Lloyd Maines who has worked with Robert Earl Keen and Jerry Jeff Walker, among others, is producing the album.
According to a press release from the recording company, the album highlights include “Jonesin’ For Jones,’” a love song to the music of the legendary George Jones; ‘A Day At A Time,’ about ‘getting by barely getting by,’ ‘Call Me Insane,’ the album’s moody title track, among several others. Watson and His Lone Stars touring band recorded “Call Me Insane” in Austin.
The band includes Don Pawlak, pedal steel; Mike Bernal, drums and percussion; and Chris Creeps, upright bass and background vocals. Watson plays the electric guitar while Maines adds the acoustic guitar. Though he tours 300 days of the year he never forgets where his home, and his heart, are.
He “took over ownership of two struggling Texas honky-tonks, the Little Longhorn Saloon in Austin and The Big T Roadhouse in St. Hedwigs (outside San Antonio),” the release states.
“If not on the road, he and his Lone Stars perform at one of them each Sunday.”
Fans and fans-in-the-making still have a chance to see the Alabama-born, Texas-raised, musician at the grand re-opening of The Globe Theatre in Bertram on Saturday, Feb. 27. Tickets are $15 at the door for the 21 and older group. There is a 6 p.m. and a 9 p.m. show. As of Thursday, the owners expect there will still be seats available for the 9 p.m. performance.
Watson wanted to perform at The Globe after meeting owners Zach Hamilton and Lance Regier. Hamilton is a good friend of Watson.
“He’s a good guy who put his heart and soul into this thing,” Watson shared. “I’ve seen him really build something there and it’s pretty special. I told him, ‘When it’s done, man, get me in there.’ It finally is so we’re going to make a big night of it.” Regier said
The Globe is lucky to have Watson as its opener. “He’s the guy we wanted to have play,” he said. “That’s the kind of music that everybody will like.”