Outlaw country and western singer-songwriters are a rarity nowadays, but one man still burns the flame and is happy to wave it in the face of those that cheapen American country. Texan Dale Watson, now in his 50s, still bears tattoos, sports a leather jacket and writes songs about truckin’ and beerswillin’ like he hasn’t aged a day. A Southern man at heart, he does have something in common with many Australians – having had a horrible experience with Tiger Airways.
“I had to tell the crowd [on my last Australian tour], ‘We don’t have CDs,’” Watson recalls. Tiger had lost a box full of his albums. Three months later, home and still CD-less without a cent refunded to him, Watson did what any decent scorned musician would do: he wrote and recorded a song criticising Tiger. ‘Tiger Airways, We Don’t Care-ways’, he called it.
He’s critical too of the state of country music, because as he puts it, ‘country’ now means commercialised artists like Kenny Chesney or Taylor Swift. “They’ve taken the term over. It’s not about music and that type of thing, more what makes money, what sells to teenage girls.” Watson became so disillusioned by what people were associating with country, he essentially coined a new genre term, ‘Ameripolitan’ – more Jimmy Rogers and Johnny Cash than Woody Guthrie or Steve Earle, he explains.
Though Watson’s had a long career and is substantially famous in his own right, he’s never had an album chart in the US mainstream. But where albums like Whiskey Or God, Cheatin’ Heart Attack and I Hate These Songs (to name a few) have failed, his new release El Rancho Azul debuted at number 57 on the US Heat charts and number 36 on the Country charts.
He can’t quite explain why this album and not others has made such an impact. Maybe it’s due to the fact he’s been around so long, “or maybe people are starting to get more savvy in the way they listen to stuff and the kind of stuff they want to listen to.” The ranch named in the album title is real too. “Friends of mine own it and we go up there and play shows sometimes, kick up dust, have a dance. It’s a good Texas time.” Does that explain why there are so many drinking songs on the album? “It would explain that,” he laughs heartily.
Appearing on the Late Show With David Letterman for the first time cannot have hurt either; Watson noting it was a “huge gig”. “It helped the shows and the attendances and our recognition out there, definitely,” Watson says, though it’s not as if he hadn’t had brushes with fame before – Johnny Knoxville of Jackass fame, a big fan, directed and starred in a video clip for the aptly titled ‘Hollywood Hillbilly’a few years back. “I went up to his house in the Hollywood Hills and you can literally see Sunset Boulevard from his porch. He’s got his iPod connected to his house sound system, which is louder than anything I’ve ever heard, and he’s got it blarin’ Johnny Cash and Hank Williams. The police had to come tell him to turn it down! He’s got a three-legged dog and we played pool and drank moonshine. It was surreal being in the Hollywood Hills and feeling like you were in Knoxville, Tennessee.”
And beyond an artist’s obligation to speak highly of his next destination, Watson is genuine in his appreciation for the fans and truckers who offered to help recover his CDs from the airport on that fateful previous visit. “I’ve never had a bad experience in Australia and the people are just fantastic. I really look forward to going back.”
BY GARRY WESTMORE