click to enlarge
Courtesy of Compass Records
Singer-guitarist Dale Watson says growing up as a “loner” helped him discover the joys of singing and songwriting. Watson, a veteran musician whose career dates back to the 1970s when he started performing in and around Pasadena, Texas, comes to the Beachland Ballroom
on Thursday, April 18, in support of his terrific new album, Call Me Lucky
“I didn’t have a lot of friends growing up,” he says. “I just played my guitar, which was different from my friends. I would go out and play football and baseball, but my main thing was playing guitar. You just end up writing songs. My dad wrote songs, so I think it came from that. I wrote my first song about this girl who lived across the street who I had a crush on. It’s been the theme ever since.”
Watson says he learned plenty while hanging out at the honky-tonk bars in Pasadena.
“I got to hear live bands almost every night,” he says. “In high school, I didn’t hang out with kids my age. Back then, I didn’t drink. I was only 15 or 16 years old and I was driving to honky-tonks, and I got to hear lots of bands growing up. They were just regular honky-tonk bands. Probably the biggest influence was this guy who was just a honky-tonker who had great banter and his rapport with the audience was really great. That taught me a lot. We’re talking pre-Urban Cowboy
. Then, when Urban Cowboy
hit, there was a live band on every corner.”
After Urban Cowboy
, Watson pulled up stakes and took his talents to Southern California. He had visited Rosie Flores, a singer-songwriter who called Los Angeles home, and was impressed with the number of clubs that catered to musicians who played original music.
“That’s what enticed me,” he says. “In Pasadena, there was a rule that you only do Top 40 songs and no originals. I took my own [songs] in there anyway, but it was frowned upon. I wasn’t great at songwriting or playing my guitar or singing, but it’s submersion-learning out there in Los Angeles. I met John Jorgenson, who produced my first album. He was with the Desert Rose Band. There was so much talent out there."
Watson started hanging out at the Palomino club, the famous country and rockabilly bar out in the San Fernando Valley, and became a member of the Palomino House band.
“That was like going to college right there,” he says. “We would have Jerry Lee Lewis sit in and Phil [Alvin] from the Blasters. There were some people who didn’t even have record deals yet who would come and sit in. People like [singer-songwriters] Jim Lauderdale and Lucinda Williams would sit in. [Country singer-guitarist] Dwight [Yoakam] had already hit. That’s why L.A. was happening.”
The Palomino would eventually close, and Watson would move back to Texas. Since living in Austin, he holds down a weekly gig at the Continental Club, an Austin institution that lets him do whatever the hell he wants.
“I’ve been doing that gig for 20-some years,” he says of playing at the tiny venue. “I love that Monday night gig. I've written a lot of songs during the shows and through the years. It’s a very comfortable setting. If you’re going to see me in Austin, that’s the place to see what I do."
Watson also splits his time between Austin and Memphis, where he bought a club. In fact, he recorded Call Me Lucky
there at the Sam Phillips Recording Studio.
“It’s like going back in time but going back in time with all the modern gear,” he says when asked about the studio. “We did it analog but also did it digital. It’s a very unique room. It has so much soul and such a great vibe going on, and to record it with both ProTools and tape was great. It’s the first time I ever worked there. It was built in 1959, and it has that 'room' sound. I hate to say it like that, but it’s got some mojo in there.”
The slow motion ballad “Johnny & June” serves as a fitting tribute to Johnny Cash and June Carter. Watson shares vocal duties with Celine Lee on the sparse song, and his somber baritone meshes nicely with her upper-register vocals.
“Me and [singer-songwriter] Celine [Lee] had that song for a while,” Watson explains. “All of our songs, we wrote through texts. She was in New York, and I was in Texas. We were missing each other. She thought of that title, and we went back and forth with it, and that’s what came out. It’s one of my favorite songs on the record.”
Horns bring tunes such as "Tupelo, Mississippi & a 57 Fairlane" and "Inside View" to life. Strangely enough, a comedian inspired the refrain in the twangy, Hank Williams-like “Haul Off and Do It.”
“You know what’s weird is that I didn’t know it until after I had recorded the song that I had gotten the idea for it from these Roy D. Mercer tapes that I used to listen to years ago,” says Watson. “He was this comedian who used to do prank calls. This one guy that he bothered so much said to him, ‘You swore you’d leave me alone, so why don’t you haul off and do it.’ Somehow that bubbled up. One Monday night at the Continental Club, I wanted to write a song, and that just came to me.”
Watson says the Beachland remains his favorite place to play in Northeast Ohio, and he promises his upcoming show there will cater to both hardcore and casual fans.
“I never go by a set list,” he says. “I’m doing songs from the new album, but I’m never a slave to that. I would go to Johnny Paycheck and George Jones shows, and they would only want to do their newest songs, and they’d only do a medley of the hits. They never seemed to include the songs I wanted to hear, so I encourage my audience to come out and yell it out if they have a certain song they want to hear. But really, at the end of the day, it’s just a honky-tonk party.”
Dale Watson and His Lone Stars, 8 p.m. Thursday, April 18, Beachland Ballroom, 15711 Waterloo Rd., 216-383-1124. Tickets: $18 ADV, $20 DOS, beachlandballroom.com.
Sign up for Scene's weekly newsletters to get the latest on Cleveland news, things to do and places to eat delivered right to your inbox.