Dale Watson doesn’t mince words. “Mainstream country all sounds the same, it has no roots, it sounds like boy bands gone country. It’s all about money, what appeals to teenagers and to people who are easily programmed,” says the Texas-based honky-tonk legend. “It’s whatever the flavor of the month is with a little country twang.”
He’s also had his share of personal struggles with the country machine. “When I was young, record execs would tell me my stuff was ‘too country’ for country, so I tried to be more progressive. I did a showcase right after that, and that was the closest I ever came to ‘selling out’—after that showcase, I wanted to take a shower,” Watson says with a laugh. “It just felt so wrong.”
The roots country sound is home for so many of today’s emerging artists, who some have dubbed as “preservationists”; Watson says an artist’s desire to create roots country is inherent, just like any other kind of talent one can be born possessing, but that roots artists are expected to conform—“‘I love you just the way you are, now change.’ That’s what record companies do to roots artists; rather than nurture someone’s talent and creativity, they try to change it into what is selling,” he explains. “It’s like putting a skinny shoe on a fat foot. Artists like me don’t have an outlet to go to. We used to have a home in country music. Luckily when I was growing up, Merle Haggard, Ray Price, Buck Owens, Johnny Cash, and all those folks were still being played on the radio. Now that’s disappeared. Every now and again, you might have the token country-sounding guy that does one or two songs on his record with the pop crap.” See? I told you. No minced words.
In fact, Watson, with his contemporaries, has championed a new genre for their music that they have christened “Ameripolitan”; he differentiates roots music from Americana, saying “Americana is original music that’s predominately folk and rock influenced. I like to say it started with Woody Guthrie, then Bob Dylan, Steve Earle, those guys. Ameripolitan is more original music with prominent roots influences, and it started with Hank Williams, Ernest Tubb, Kitty Wells, Loretta Lynn, it’s what country music used to be. We started the movement when Blake Shelton said nobody likes their granddad’s music these days, and that people who do are old farts and jackasses,” he recalls. “One year from that moment, I wrote a song called ‘I’d Rather Be An Old Fart Than A New Country Turd’ in retort.” No sugar-coating there either, y’all.
This February, the 2016 Ameripolitan Music Awards was held in Austin, the third such celebration to recognize artists, venues, DJs, and festivals in four categories (Honky-Tonk, Western Swing, Rockabilly, Outlaw Music) who are working to keep the roots of country music alive. The event has grown exponentially since it began.
One also might assume that an artist who vocally shuns the Nashville country cookie-cutting machine, who has released songs with titles like “Nashville Rash” and “Country My Ass”, would be hesitant to make a trip to the Music City to perform—but Watson makes his own rules. “I love coming to Nashville to play, there are so many great artists there,” he says. “I feel bad for them though; I’m a big believer in energy, and in Nashville, the artists are doused with that pop country stuff. To do roots music there has to be daunting; I couldn’t live there and do what I do.”
What Watson does is continually create music that celebrates the past with a focus on the future. “The music stays fresh and relevant because life is fresh and relevant. I wrote a new song called ‘She’s Got That Facebook Glow’; it’s still a song about love, but it’s told in today’s colloquialism. The problems you have today aren’t necessarily the problems you’ve had in the past. Life is always changing.”
Be sure to catch Dale Watson live at Nashville’s treasured venue Station Inn this Sunday, March 27th. Purchase your tickets here: http://stationinn.com/index01/event/20160327-dale-watson/
For more information on the Ameripolitan Music Awards: http://www.ameripolitan.com