- LeAnn Mueller
- Too country for country: 'They took over the house. We were left out in the field.'
For years, Texas honky tonker Dale Watson watched as his brand of country music was pushed to the margins in Nashville. At some point, it seemed that Music City labels had begun pumping out contemporary country influenced as much by hip-hop and '70s mainstream rock as it was Merle Haggard, Buck Owens and Faron Young.
"We were cast out," Watson says. "It was occupied country music. They took over the name, they took over the house. We were left out in the field. We were too country for country and not rock enough for rock 'n' roll. We didn't have a home."
So rather than fight, Watson switched, creating his own scene for honky tonk, Western swing, rockabilly and outlaw country.
Three years ago, he established the Ameripolitan Music Awards, recognizing the best performers — male and female and group — as well as "founders of the sound" like Billy Joe Shaver and guitarist James Burton. They also select a club for the year's "Ameripolitan Venue."
He and his band The Lone Stars are now touring those kinds of venues to promote his new Red House/Ameripolitan Records release, Call Me Insane. It's a fine collection of real country songs, two of which pay homage to Luckenbach, Texas, the little town immortalized by Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings ("Everybody's Somebody in Luckenbach, Texas") and country legend George Jones. ("Jonesin' for Jones").
"If you've ever been to Luckenbach, got the T-shirt, it's just a blink of a town that's so much fun," Watson says. "You've got a common ground there. George Jones was a common ground. That's what country music used to be. It was blue collar music."
Fans and critics have been praising Watson's authenticity since he released his debut album, Cheatin' Heart Attack, in 1995.
He's continued to release a studio album most every year since, even after the death of his girlfriend, Teresa Herbert, in a 2000 auto accident. Watson paid tribute to her on the 2001 album, Every Song I Write Is for You," earning consistently positive reviews and solidifying his reputation as one of traditional country's true believers.
So far, Watson has only had two albums reach Billboard magazine's country charts. Call Me Insane is one of them, having landed at number 10. It's up there with the best of the prolific musician's 29 releases, a 14-song disc filled with sawdust floor shuffles, two steppers, rave ups and steel guitar weepers.
The words fit the sound, too, be it the mournful "Burden of the Cross" or the more irreverent "Mamas Don't Let Your Cowboys Grow Up to Be Babies" (a play on Waylon & Willie's "Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys").
"The majority of stuff coming out of Nashville is a product," Watson declares. "It's not something that is natural. It's product to make money for a corporation. And that's what it sounds like. It's manufactured music."
So Watson will continue to set his sights elsewhere.
"If anybody wants to know where what used to be called country music is, it's in a home called Ameripolitan, right on the corner of Original Street and Roots Boulevard."