Music Interviews
9:48 am
Fri April 12, 2013

Dale Watson: A Honky-Tonk Man With An Outlaw Spirit

Originally published on Sat April 20, 2013 9:34 pm

Honky-tonk veteran Dale Watson has an impressive white pompadour and arms that tell his story: flag tattoos of Alabama, where he was born, and Texas, where he lives. Musical notes circle his biceps. And he has an inked portrait of his first musical inspiration — his late father, a truck driver and sometime country singer who passed on to Dale his love of traditional country, from Hank Williams to Lefty Frizzell.

Watson's latest album, El Rancho Azul, is just as colorful. It's filled with characters — drinkers, dancers and loners at the bar — all drawn from the dance halls where he plays.

"I like writing about real people and real things and real situations," Watson says. "Some of the songs on the album were inspired by people in the crowd, you know, just yelling out something. Like 'I Lie When I Drink.' You know, one guy just yelled that when I was talking."

Here, Watson speaks with NPR's Melissa Block about capturing the spirit of honky-tonk and making lighthearted swing music in the wake of tragedy.


Interview Highlights

On his view from the stage

"Honky-tonk music is just about having fun, and the biggest kick I get is when people are all dancing to a song that you wrote and singing along to it. There's just something indescribable about that. It just makes you feel good. And Texas — it's starting to be more so where people two-step and that type of thing, and we kind of encourage that. But a lot of places in the country and the world, they just stand there and tap their feet. Which is fine, but we're turning everything into a honky-tonk as we go."

On his overdose in 2000

"I had a girlfriend that died in a tragic car accident, and that threw me for a loop. I just wanted to kill myself, you know. Luckily, though, my system is — I've never been one of those guys that could even take NyQuil. It keeps me agitated, you know? Luckily, that's the effect the pills had on me, and they found me wandering around the hotel grounds."

On recording lighthearted songs about drinking

"[The overdose] was an intentional thing of destruction. You know, when I'm singing about the drinking and the dancing around — there's nothing wrong with everything in moderation, you know. I hate it when they villainize going out and having fun. There's nothing wrong with going out and going to the honky-tonk and having a couple of beers and swinging a girl around the dance floor. And I don't believe just because I'm having a beer, I'm ruining the whole society."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block. If you want an idea of how Dale Watson thinks, hold off listening to his music for a minute and instead look at the ink on his arms.

DALE WATSON: Oh, the latest tattoos: scorpions on my wrists. You've heard the story about the scorpion, right?

BLOCK: Well, I know it stings.

WATSON: No.

(LAUGHTER)

WATSON: A scorpion tried to go at a desert and went to the oasis and found a river he couldn't cross and seen a frog and said, hey, give me a ride across this thing. He said, no, you'll kill me. He said, no, I'm changed. I'm not that guy in the desert anymore. So halfway across, he stings the frog in the back, and the frog goes, what are you going to do? Now, we're going to both drown. He says, yeah, I know. I can't help it. I'm a scorpion.

(LAUGHTER)

WATSON: This reminds me I am what I am.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I LIE WHEN I DRINK")

WATSON: (Singing) Oh, I lie when I drink, and I drink a lot. Don't believe me...

BLOCK: Dale Watson has an impressive white pompadour and arms that tell his story: flag tattoos of Alabama, where he was born, and Texas, where he lives; music notes that circle his biceps; and a portrait of his first musical inspiration: his late father. He was a truck driver and sometime country singer, and he passed on to Dale his love of traditional country, from Hank Williams to Lefty Frizzell.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I LIE WHEN I DRINK")

WATSON: (Singing) He's heard the truth about you, and she's heard it too but slightly skewed. I lie. I broke your heart in two.

BLOCK: This song "I Lie When I Drink" is from the new album titled "El Rancho Azul" by Dale Watson and His Lonestars.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I LIE WHEN I DRINK")

WATSON: (Singing) Don't believe me when I had a few. Oh, I lie...

BLOCK: This album is filled with great characters. There are a lot of drinkers and dancers and loners at the bar when the sun goes down. Are these characters -you play lots and lots of dance halls and honky-tonks and bars. These characters you feel like you've come to know over the years?

WATSON: Oh, absolutely. I mean, I like writing about, you know, real people, real things and real situations and, you know, some of the songs on the album were inspired by people in the crowd, you know, just yelling out something to - like "I Lie When I Drink." You know, one guy just yelled that while I was talking.

BLOCK: Really?

WATSON: Yeah. If you come to my shows, you've got to know that I like my Lone Star Beer. It's - it goes with me all over the world, really.

(LAUGHTER)

BLOCK: I've seen you drinking that Lone Star Beer on stage, yeah.

WATSON: Right. And I got to talking about things, and this one guy brought it up. Yeah, but you lie when you drink. I go, hmm, that's a really good idea for a song. So we latched into it on stage.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I LIE WHEN I DRINK")

WATSON: (Singing) I yell, I'm never coming back. That always makes them laugh because they know me, I won't keep my word. Oh, I lie when I drink.

BLOCK: You just invented that song right there on the stage.

WATSON: Yup. But again, you know, it's...

(LAUGHTER)

WATSON: ...it's not very deep.

(LAUGHTER)

WATSON: It's just, you know, I lie when I drink, and I drink a lot, you know, so...

BLOCK: Well, there you go.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "QUICK QUICK, SLOW SLOW")

WATSON: (Singing) Quick, quick, slow, slow, quick, quick, slow, slow, quick, quick, slow, slow.

BLOCK: You know, you do a very clever thing in one of these songs. You give a mini two-step lesson right there in the lyrics.

WATSON: I put two songs on here that teach you how to dance. One is a two-step, and one is the waltz. I did that because we get so many international visitors here in Austin. In the shows that I play, I see people out there struggling...

(LAUGHTER)

WATSON: ...to learn the two-step.

(LAUGHTER)

WATSON: So if you want to learn how to Texas two-step or waltz, get "El Rancho Azul."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "QUICK QUICK, SLOW SLOW")

WATSON: (Singing) That was good advice I come to know, and I looked into her eyes, quick, quick, slow, slow. Quick, quick, slow, slow. Quick, quick, slow, slow.

BLOCK: You know, I was - I did a little bit of math here, and I think seven out of the 14 songs on this album are all about drinking.

WATSON: Yes. Well, there is a thing there.

BLOCK: Yeah.

WATSON: It is a honky-tonk album.

BLOCK: It is a honky-tonk album: "I Hate to Drink Alone," "I Drink to Remember" and "Thanks to Tequila."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THANKS TO TEQUILA")

WATSON: (Singing) I thought I had things figured out until I opened up my mouth. Thanks to tequila. I tried to tell her you sure look nice, but it came out like (unintelligible). Thanks to tequila.

BLOCK: I have to tell you everyone is laughing in the studio here right now, Dale Watson.

(LAUGHTER)

BLOCK: Tell me about this song.

(LAUGHTER)

WATSON: Well, as well as the Lone Star Beer, which is the best beer in the world, I also have affection for tequila.

(LAUGHTER)

WATSON: I have noticed that when I do tequila, I tend to slur, so the song was autobiographical.

BLOCK: You do have, though, I gather, a substance abuse problem in the past, right? You...

(LAUGHTER)

WATSON: I don't know if it's - well, OK, I know what you're talking about. You know, it really wasn't a substance abuse - I know I sound like one of these guys in denial right now. And I assume you're talking about when I went into what I call the nuthouse, which I hope nobody gets offended by it. But when you get in there, I think you've got the right to call it whatever you want to call it.

BLOCK: Yeah. Well, tell me if I'm wrong. I have read that there was an overdose - whisky and pills - and you admitted yourself into the hospital for psychiatric treatment.

WATSON: That's true in a way. I had a girlfriend that died in a tragic car accident, and that threw me for a loop. I just wanted to kill myself, you know? Luckily, though, my, yeah, system is - I've never been one of those guys that can even take NyQuil. It keeps me agitated, you know? Luckily, that's the effect the pills had on me, and they found me wandering around the hotel grounds.

BLOCK: Does that experience in any way, you know, give you pause when you're doing these lighthearted treatment about drinking and slurring your speech, all that stuff?

WATSON: No, because that was an intentional thing of destruction. You know, when I'm singing about the drinking and the dancing around, there's nothing wrong with everything in moderation, you know? I hate it when they villainize, you know, going out and having fun. There's nothing wrong with going out and going to the honky-tonk and having a couple of beers and swinging a girl around the dance floor. And I don't believe just because I'm having a beer, I'm ruining the whole society.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DRINK DRINK DRINK")

WATSON: (Singing) Well, I'm going to drink, drink, drink, drink myself high, high. I'm going to fly, fly high as a kite. So I'm going to drink, drink, drink.

BLOCK: I'm talking to Dale Watson. His album is "El Rancho Azul." I've been wondering what it's like from your vantage point on stage looking out at the crowd on a good night when there's a lot of dancing, a lot of good dancing. What do you see from where you are?

WATSON: Honky-tonk music is just about having fun, and the biggest kick I get is when people are all dancing to a song that you wrote and singing along to it. There's just something undescribable about that. It just makes you feel good. And Texas - it's starting to be more so where people two-step and that type of thing, and we kind of encourage that. But a lot of places in the country and the world, they just stand there and tap their feet, which is fine, but we're turning everything into a honky-tonk as we go.

(LAUGHTER)

(SOUNDBITE OF "DRINK DRINK DRINK")

WATSON: (Singing) Drink myself high, high. I'm going to fly, fly...

BLOCK: Well, Dale Watson, it's great to talk to you. Thank you so much.

WATSON: Thank you for having me.

BLOCK: And, Audie, in the spirit of "El Rancho Azul" from Dale Watson and His Lonestars, we are going to pop open a couple of beers right here in the studio.

CORNISH: There we go. Yup. NPR is moving to a new headquarters here in Washington, so this is our last show in the old building. We'll be with you from our new studio on Monday.

BLOCK: And until then, from all of us here at ALL THINGS CONSIDERED gathered in the old studio one last time, have a great weekend and cheers.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Cheers.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DRINK DRINK DRINK")

WATSON: (Singing) Drink, drink, drink, drink, drink, drink, drink.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Woo-hoo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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