Austin musician Dale Watson once recorded a song called “Lost My Heart in San Antone,” but with the exception of a couple of appearances at Sam’s Burger Joint and the Lone Star brewery, he’s had trouble finding a suitable venue in the heart of the city.
“I love San Antone,” he says “but it seems like the more you get into the city limits proper, support for our type of live music isn’t as great as it is in the outskirts of the city.”
Instead he plays places like Gruene Hall and, this Friday, the eerily named Hangin’ Tree Saloon, which conjures images of lynch mobs doing Jaeger Bombs, but Watson describes it as “just an old honky-tonk, you know.” And that suits rootsy country-music outsider sensibility just fine.
Instead of repeating that worn-out complaint that what the kids call country these days (Taylor Swift, Sugarland) ain’t nothing but bubblegum in a cowboy hat, Watson’s decided to let the kids have the damn name and refers to his music as Ameripolitan, a term he coined to basically mean country back when country was country the kind of music you could play onstage with Ray Price, that you wouldn’t be ashamed to record in a log cabin previously owned by Johnny Cash (as Watson did for 2007’s From The Cradle To The Grave) or that might lend itself to recording two separate concept albums about truck driving (Truckin’ Sessions, volumes one and two).
Watson’s not completely out of step with modern life, though: he was invited to record in Cash’s former house by friend and fan Johnny Knoxville (who Watson met through mutual acquaintance Mike Judge), and he attempted to give “Ameripolitan” its own page on Wikipedia (it’s since been removed). And he’s not a poser, either: Like his father before him, Watson drove a truck professionally in the ’90s (with a license he earned at a San Antonio trade school, incidentally).
There are so many classic country music songs about truck driving. Do you think there are certain subjects you have to stick to, playing your kind of music?
No, not really. I think that’s the thing that’s liberating about it. The only limitation of what you sing about is what you make on yourself. I wrote a song about getting a Dear John letter by email.
The interviews I’ve read with you on the subject are a few years old now. Do you still prefer to call your music Ameripolitan?
Oh yeah, yeah. If you say we’re country, some people come in expecting top-40 country and leave a little disappointed. It’s honky-tonk, but it’s not just honky-tonks we play — in Europe we play major theaters where they do plays and stuff like that. Most of the places I play at when we tour the states are rock ’n’ roll venues.
European countries seem to embrace American roots music more readily than modern American audiences — do you have a theory about why that is?
It goes back a long ways. They know more about the roots of our music than most average people. It’s still a bit of a romantic notion to America, you know, when America was the place to go where your dreams come true and all that kind of thing, the Wild West of Texas, the cowboy. Country music was the way a lot of them learned how to speak English before everything got so westernized, before the internet and satellite. There was a guy in a little bitty town in Norway. He come up and tried to speak English and he talked like Elvis. `Mimicking Norwegian Elvis` “Uh-huh Thank you very much.” •