Dale Watson

honky-tonk and country
Austin, Texas

Photo: Michael G. Stewart

Photo: Michael G. Stewart

From the heart of Texas comes Dale Watson, a true son of the American musical outlaw tradition and the reigning “king” of uncompromising, deep country—a real honky-tonk hero who lives the life and writes songs about it. “This isn’t retro-minded,” Watson asserts frankly. “It’s hopefully a natural progression of what country music would have been if it hadn’t been polluted by the ’80s and ’90s.” Anchored by his inventive, rock-solid, honky-tonk band—Chris Crepps on bass, Don Pawlak on pedal-steel guitar, and Mike Bernal on drums—Dale Watson proves night after night in big clubs and smoky honky-tonks that he is a true keeper of the country music flame. “I’m one of Dale’s biggest fans,” says country music icon Willie Nelson. “Dale stays true to what he believes in.… Whatever they say made me and Waylon ‘outlaws,’ I think he’s the same. If we were, HE is.”

Although born in Alabama, Dale considers Texas his home state, having moved to Pasadena, Texas, with his family in his early teens. Steeped in the classic country music played by his singer/guitarist father, Don, and his uncle Jim (at one time a member of Merle Travis’s band), Dale wrote his first song at age 12, and cut his first recording at 14. After playing area beer joints and honky-tonks, Dale decided to try his hand in Los Angeles and Nashville—experiences that mostly taught him what he didn’t want to be. Unimpressed by the glitz of the “new country” scene, Watson returned to Texas to settle in Austin, where he was enthusiastically received by audiences who appreciated his iconoclastic approach and shared the sentiments of the Watson fan who declared, “Son, you play country like country was when country was country.”

Dale Watson’s albums are replete with references to Buck Owens, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, and Hank Snow, and his live performances, whether at The Little Longhorn Saloon (his Austin favorite, and which he now owns) or on one of his frequent European tours, are squarely in the tradition set forth by his honky-tonk predecessors. But he is quick to emphasize that he is not merely paying homage to a bygone era. With his uncompromising approach, this troubadour creates new music in a defiantly American honky-tonk and country roots style, and his soulful songs, delivered with his signature baritone vocals, have a timeless quality that appeals to purists and neophytes alike.

In 2005, Watson was inducted into the Austin Music Hall of Fame. He also launched the Ameripolitan Music Awards in 2014, his way of celebrating those performers upholding the classic sounds of “real” country. Dale’s 2016 album, Call Me Insane, reached number one on Roots Music Report’s Top 50 True Country Album Chart. He has appeared multiple times on Austin City Limits and NPR’s Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!, as well as Late Night with David Letterman and Jimmy Kimmel Live. Dale is finally getting the recognition he has long deserved, and in the only way he could—by remaining steadfast in his commitment to performing “real country song(s).”