Two decades and two dozen albums into his career, the honky-tonker is enjoying long-overdue acclaim in style.
For two decades now, Austin, Texas' Dale Watson has been a bona fide honky-tonk evangelist. It’s quite difficult to leave one of Watson’s high-energy, two-stepping concerts and not feel like you’ve been converted. While Watson has long had an admirable fan base outside of Texas, that base grew larger in 2013 when his stellar El Rancho Azul album landed on the Billboard Country charts — the first album of his to do so. He then found himself performing on the Late Show With David Letterman.
Additionally, Watson’s fans have become spoiled by his prolific output. It’s one thing to play a couple hundred shows a year across the globe, but it is quite another thing for Dale “The Real Deal” Watson to still find the time to record and release more than two dozen records of varying styles and lengths. His rich low tones and clever lyrics can rarely be mistaken for any other musician. Earlier this June, Watson released two brand-new albums only a few days apart from one another: Truckin’ Sessions, Volume 3, the latest in his fantastic, long-running series of (you guessed it) trucking tunes, and Call Me Insane, the proper follow-up to El Rancho Azul.
It seems as though Watson’s momentum is still strong as Call Me Insane isn’t merely another excellent collection of stone-cold, swinging country and western songs: It too found itself on the Billboard Country Albums chart upon its release, landing at 53. Oh, and that was the same week Watson and his band were featured on the television reality series The Bachelorette. Fittingly, perhaps, the song that kick-started his current rise was inspired by a chatty fan during a performance.
“‘I Lie When I Drink’ was inspired by a guy in the audience,” Watson says over the phone from a tour stop in Kansas City. “He told me that I must lie when I drink after I had said something from the stage, and I thought, ‘Hey, that could be a song.’”
Watson and his band, while not jumping off amps or crashing into the drum kit, inject humor and urgency into their shows. As a group, they see each concert as a two-way street of enjoyment, aiming for band and fans alike get something out of each gig.
“I’ve got to have feedback from the crowd,” Watson says. “I don’t write set lists, so for me, if the crowd is engaged, I can know where to go from there. And I know there are some at any show that are seeing me for the first time and may want to hear a specific song from an older album, so my band is ready to play any song off of any of my albums at all times.”
Watson may play what many simply call country and western (Watson calls it “Ameripolitan”), but it’s not the music or performances that are terribly straightforward. The simplicity in Watson’s style comes from the one directive he has for his band, no matter where they are or whom they’re playing for. It’s a vision that has led to the success he is enjoying now more than ever.
“I’ve only got one rule, and any of the band members will tell you what it is,” Watson explains. “And that is to just have fun. If we have fun on stage, that will translate into the audience, and I like to see people enjoying themselves.”