Jesse Dayton and the vicissitudes of stardom: a mystery

In the late 1990s I would have bet something in the low three figures that Jesse Dayton would some day adorn the cover of our little magazine. Now, I recognize that theoretically I was in a position to fix that bet, but, as a practical matter, Peter and I did not force our opinions on each other. (Though we did use certain kinds of crowbars, gently.)

Today, as I put my hands on CDs and made a few hours to winnow them down, thankful that the smaller house we are building continues to be delayed, and so I can put off this sordid chore, I chanced upon a fistful of Jesse's albums. (Now you know how far I got, and why it never gets done.)

Including two different working versions of his sophomore release, Hey Nashvegas!, which finally appeared in 2001.

He seemed a three-tool player: tall and handsome and winning with his female audience; well-voiced, and adept with his guitar; and an able writer. He seemed to have the magic of stardom, that thing I saw or heard early with Ryan Adams, with Kurdt Cobain, with Lucinda Williams (even though I suppose I was comparatively late to that discovery), one or two others.

I write this while reading (in between three other books) Rick Bass's curious, contemplative fictional biography of the Browns, Nashville Chrome. And I am seduced by his conception of unseen magical forces lurking behind and within music, as I am often seduced by the notion of magic (see: Tom Robbins). And so it is through that filter I think of Jesse Dayton.

I know that things happen. Life happens. I know that he was signed to Justice at more or less the same time that label's roster included Billy Joe Shaver, Waylon Jennings, and Willie Nelson. And yet I know, too, that time and thought and expense went into that second record, because Justice believed in young Mr. Dayton. Nashvegas! finally came out on a joint imprint, Stag/Justice, reflecting, if memory serves, his move to a label invented by his manager, who had worked at Justice. And I apologize in advance should that prove inaccurate.

It shouldn't have mattered. He made more records, after. And yet...and yet I suspect many reading this hasty assemblage of words have no memory of Jesse Dayton, or only the barest hint of a trace of remembering. Unless you live in Texas, where he presumably still plays. (I know, I could look for his website. The truth of his present career is not of interest to me tonight, though I'm sure it's of great interest to him.)

Maybe I misjudged his gifts. Maybe the industry screwed him over. Maybe he sabotaged his own career, as some artists seem obliged to do. Maybe he found happiness off the stage, and gave up the quest. But I was not alone in my supposition of his coming greatness. I remember, for example, the enthusiasm of our photographer David Wilds, still then living in far-away Portland, Oregon, when he first saw Jesse on stage.

He had that thing, Jesse did. Maybe it left. Maybe he wasted it. Maybe the industry chewed it up. Maybe he had less than I thought, less than he needed.

I don't know.

Life is filled with caprice. That, for the moment, is the best lesson I can glean.

And now back to the cabinets, and the winnowing.

Views: 277

Tags: alden, bass, browns, dayton, jesse, rick, the

Comment by Adam Sheets on October 24, 2010 at 9:36am
Jesse Dayton is now more popular than ever thanks to Rob Zombie. Arguably he misused his talent to get to that point, but the Banjo & Sullivan and Captain Clegg albums are very entertaining.
Comment by Matthew Francis Andersen on October 24, 2010 at 9:37am
I have followed his career from the distant fringes, usually through your magazine and such.

Seems we'll be on the same bill in a couple of weeks at Fitzgerald's in Berwyn, IL. So I'll be anxious to watch his show and see what the long buzz has been about.

Thanks, Grant.
Comment by Adam Sheets on October 24, 2010 at 9:45am
Another thought: I think this post could just as well apply to Ryan Adams.
Comment by Richard Skanse on October 24, 2010 at 9:46am
Comment by Kyla Fairchild on October 24, 2010 at 9:50am
I saw him back in those days and he blew me away. I too thought I was witnessing the next big thing.

Here's a short blog interview with Jesse that was posted here on the ND site.

Comment by Callie Palmer on October 24, 2010 at 10:11am
I saw Jesse Dayton in the late 90s at the Tractor, and I loved the show. Bought the cd and was disappointed. His live show was raucous. The cd was "Raising Cain", and it just seemed too canned for me. Glad to see he is still going, though. This video is great.
Comment by chris sweeney on October 24, 2010 at 10:22am
Jesse is pretty much a fixture around here (Texas). Kyla, thanks for posting the video. I do not know of a better country song title ever than "I'm At Home Gettin' Hammered While She's Out Gettin' Nailed".
Comment by steviedal on October 24, 2010 at 10:43am
i bought one of his cd once , after a great review , though for the life of me i can't remember it's title . It was over-produced nonsense with cliched lyrics and boring songs . Sorry Jesse !
Comment by Gary Moore on October 24, 2010 at 3:46pm
Glad to see that some of your readers realize Jesse has not "(given) up the quest." You make it sound like he's flippin' hamburgers somewhere in Texas, when yet he's busier and more productive than ever. No, his most recent projects don't cater to the no depression/americana scene...because NONE of his projects ever did! As he's always done, he is creating art that he feels passionate about regardless of genres or trends. He wrote/produced/recorded an entire 10 song record (Capt. Clegg & The Night Creatures) for Rob Zombie's "Halloween 2", of which he also had a part in. He has written a screenplay that is being funded by a few different producers. He's acting in a film (The Sinner). He is producing an incredible soul/r&b record for Michael Des Barres, of which he co-wrote over half the songs. He's had new music appear in "True Blood." Most recently, he is the cover story for Lone Star Music magazine, which speaks of his upcoming release, "One For The Dance Halls." Who knows if the new record is right for no depression, or will be the catapult to stardom you seem to need. It is a "mystery" why he never adorned the cover of your "little magazine." Only you know the answer to that. But coming from the person who works most closely with him, he doesn't care. He gets up early every day and works his tail off, and if you took the time to "go to his website," rather that sitting back waiting on him to seek you out (or spend a few grand on a publicist) you'd know that.
Comment by Grant Alden on October 24, 2010 at 5:32pm
Ah, Gary, I fear you misunderstand. I'm retired these days, and publicists rarely call me. I don't need stardom; I simply thought once that Mr. Dayton would be one. Maybe, by his lights, he is, and I've missed it; I confess that his acting career/horror soundtrack career had escaped me, but we function without television these days, and happily.
Logic does suggest, however, that if he never made music which catered to the ND scene that would, at least, explain how he never came to adorn the cover.
But, really, I wanted to think a little about what stardom means, and how fleeting that sensation can be -- from my side of the stage.
As to Ryan Adams...I am rarely called upon to defend Ryan, but my informed guess says he sold something over a million records, some better than others. He had his place on the national stage, and (best I can tell) walked away, at least for the moment. And, I think some of his songs will endure, though I haven't the patience these days to go back through his catalog and sort out which ones!
Regardless, I'm glad Jesse is doing well. I hope Ryan's doing well.
I'm doing fine!


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Created by No Depression Feb 17, 2009 at 9:06pm. Last updated by No Depression Sep 24, 2012.