Dale Watson and The New Honky Tonk Heroes
Do y’all know what they call the type of roots music that is no longer played on country music radio? Ameripolitan. You can thank Dale Watson for that genre classification, and the story of how it came about can be found in this excerpt from a 2014 profile of the Texas singer-songwriter that ran in The New York Times, in partnership with Texas Monthly:
“Country music has to evolve in order to survive,” Mr. [Blake] Shelton said in an appearance on Great American Country TV in January last year. “Nobody wants to listen to their grandpa’s music. And I don’t care how many of these old farts around Nashville are going, ‘My God, that ain’t country!’”
Many musicians … were incensed. “This guy sounds like in his own mind that his head is so large no hat ever made will fit him,” Ray Price, the recently deceased crooner extraordinaire, wrote on Facebook.…
Ten minutes after hearing of Shelton’s barb, Dale Watson, who was touring Belgium at the time, wrote “Old Fart (A Song for Blake).” A video of Watson and his band, The Lone Stars, playing the song against a backdrop of the famous photograph of Johnny Cash giving the finger was uploaded to YouTube on Jan. 25, 2013.
When Watson returned to the United States, he came up with a new term to describe the genre of music that encompasses honky-tonk, outlaw, rockabilly, and Western swing. By February 2013 the first Ameripolitan Music Awards were held in Austin, and Ray Price was acknowledged for lifetime achievement. Five years later, the association and awards are still alive, and though it’s all sort of low budget and not as well known or promoted as the Americana contingent, younger musicians turned off by today’s country-pop are tapping into the sound, and it feels as if it’s building.
If I wore a hat I’d tip it to Dale Watson, and should the Americana Music Association be looking for someone to give some sort of an award to next year, I nominate him. He’s keeping a musical tradition alive.
Here’s a few folks I’ve recently been listening to, and this Ameripolitan is not all homegrown here in the USA. A number of radio stations are coming onboard and there are live venues all throughout the country and beyond, including Sweden, Germany, England, and Belgium. Just goes to show, it’s hard to keep a good ol’ honky-tonk hero down.
Jake Penrod and His Million Dollar Cowboys
Jake Penrod has been kickin’ around his home state of Texas for well over a decade, often playing tribute shows as Hank Williams, who he looks and sounds like. In 2007 he took the lead for a road production in Buffalo, New York, of the musical Hank Williams: Lost Highway. He followed that gig up with two albums of Williams’ music and played atnumerous legends tribute shows at the Gladewater Opry, Texas Star Opry, and the Louisiana Jamboree in Shreveport. Since 2013 he’s released a full album and two EPs of his own music. Now based in Austin, Penrod was named Honky Tonk Male Artist of the Year in the 2017 Ameripolitan Music Awards, and in 2016 he was awarded the Academy of Western Artists’ Will Rogers Award for Pure Country Male Vocalist of the Year. New album coming soon, so keep your ears open.
The Country Side of Harmonica Sam
This five-piece band is out of Sweden, of all places. They describe their music as “inspired by the honkytonk sound of the late ’50s and early ’60s. The band delivers steady 4/4 shuffles with whining steel guitar and tic-tac bass. Dale Watson is a huge fan; here’s what he wrote about the song “True Lies”: “Harmonica Sam’s vocals are reminiscent of Webb Pierce crossed with Wynn Stewart. The band is tight and confident and settle around Sam’s vocals like warm whiskey. Their originals are such natural progressions, drawn directly from their musical influences, yet obviously make their own individual sound and style.”
Casey James Prestwood and The Burning Angels
Prestwood has been nominated in the honkytonk male vocal category for this year’s Ameripolitan Music Awards. The band’s web presence is a little thin, but they’re based in Colorado and I pulled this off their Facebook page: “If the late night scene on Broadway Street in Nashville, Tennessee, could talk, they’d sing you a Casey James Prestwood tune. Drenched in the honest twang that made Gram Parsons and Hank Williams household names, the classic crooner’s carefree vocals and careful guitar playing feel more like country than a worn-in pair of cowboy boots.”
The band has released four albums, with the latest being Born Too Late.
With five albums under his belt, Henson is another Texas-based seasoned songwriter and performer. Along with his band Honky Tonk Frontier, they play extensively throughout the state at the historic dance halls and bars. Growing up in Humble, Texas, Henson played the piano and violin, and picked up the guitar in his late teens. After a stint in the Air Force, he moved to Austin and last Feb. 25 the mayor proclaimed it “Weldon Henson Day” for the city, placing him among the noted local ranks of Willie Nelson, Rosie Flores, and Jon Dee Graham.
Zephaniah OHora with The 18 Wheelers
One of my favorite albums from 2017 was OHora’s debut album This Highway. Based in Brooklyn — yeah, that Brooklyn — OHora is the music director at Skinny Dennis, the honkytonk bar named after Guy Clark’s bass player that is the center of the region’s classic country music scene. His album was heralded by a couple of other websites — Wide Open Country and Saving Country Music. American Songwriter magazine had this to say: “Channeling the country icons of decades past is something of a trend these days, but only a handful of artists are able to pull off such homage without devolving into mimicry. Brooklyn’s OHora is one of those artists.”
Since we don’t do all that much line dancing here, OHora’s music is less Texas dance hall and more Bakersfield with a touch of western swing. By the way, that video was from a recent gig in Sweden. Small world.
Let’s close this one out with the great Dale Watson himself.
Many of my past columns, articles, and essays can be accessed at my own site, therealeasyed.com. I also aggregate news and videos on both Flipboardand Facebook as The Real Easy Ed: Americana and Roots Music Daily. My Twitter handle is @therealeasyed and my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.