Dale Watson’s Call Me Insane glides (“Everybody’s Somebody in Luckenbach, Texas”) and grooves (“One Day at a Time”) with endless energy.
Watson has been touring relentless this month to promote the album, including recent shows in New York City, Boston, Detroit and, on Wednesday, a sold-out show at Nashville’s Station Inn. He’s back in Texas this weekend for shows in Fort Worth and Austin.
CMT recently spoke with the iconic Austin-based artist about songwriting, working with producer Lloyd Maines and the excellent new collection.
“I pretty much gave Lloyd carte blanche for what he wanted to put on the record,” the longtime Austin resident says. “I just handed him about 30 songs and said, ’Here you go. Which ones do you want to put on the album?’”
CMT: Do you typically give a producer so much control?
Watson: I feel like that should be the producer’s choice, what he wants the record to be. In my genre — honky-tonk, Outlaw, Western swing — I had enough to make it that type of album. Lloyd picked the songs out of that bunch and made the album he wanted to make.
So, you have a backlog of originals you can pick from?
Well, I do now. (laughs) Lloyd picked some songs that I was surprised about. Actually, I should say he didn’t pick some songs I thought he would’ve. I easily have enough songs that I feel good enough about for another record, too. He left some strong songs behind.
Describe working with Lloyd. He’s a legend.
Oh, hell, yeah. I guess we’ve known each other for more than 20 years. I’ve worked with him in a musician capacity when he’s played steel guitar on my record. We’ve been talking about him producing me for 15 years and kept trying, but scheduling just wouldn’t mesh. At the end of the day, both of us said, “All right, we’re gonna make this happen.” Even though we made the conscious effort, it still took some finagling to make it happen.
Explain new album’s title.
I think Einstein said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting the same result. I had just met this gal who, I thought, “I’d like to do something serious with her.” Well, I found out that I’m not really good with serious. (laughs) I’m not good with relationships. That’s how that came up. I’m pretty insane to try to work on love again.
Tell the story behind writing “One Day at a Time.”
Ah, I wrote that onstage at Ginny’s Little Longhorn (an Austin venue Watson partly owns). That was actually written a long time ago. The bills were getting up there, and I was thinking, “Well, pay one bill at a time.” It’s just my way of talking my way through the month of bills. (laughs)
What drew you to ’Mama Don’t Let Your Cowboys Grow Up to Be Babies’?
Yeah, that’s a Tony Joe White song. He wrote that, and a guy named Wendel Adkins used to do it in Pasadena, Texas, at Gilley’s back when I was playing Pasadena. I always loved that song. It’s an answer song obviously to “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys.” I think even in the writing credits, Tony Joe White doesn’t take credit. He gives it to Ed Bruce, who wrote the original.
We’ve talked about you finding songs from hearing conversations at your gigs. Still true?
Yeah, “I Lie When I Drink” from the previous album (2013’s El Rancho Azul) is something somebody yelled at a show. “You lie when you drink!” I thought, “That sounds like a good title.” “Tequila and Teardrops” came that way. I find a lot of titles are inspired by the audience or what’s going on in the audience.
Explain how ’Everybody’s Somebody in Luckenbach, Texas” came to you.
I was playing Luckenbach and saw people dancing around and I knew I needed another two-step song. I looked out there and saw all the T-shirts that say “Everybody’s Somebody in Luckenbach.” I thought, “Let’s try that.” By the second time we did the chorus, people were singing along with it. That’s what you want. You want to engage the audience and have them participate in the fact that they can sing along and dance. It makes a big difference.
Explain Luckenbach’s importance in the legacy of Texas music.
Obviously, Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings did the biggest song [1977’s “Luckenbach Texas (Back to the Basics of Love)”]. Waylon hadn’t even been there when it was released. (laughs). Luckenbach’s a charming little town. Everybody knows you go to Luckenbach when you want to get a Texas feel.
Your new song, “Tienes Cabeza de Palo,” has that feel.
That song was influenced by a lady who was cutting my hair. She was washing my hair with hot water and said, “Is this too hot?” I said, “Nah, nah. I have a hard head. That’s what my abuela — my grandmother — says: “Tienes cabeza de palo.” That’s how that song came about. It was interesting. I just liked the way she said it, how it sounds. That’s the fun thing about writing and songs and the audience you’re singing to. It just seems more organic when it comes from the places and people around you.