Interview: Dale Watson’s Texas Roots Get a Memphis Kick on ‘Call Me Lucky’
Dale Watson's music is, in large part, a product of his environment. That's why he carefully curates his surroundings to further the kind of songs he loves and wants to make. That's why he has, for years, championed his longtime home of Austin, Texas.
That's also why Watson was so compelled to make a partial move to Memphis, Tenn., while writing and recording the tracks for his new album, Call Me Lucky, out Friday (Feb. 15).
Watson's love affair with the city began with a recording studio: "It kind of came about through [producer and recording engineer] Matt Ross-Spang. He's an old friend of mine, and he used to run Sun Studio, where I'd record over in Memphis, but he left there and went to Sam [Phillips Recording]," Watson recalled to The Boot during a recent interview. "I went over there to check it out and talk to him, and just kind of fell in love with the studio as well. We kept trying to figure out a way I could go there and record, and everything just fell together."
Watson's studio time at that new location coincided with his move toward spending more time in Memphis, a city with an energy that immediately clicked with Watson.
"Being in Memphis is re-energizing for me, so I really liked recording there," Watson continues. "Memphis, in my opinion -- they nurture their roots. They actually saw it growing out of the ground, instead of ignoring it, tearing it out of the ground and putting a condo up. They actually appreciate their aesthetics, and the history that goes along with the town.
"I feel like there's an appreciation for the music that was born there," he explains. "They nurture the music there instead of trying to make it into something it's not."
Aside from the change of environment, Watson's creative process itself didn't vary very much: He still wrote from real-life experiences, pulling in particular from his travels and the lives of the people he met along the way. In fact, it was writing "Tupelo, Mississippi," a song about a car and a road trip to Memphis, that cemented the vision for Watson's new project.
"That's a true story about going to Tupelo and buying an old car. It was on Craigslist," Watson relates. "It was a '57 Fairlane, and I was bringing it to Memphis so I could have something to drive. Going to Memphis in a '57 Fairlane, recording the song at Sam Phillips, having the horn section -- that was probably the one song that just made it all seem right.
"I've always been inspired by my audience, and by people and situations," Watson adds. Case in point: Call Me Lucky includes "David Buxkemper," the real-life story of a fan and fellow Texan who works on a farm and loves trucking songs. Watson was inspired to write the track after the two struck up an email correspondence that eventually translated into an in-person rapport.
No matter where he lives, Watson's musical themes are unlikely to waver too much. In fact, he recently penned another new road-trip song, this time inspired by a Cadillac he rented for the nine-hour drive between Memphis and Austin.
"I thought, 'I'm gonna rent a Cadillac and have plenty of room ... stretch out in the big seats and everything,'" he explains. "So I was renting a Cadillac -- a brand-new at the time, 2018 Cadillac -- and I go pick it up, and this thing is just tiny. It looks like every other car on the street. It didn't look special. Inside, it had these bucket seats that were small and uncomfortable."
Watson knew what he had to do: "I wrote this song called "Whatever Happened to the Cadillac,"" he says with a chuckle. "It'll probably go out on record here in a year or so.
"But it's that type of thing that inspires me," he adds. "People."
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