Playback: Dale Watson's Ameripolitan Dream

Outlaws wanted (for Awards), God calls back Gean West, and SXSW wristbands back on sale!

Dale Watson does his best Johnny Cash.
Dale Watson does his best Johnny Cash. (Photo by John Anderson)

Country music's a crazy, gold-diggin' whore, and Dale Watson wants a divorce.

In fact, the local outlaw honky-tonker devised a new banner to hang over the music he loves. Reclaiming the latter half of "countrypolitan," the Sixties/Seventies commercialization of the genre (in)famously rejected by the outlaw movement, Ameripolitan refers to the original disciplines of honky-tonk, rockabilly, and Western swing. The subgenre comes to life this weekend on the local and Central Texas clubs circuits, and climaxes on Tuesday with a big awards show.

Pondering an Ameripolitan Mount Rushmore, Watson's distinct baritone booms over the phone as his tour bus rolls to Selma, N.C., for a gig.

"That'd be Hank Williams for honky-tonk, Bob Wills, of course, for Western swing, Wanda Jackson or Carl Perkins for rockabilly, and for outlaw ... Waylon [Jennings] or Willie [Nelson] – take your pick."

Ameripolitan exists beyond Watson's desire to bitch-slap Blake Shelton for calling country traditionalists "old farts" in 2013. For Austin's answer to Johnny Cash, country went off the rails in the late Seventies with dopey Kenny Rogers singles and later became increasingly diluted with pop stars à la Taylor Swift.

"Nashville has torn out its roots and put 'em on the curb to be picked up by the garbage man," Watson bristles. "So we went and stole 'em and planted 'em in new soil. Hopefully something grows."

Austin's proved fertile ground for Watson's brainchild. Last February's inaugural Ameripolitan Music Awards sold out. This year, the gathering hosts dozens of bands in 11 venues over five days, and draws kindred acts from Canada and Europe, plus local artists and rootsy heroes like Billy Joe Shaver, who'll be honored with a Founder of the Sound award on Tuesday.

The 52-year-old Watson hopes to one day lend recording services to acts who fit the Ameripolitan bill, using the studio he opened last year in partnership with Grammy Award-winning engineer (and Pocket Fishrmen guitarist) Cris Burns. Watson's Lloyd Maines-produced new LP, Call Me Insane, arrives in May on Red House Records. How does Austin's hardest-working singer/beer-joint owner (Little Longhorn Saloon)/studio partner feel about adding "musical movement advocate" to his résumé?

"I have to be that guy because I have the stage," he offhands. "The good thing about it is we're accentuating the positive. It feels so good to not be the pissed-off guy anymore. I don't care about what the country music establishment does because it doesn't pertain to me. That gives me peace."

FRIDAY, FEB. 13
Rockabilly Showcase: Marti Brom & Her Jet Tone Boys, Shaun Young & the Texas Blue Dots, Sean Mencher (C-Boy's Heart & Soul)
Outlaw Showcase: Izzy Cox, Jane Rose & the Deadend Boys, Peewee Moore, free (Little Longhorn Saloon)
The Freightshakers (Riley's Tavern, New Braunfels)
Dale Watson & His Lone Stars (Luckenbach Dance Hall, Fredericksburg)

SATURDAY, FEB. 14
Rockabilly Showcase: Paul Pigat, Tjarko Jeen, Kim Lenz, Marti Brom, High Noon (C-Boy's)
Honky-Tonk Showcase: Casey James Prestwood, Margo Price & the Pricetags, Miss Leslie, free (Little Longhorn Saloon)
Dale Watson & His Lone Stars (Broken Spoke)
The Freightshakers (Lucky Lounge)
Asleep at the Wheel, Doug Moreland (Luckenbach Dance Hall, Fredericksburg)

SUNDAY, FEB. 15
Dale Watson & His Lone Stars, special guests, 4-8pm; the Freightshakers, 8:30-11:30pm (Little Longhorn Saloon)
Charlie Thompson, free (C-Boy's)
Planet Casper, 3:30pm, free; the Wagoneers, 7:30pm; Heybale!, 9:45pm (Continental Club)
Casey James Prestwood, 10pm (Gypsy Lounge)

MONDAY, FEB. 16
Western Swing Showcase: Carolyn Martin with members of the Jason Roberts Band and Kristyn Harris, 7-10pm, free (HighBall)
The Freightshakers (Rattle Inn)
Outlaw Showcase: Dale Watson & His Lone Stars, Sarah Gayle Meech, Dallas Moore Band (Continental Club)

TUESDAY, FEB. 17
Ameripolitan Music Awards (Paramount Theatre)


Gean West Goes to Glory

Gean West has left the building. Frontman for psychedelic gospel outfit the Relatives, the 78-year-old preacher died last Wednesday from heart and kidney failure. West founded the group with his younger brother Tommie West and friend Charles Ray "Gypsy" Mitchell in the late Sixties, releasing mind-blowing regional singles throughout the following decade and dissolving in 1980.

While Dallas was home, the Relies' 2009 reunion was prompted by local record collectors Noel Waggener and Charisse Kelly (see "The Righteous Reverend Gean West 1936-2015," Feb. 5). Later, they adopted the local backing band of Zach Ernst, Scott Nelson, and Matt Strmiska, and played Austin more than anywhere else. Two days after West's passing, Ernst listened to mixes from the Relatives' forthcoming sophomore album in his car.

"I'm proud to have worked with someone so genuine and to have become close friends with him over the last five years," the guitarist reflected. "I just wish I could have done more for him. The Relatives are so special. They should have been playing at the White House."

The nearly complete new album, produced by Ernst, signals the return of Mitchell, the founding guitarist who rejoined the band last year after a four-decade absence.

"West had a squall like nobody's," proclaimed Mitchell by phone, "And he trained us how to put the vocals together, when to go flat or sharp, when to sing harmony."

Just how much West sacrificed for the Relatives could be counted on his three-fingered hand.

"Back in the Seventies, he wanted to take us on tour, but we didn't have the finances," reveals Mitchell. "He was working for this construction company and he told me, 'You know how much money I can get for the end of my finger? I'll take part of my finger [off] and get us everything from a settlement.'

"I said, 'Man, no!'

"He ended up doing that anyway. He thought the cable was going to hit the tip of his finger, but it went crazy and it took his pointer finger and thumb right off. That was for the Relatives. He loved the band that much."

The Relatives return to Austin at C-Boy's Heart & Soul on March 13.

"And we're bringing Gean's spirit!" promises Tommie West. "We hate that he's gone and miss him tremendously, but now we have to follow his vision and keep the Relatives going."


Half Notes

The 1808 Annex, a no-frills East 12th Street space that hosted DIY punk and noise shows, has been leased to new proprietors and will no longer be a music venue. All upcoming shows have been rescheduled with the exception of unofficial South by Southwest event by Johnathan Cash's anarchic noise music gathering March 22. Owner Gene Mays says he plans to relocate the Annex.

Ruthie Foster and Eliza Gilkyson lost out on their respective Blues and Folk nominations at the Grammys Sunday, but local vocal ensemble Conspirare snatched golden gramophones for Best Choral Performance. Austin City Limits boss Terry Lickona, who co-produced the awards for the fourth year, says he was "proud to see so many ACL alumni, including Beck, Sam Smith, and Ed Sheeran from this season alone," and that he made headway with other performers he hopes will tape episodes for the show this year. Regarding the night's most notorious moment, Lickona offered, "Kanye's dash to the stage caught us all off guard in the bunker, but he was only on camera for half a second before he scampered away."

Austin Music Foundation hosts a music industry expo at Emo's Wednesday, Feb. 18, 7-9pm. Professionals in all aspects of the local music business, including musicians, can attend the free event and mingle with representatives from music-related organizations like HAAM, SIMS, AMP, AMF, and other acronyms that are hard to keep straight.

SXSW wristbands, this season's must-have fashion accessory, are back in limited supply for $189 and locals only. Go to wristbands.sxsw.com beginning today, Thursday, at 10am.

Keep up with all our SXSW coverage at austinchronicle.com/sxsw. Sign up for our South-by-specific newsletter at austinchronicle.com/newsletters/ for news, reviews, and previews delivered to your inbox every day of the Fest. And for the latest Tweets, follow @ChronSXSW.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Dale Watson, Ameripolitan Awards, Billy Joe Shaver, Gean West, the Relatives, Zach Ernst, Conspirare, Terry Lickona, Austin Music Foundation, SXSW

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