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Dale Watson ©KLRU

Dale Watson talks Ameripolitan Music Awards (INTERVIEW)

Austin honky tonker Dale Watson talks about his mission to bring "real" country music to the world with Ameripolitan and the upcoming sold out awards show.
Dale Watson ©KLRU Photo: Scott Newton

2013 was one hell of a year for Dale Watson. Though he has been a working musician for over two decades and has managed to release over twenty albums carrying his name since 1995, it was the release of El Rancho Azul (Red House Records) that exposed Watson’s signature honky tonk sound to a new audience eager to hear real country music. Over the course of 2013 the Texas troubadour toured relentlessly, saved the legendary local dive Ginny’s Little Longhorn Saloon when he became part owner, landed a slot performing on the Late Show with David Letterman, and taped an episode of the revered Austin City Limits program. Now Dale Watson is taking on his biggest gig yet as one of the chief figures behind the Ameripolitan Music Awards.

Taking place this Tuesday in Austin, the Ameripolitan Music Awards will honor those making “real” country music, which they break down into the categories of Honky Tonk, Outlaw, Rockabilly and Western Swing. While the awards show format will certainly bring some attention to the artists involved, Ameripolitan is more than just one night of recognition. It is a musical movement aimed at placing a focus on types of music overshadowed by the Nashville money mongers who have rebranded pop music as country. Leading the charge to introduce the world to all things Ameripolitan is Austin’s own white-haired country crusader.  

Neil Ferguson: What is your official role in the Ameripolitan Music Awards and how did you get involved?

Dale Watson: I’m the producer of it. This whole thing started just about a year ago. I made a vow at that moment and said one year from today we’ll do an awards show with this type of music, because what was going on at the time – I think it was right after the Grammys, CMA and ACM Awards – they always ignore this type of music. They think of it as a blip on the map. The way country music has gone, it’s so blurred; you can’t tell the difference between Taylor Swift and [Miley Cyrus]. It all sounds the same and it has no guts. There’s no identity anymore. You used to hear the difference and country music has lost its identity, and thrown it away really. What [the music industry] wants to call “country” music is officially country music worldwide and we came to accept that, but it leaves us out in the lurch not knowing where we are at. We tell people that we do country music and they say, ‘oh yeah we love Kenny Chesney’ or whatever, but that’s not our thing and doesn’t describe us at all. That’s why we came up with that term Ameripolitan, which doesn’t really mean anything, and that’s exactly what we wanted. If you say roots country or real country people are likely to think it’s something retro and don’t give it any [chances]. We didn’t want that and we didn’t want to be connected to modern country music. The difference between Ameripolitan and Americana, which a lot of people have asked about, is that Americana is original music with a prominent folk and rock influence, and Ameripolitan is original music with a prominent roots influence. [Ameripolitan] kind of started in Jimmie Rodgers and Americana kind of started in Woody Guthrie. So that’s where we are at.

How do you think the awards show will help bring Ameripolitan into the limelight a little more?

There’s a competition, which you want, and you want people to be excited about it. The award is not just like a piece of glass, it’s a good-looking award, it’s heavy. The first one was given to David Letterman for showcasing this type of music last year. We gave one to Ray Price the week before he was about to die and he still had his snap and gave a good speech about it. It’s a hefty award and it’s got some prominence now even just starting off. It’s not something you can just go to your local awards store and have made. Like I said, there’s no place that we can go and have our peers all be together, and we know that with the type of music that we’re doing, the other person gets it.

Why do you think the term country has become so convoluted when most of the people that are “country” just seem like pop stars?

That’s what they want. Country music is for people who don’t like country music.

2013 was a big year for you. What kind of stuff do you have up your sleeve for 2014?

Well, I got a new truckin’ album that we’ll probably record next month. Toward the end of the year I’ll do another regular studio album, because I have enough material for that too. Ameripolitan takes up quite a bit of my time, and I also have two bars – Ginny’s Little Longhorn and one in San Antonio. I got a full year ahead. It’s crazy that at fifty years old all of this stuff has happened. 

For more info on all things Ameripolitan check out www.ameripolitanmusic.com

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