Dale Watson's lost country journey

Keep the tradition alive with 'Ameripolitan' music

There has been a backlash recently against the homogeneity and shallowness heard these days in commercial country music radio programming. While a part of Nashville seems to have given up any traditional credibility in still calling its product "country," a burgeoning, alternative country underground still thrives. But a chasm has developed in that classification as well, as more traditional country acts don't fit in with rock-oriented acts, and they dang sure don't want to be grouped with the "bro-country" crowd.

In the midst of this signifying drama, a few voices strive to preserve real country music. Austin, Texas-based singer, songwriter, and guitarist Dale Watson was so disillusioned with what others were calling country music that he coined a new term for the music real fans like. "Ameripolitan" was the choice. The website www.ameripolitan.com doesn't define the genre beyond emphasizing its deep roots, it points out what Ameripolitan is not: contemporary mainstream country, nor rock influenced Americana.

"The name was thought of years ago when the band and a promoter in Wisconsin, Phil Doran, were discussing how misleading it is when we tell people we like country music," Watson says. "The general public thinks of current Top 40, but it isn't fair to us or to folks who would come hear us and expect 'country.' It needed to be a word that didn't conjure links to current country but also didn't make people think retro."

Watson is on the road supporting his third volume of trucking songs, Good Luck 'N' Good Truckin' Tonite. "I did a truckstop tour in the '90s that inspired the first one, and I realized I'd written enough to have a second volume," Watson says. "But the third I had to purposely write more to make the album, and of course with a little help from friends such as professional truck driver Kitty Liang and fellow Texas musician Jason Roberts, they were written behind the wheel."

Watson has been a champion of traditional country music since he was a young man. He took the alt-country scene by storm with his 1995 debut, Cheatin' Heart Attack (Hightone). His song "Nashville Rash" was one of the first to criticize the machinations of the mainstream country music industry. When did it all go wrong? "1978, without a doubt," he says. "The Kenny Rogers-Dolly Parton duets were the earmark in my opinion. It's tough for me to say because I love Dolly, and she has more talent and roots in her little toe than I do," he adds. "Then it spread by the rock bands of L.A. being left without a home because of techno. All of a sudden they 'discovered their roots' and became country."

Many people blame the current state of country music on Garth Brooks, who is on tour for the first time in more than a decade, and playing the first of seven shows at Philips Arena the same night Watson plays Smith's Olde Bar. Not surprisingly, Watson doesn't hold back. "If I tell you only one thing about Brooks, then you would understand every 'humble' thing his career has done. He majored in advertising. I do like the guy as a person. Some of his songs are Ameripolitan too. If anyone is on the fence to see either me or him, go see him. I may not live as long as Garth, but I'll likely never be able to retire, so I'll be back around."

It's a dilemma that every musician faces as performers age and fade away, while younger acts with different roots take over the mainstream. Watson may not retire a wealthy man, but he will always declare his commitment to keeping his music as close to the traditions of his mentors as he can. Now, that's real country.