Texas honky-tonk maestro Dale Watson usually plays places where people can dance. Honky tonks, beer joints.
“I’m a honky-tonk guy,” he said from Austin. “My music translates better in a honky tonk.”
But Watson also plays some sit-down theaters and at such relatively unusual venues as Rock ’n’ Bowl in New Orleans. This weekend he’s appearing Friday at Rock ’n’ Bowl, a place he loves to play, and then Saturday at the Manship Theatre in Baton Rouge.
As for those sit-down venues, Watson said, they’re fun, too.
“It’s a different show,” he explained. “When you got people in theater seats, you do songs that maybe don’t translate as well in a honky-tonk. Slower songs, more of the story songs that people can follow. It’s hard to follow a story song in a honky tonk, when you’re trying to dance, talk with a prospective partner. Your attention ain’t quite all the way on the band.”
Watson released his first album 20 years ago, 1995’s “Cheatin’ Heart Attack.” Critics loved the singer-guitarist’s classic country style.
Watson grew up in Pasadena, Texas, near Houston. He admits to being born in Alabama but considers the Lone Star state his true home. His dad and older brothers played honky tonk and country music.
“I got in my brothers’ band,” he recalled. “I wasn’t even old enough to be in a bar when I was doing that.”
Rock ’n’ roll, pop and other musical styles never appealed to him. He loved the songs of Hank Williams Sr., Roy Acuff, George Jones, Ray Price, Texas-swing master Bob Wills and such later country stars as Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash as well as rockabilly cats Elvis Presley and Carl Perkins.
“I was a rebellious teen in other ways, but when it came to music, I liked what my dad did,” Watson said. “Matter of fact, his record collection became my record collection, so his influences became my influences.”
Growing up with the example his father and brothers set, Watson assumed he’d be an entertainer, too.
“My mother always said, ‘Get a real job,’ ” he remembered. “And I was planning on going in the service, to be a Marine, but I had an eye injury, when I was a kid. They wouldn’t let me in. So then I had to go to music.”
Watson’s latest studio album, “Call Me Insane,” will be released in May. Producer-steel guitarist Lloyd Maines (The Dixie Chicks, Butch Hancock, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Jerry Jeff Walker) helmed the project.
“He’s the best producer that Texas has to offer,” Watson said. “He’s got great ears and he knows how to get the best out of each individual player. He’s such a great musician, too, so you take what he says easier because he’s so fantastic. Working with him is just easy and a pleasure.”
Watson wrote every song on “Call Me Insane” except “Mamas Don’t Let Your Cowboys Grow Up to be Babies,” penned by Louisiana native Tony Joe White (“Polk Salad Annie,” “Rainy Night in Georgia”).
“I’ve been playing that for 20 years,” Watson said. “It might be one of the strongest tracks on the record.”
Meanwhile, Watson just naturally composes honky-tonk music.
“It’s just where I’m at,” he said. “You write about what you know.”
Music is Watson’s primary job, but he augments that income with the two beer joints he owns, one in Austin and the other in San Antonio. He finds inspiration in both establishments.
“I can just play in there and get inspired, making songs up on stage,” he said. “As much as it is a business, it’s also my pleasure.”