Jesse Dayton Biography
Raised in the blue-collar town of Beaumont, in East Texas, Dayton didn't have to look far for his musical influences. He would draw upon two artists who lived in the area -- George Jones, high school classmate of Jesse's father, and Lightnin' Hopkins -- to develop his own sound. In fact, Dayton first started playing guitar at 15, studying under blues legend Mance Lipscombe's and Hopkins' cousin, Mack Minor. But it was Country Music Hall of Famer George Jones' raw emotional style that Dayton sought to emulate.
When he was old enough to start spreading his wings, Dayton took trips to Houston to see Townes Van Zant, to Amarillo for ZZ Top shows and to Austin's famed Antone's nightclub, where he was blown away by the guitar work and style of the Vaughan brothers, Stevie Ray and Jimmie.
"I saw the Thunderbirds play, and the next day I put grease in my hair," Dayton says. "I had a revelation and thought, 'This is what I need to be listening to.'"
Club owner Clifford Antone took an interest in young Dayton and offered him encouragement. "Clifford gave me those original Chess records and said, 'Learn this.'" Dayton did as he was told, studying Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, and Buddy Guy to perfect his guitar technique. Dayton settled in Austin, and his first band, the Midnight Ramblers, played country, blues, and rockabilly. He later had a honky-tonk group, the Alamo Jets, that was regularly featured with the likes of The Derailers and Junior Brown.
In 1995, Dayton was signed by the newly formed Justice Records, whose roster included Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, and Waylon Jennings, to record his first solo album. The album, Raisin' Cain, featured all original material by Dayton and special guest appearances from several Texas legends including Doug Sahm, Bob Wills' veteran fiddler Johnny Gimble, and Texas Tornado Flaco Jimenez on accordion.
Country Standard Time said of Dayton's debut, "He excels at straight-ahead, steel guitar-driven toe-tappers ... and when he sings the blues, you know he's had them." And The Chicago Tribune said Dayton has got "more hooks than your granddad's tackle box." The record shot up to the #1 slot on The Gavin Report's Americana chart that year. That same year, Dayton played on the Willie Nelson tribute album Twisted Willie.
The success of his debut album got Dayton invitations to play at some very high-profile gigs. He and his band performed at President Bill Clinton's second Inaugural Ball in 1996, and he backed his friend Lucinda Williams for her set. Dayton was on the lineup of the George Strait's "Straitfest" 18-stadium tour in 1997 and is a three-time veteran at Willie Nelson's Fourth of July picnic concerts.
After appearing on TNN's "Crook and Chase" show in 1997 with Kris Kristofferson, Dayton received a phone call from Waylon Jennings' producer that Jennings had cut his finger and wanted Dayton to play guitar on a studio session with Jennings and Cash.
"I was checking out of my hotel, on my way back to Austin, when I got the call," Dayton says. "I spent the day playing with Waylon and hanging out with Cash. It was magic. Two weeks later I was called back to play lead guitar on Waylon's Right For The Time record. Spending that much time with him changed me forever."
Dayton then moved to Los Angeles, where "I was trying to find my own voice as a writer." He brought back together another of his bands -- the rockabilly-twinged Road Kings which recorded three albums, the last in 2000 on Surfdog/Hollywood Records -- and toured both nationally and internationally with several acts including Chris Isaak.
Finding fans in the film and TV industries, Dayton has gotten to hear his songs on numerous TV shows including "Roswell," "Providence," and "Melrose Place" (where he also had a role as a musician) and on the soundtracks to the motion pictures "Happy, Texas" and "Deep in the Heart."
He decided then to self-produce his second solo album on his own Bullet Records (now Stag Records ) label. Tall Texas Tales was deeply influenced by his fellow ex-Justice Record labelmates Willie Nelson and Billy Joe Shaver and by Townes Van Zandt. The single "Jumped Head First" was made available on the web site MP3.com and hit #1 on both its Pop and Country charts.
Dayton calls the sophomore release his "writer¹s record" and says "it sounds like Austin in the '70s, stripped-down singer-songwriter country. It sounds like what I hear in my head."
RockzillaWorld magazine agreed: "Dayton has given us a straight-forward, what-you-see-is-what-you-get Texas record. .... He keeps loading up his van and hitting the road with a crack band of musical gypsies and producing little gems like Tall Texas Tales."
The year 2000 was a busy one for Dayton. He cut a duet with Dwight Yoakam's producer-guitarist Pete Anderson for Young Guitar Slingers (Antone's Records) and sat in with country legend Ray Price for his Prisoner of Love album.
"I was in LA when I got the call to play on Ray's record," says Dayton. "There was a 36-piece orchestra there, Junior Brown on steel. It was amazing. Ray was so cool. He called me 'Beaumont' and we hung out on his bus, drank tequila, and ate Mexican food flown in from Del Rio, Texas."
Dayton's newly released third solo album, Hey Nashvegas! (Stag Records, September 25, 2001), sees him recording in Nashville and digging even deeper into his country roots. On it, Dayton is again joined by Gimble and Jimenez, and adding their voices are Mandy Barnett, Jim Lauderdale and Dixie Chicks. "Me and Mandy do a kind of a Conway/Loretta-style duet," Dayton says. Harmonica player Mickey Rafael from Willie Nelson's band also is on board, and the song "Heartbreak California" was co-written with singer-songwriter Rosie Flores.
Dayton says of the album, "The new songs were mostly written in hotels on the road," and of the title track he says, "If you listen to the words, it's a funny version of the small-town kid who thinks he's gonna take over the world, only to find out he's just another number in the machine."
Without a doubt, Dayton would never be confused with just another "number in the machine." He has seen Johnny Cash's prediction come true. He is different and is building a solid career that he envisions he will enjoy for a long time.