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  • Guest Collector: Jesse Dayton

    Thu, 10 Jan 2008 12:34:19

    Guest Collector: Jesse Dayton - The country music maverick lays out the sounds that fuel his fire

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    Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Ray Price. Those are the kind of names that carry a lot of water in country music, and they're just some of the heavyweights who have blessed Jesse Dayton with their seal of approval. Eschewing radio-friendly pop artifice, Dayton has a style firmly rooted in more traditional elements of country music. Earning his stripes touring with legends in the business, he developed a foot-stomping, honky tonk approach that harkens back to a by-gone era when music was played from the soul. In fact Cash once told Jesse, "You’re different, so it might take you a little longer to break than these other young guys…but you’ll have a lot longer career."

    Now, with a slew of records under his belt and an ever-growing fanbase, it looks like Johnny Cash's prediction has proved true. Dayton's latest LP, Holding Our Own, is a duet recording with Austin singer songwriter Brennen Leigh. Filled with twangy hooks and soulful harmonies, it's the work of two artists in tune with the past and one another. Pointing back to his inspirations, Jesse took the time to tackle our Guest Collector feature and fill us in on the records that helped shape his sound.

    Waylon Jennings - Only Daddy That'll Walk The Line
    Along with Willie's early '70s stuff, this record was the beginning of the outlaw movement in country music. "Nashville Bum" explains it all: the struggles, the ups and downs—real outsider, anti-hero stuff here, folks. The title track is a funky, sexy song (check out the Fender Rhodes piano part) that just wreaked of something contemporary country records have los—danger! Waylon sounds like he's been through hell and back, after a life of constant shows and near misses with each record not really breaking until this one. I ended up playing guitar on Waylon's Right For The Time record a few years before he passed away, and I'll tell ya that he had that certain badass swagger of his all the way 'til the very end.

    Buddy Guy - A Man and the Blues
    The late, great blues club owner from Austin, Clifford Antone, gave this record to me behind a club in Beaumont, TX when I was 17. He said, "I know you're into country and rockabilly but you have to learn 'Mary Had a Little Lamb' and 'One Room Country Shack.' There's a badass band on this Vanguard release from 1968, with shuffle-God Fred Below on drums and Otis Spann on piano ... basically the whole back-up band for Muddy Waters. It made quite an impression on me at 17-years-old. I saw Buddy a year later in Austin at Antones after I got the record and stood in the crowd with goosebumps and my mouth on the floor. Thank you Cliffy!

    Charlie Pride - In Person
    Could be the best country record I've ever heard! Llloyd Green, the steel player, did some amazing stuff on the Lil' Darlin' label w/ Johnny Paycheck, but this is Green raw and live with his amp and guitar ever so slightly breaking up and he just goes for it on every solo. And Pride is just ON. His raps between songs are so sincere you feel like it's not the same ol' campy Opry stuff. In fact, this was recorded in Texas during the civil rights movement in a time when racism was rampant. No one could deny this guy's talent; he broke down barriers that no one has or ever will again break down in popular music. "Just Between You and Me" is my favorite.

    ZZ Top - Tres Hombres
    Hands down my favorite Texas rock band. The first five records are all essential, but this one, which came out in 1973, was my older brother's constant companion in his ol' pickup truck. Billy Gibbons has a guitar tone that men actually jump out of windows and slit their throats on the way down trying to figure out. He toured w/ Hendrix before ZZ debuted. Jeff Beck gave him the amps he used on the first three records. Everyone in the guitar world worships Billy's guitar tone. The songwriting is really witty - "Master of Sparks" about putting a guy in a steel cage and throwing him out of the back of pickup truck with a chain holding it together! That's about as lowdown white trash rock'n'roll as it gets. "Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers" says it all!

    Ray Price - Ray Price and the Cherokee Cowboys Roger Miller, Willie Nelson and Johnny Bush as your back-up band? What a band! "Nightlife" was written for Ray by Willie Nelson and became one of Ray's signature songs - probably the greatest torch/blues/country song I've ever heard. Buddy Emmons plays steel on this record and pretty much sets the standard for ALL steel players. I went on to play guitar for Ray on his Prisoner of Love record in '99 and his voice is just effortless and beauitful. For most real afficionados, Price is the alpha and omega of all things country.

    The Clash - London Calling
    This band saved me from going to Foghat concerts. Sure, I loved some of the classic rock stuff, but that was my older brother's music. Me and my friends wanted a band that felt like they were OURS. The Clash did a lot for me in terms of waking me up to cool style and my hero Joe Strummer seemed like he was the frontman for a revolution instead of just a band. I didn't even have a political conscience until I heard the Clash, then I started thinking about things like social injustice, racism, classism, and all the things Strummer seemed to be fighting for. "Brand New Cadillac" was my favorite song, AND they brought Lubbock Texas legend Joe Ely on tour with them all over the world. Because of the Clash, I'm a voter and an activist as much as I can be. Long live Joe Strummer!

    George Jones - Blue and Lonesome
    This one goes waaaay back to the grandparents' house. George is hands down my favorite country singer of all time. He could sing the phonebook, and you'd be hanging on every word. Sure, there are other great Jones records - White Lightining, Race Is On, the list goes on. This record has a Don Williams songs on it, "Oh Lonesome Me," and he just flat out outsings every version of it you've ever heard! This was Hank William's favorite singer. This is a must, must, must for country music lovers. BTW—Johnny Paycheck plays bass, and sings ALL the background vocals....killer, huh?

    Joe Clay - Ducktail
    [Ducktail] is the coolest rockabilly record EVER! It's wild and dangerous and every single one of these songs sticks in your head. There's been a big controversy about who his back up band was -- were they black or white? I played with Joe a few years back in his home state of Louisianna and he said it was a "mixed" band. Either way, it's raw and dead sexy and I love it. Listen to "Cracker Jack" and "What Ya Said Cabbage Head"!

    Sir Douglas Quintet - The Best of the Sir Douglas Quintet
    Mostly recorded w/ Huey P. Meax in Houston, but there's also a few tracks done in New York w/ Ahmet Ertegun (w/ Bob Dylan on rhythm guitar!). This is the ultimate hybrid of roots music. "Mendocina" just makes ya wanna go on a roadtrip; the song just moves ya. "Nitty Gritty" is about the funkiest stuff (besides Roy Head) that you'll ever hear come out of a white boy from Texas. Doug was a freak of nature: played steel guitar on the Grand Ol' Opry when he was 9, played Bajo Sexto in the barrrios of San Antone, won a Grammy for best blues record. Some people thought he was too all over the map, but they're just too narrow-minded to grasp the way Doug was opening his arms to the world. Doug played Bajo Sexto on my 1st record in '95 and he was one of the coolest cats to ever grace the planet.

    Townes Van Zant - A Gentle Evening with Townes Van Zandt
    These are probably Townes' best vocals ever. I used to go see him at the Ol' Quarter in Houston when I was a kid and his shows were always unpredictable at that point. Sometimes he was really wasted and out of it and sometimes he was literally the greatest songwriter ever - I mean ever - like Bob Dylan and Hank Williams all rolled into one. This record has it all: "Tecumseh Valley" is about the saddest song I've ever heard in my life, and "Talkin KKK Blues" shows Townes making a serious social statement through some of the funniest lines ever. I know I'll never be half the writer Townes was, but he damn sure inspires me to keep picking up a pad and paper and to try to be as honest as I can when I do write.

    Willie Nelson - Phases and Stages
    Wow - a country concept record deluxe. This thing help me through a divorce and got me out of a slump and back into writing my 3rd record. The songs are pure Willie: part gypsy, part cowboy, part fortune-teller, part hustler and part preacher. Some of the slow stuff like "It Doesn't Have To Be This Way" is stuff I have to be careful when and where I listen to it 'cause it'll make me or the most badass out-of-work longshoreman break down and cry. The beautiful thing about Willie is the undercurrent of gospel music that runs thru ALL of his music. Like Bob Marley, Joe Strummer and other icons he's become bigger than the genre that spawned him. Oh yeah, I got to play guitar on a recent cut of "Pancho and Lefty" (with Willie and his ol' friend Johnny Bush) and I'm still on cloud nine. Willie Nelson for president!

    —The ARTISTdirect Staff

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