I had a chance to sit down with Jesse Dayton on the final stop of his tour with The Supersuckers and Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band. He has had quite a career already, playing with the likes of Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, John Doe, and Rob Zombie. He is also a producer, actor, and writer. On top of that, he is a great performer and just released an incredible album called The Revealer. Our interview was like a conversation between two friends, rather than an interview.
For brevity’s sake: TL = Twangri-La and JD = Jesse Dayton
TL: So first I want to say it is a pleasure meeting you.
JD: You too.
TL: It is quite a career you’ve had so far working with Johnny Cash, Waylon, John Doe and Rob Zombie.
JD: Crazy, isn’t it?
TL: Did I miss anybody?
JD: You missed some, but those are the big ones. I played with some smaller acts too. I played on the Must Have Been High record by The Supersuckers. There were some people that I played with but didn’t record with like Glen Campbell. I recorded with Ray Price on the Prisoner Of Love record. Me and Junior Brown are on that record together.
TL: Wow! How old are you?
TL: You look too young to be working with all those legends.
JD: I did it when I was in my late 20s.
TL: I also want to congratulate you on your new album, The Revealer. It is a great album.
JD: Thanks! I am really happy with it.
TL: I hear some Waylon, George Jones, and maybe some Springsteen on Take Out the Trash?
JD: I love the Boss. Yeah, I would say that’s livin’ somewhere between Bruce, The Replacements and The Clash. I always say John Doe and Joe Strummer saved me from going to Foghat concerts (laughter). Although I love Foghat.
TL: Foghat was the first real concert I went to. Foghat, Blue Oyster Cult, and Alvin Lee. So getting back to The Revealer. It is about allegories and experiences in your own life?
JD: It is, I saw an old gospel slave hymnal called The Revealer and I thought that would be a great name for the record. This is not an observational record, it is personal….More inward that it is outward. It’s about my family and all these desperate characters that were trying to get out of East Texas and didn’t quite make it.
TL: And Miss Victoria?
JD: Yeah, Miss Victoria. She was my nanny. All that stuff is super personal. I was opening up a vein for everybody.
TL: I was going to ask you about that. Was it a difficult album to do, to write such personal details about your life?
JD: It was. When I wrote Miss Victoria, I cried. When I wrote Daddy Was A Badass, it just all poured out of me. All the songs, Possum Ran Over My Grave and songs like that are about experiences in my life. I don’t want to be an observational lyricist. It isn’t easy to go back to those places. I have a survivor’s guilt almost. I made it out and I don’t consider myself a star or anything like that, but I’ve figured out a way to make a living doing what I want to instead of being a Union Carbide worker in the oil fields. That could have happened.
But people are paying me to do something I would do for free. Like Dale Watson told me, “We don’t get paid to play, partner, we get paid to travel.” I wrote Dale Watson’s first single called Caught on his album Cheating Heart Attack.
TL: He’ll be on the boat (The 2017 Outlaw Country Cruise), so will the Supersuckers.
JD: Yep, both good friends of mine.
TL: I saw the Supersuckers 25 years ago at this club in Baltimore called the 8X10. They were always on the road.
JD: They still are. They play more than anyone I know. They called me in ’97 and they flew me and Mickey Rafael and Brantley Kearns, who was playing fiddle for Dwight (Yoakam) to play on the Must Have Been High record…..The label didn’t want to do it because it was a country record, or their version of country. It became their biggest selling record.
TL: So getting back to the record, the song Daddy Was A Badass is a great song. I guess it is personal for me because my dad is get up there in years and every time I listen to the song, I feel the tears welling up a bit. Was that a difficult song to write?
JD: Yes it was. A lot of it is about my uncles and not just about my dad. It’s about things that happened to him that were super unfortunate and they persevered and thrived. I mean, they were bad asses compared to people today. They all either went off to Korea or Vietnam and they saw a lot of really bad shit and they never talked about it. It was my way of honoring my dad and his generation. I didn’t want to be overly macho or patriotic either. I think a lot of that is just BS, I am a sensitive guy.
My dad was a complicated guy. He was a mass of hypocrisies. He could go out and do really bad ass stuff, and then he would take me to museum and be totally moved by a piece of art. And that is a rare thing, you either get one or the other, rarely both.
TL: There is quite a gap between this album and your previous album. Is that because of the other projects you were working on?
JD: I was working with other people, but I didn’t have anything to say. The songs weren’t coming. I think I was a little stuck creatively. I think once I went out with X and reintroduced myself to a national audience, it really got me back into playing guitar. I was like, oh yeah, this is why I got into this.
I didn’t get into playing guitar to play for a bunch of music snobs at a low volume so I could do sophisticated licks. I got into it because I wanted to go out there and rock out in front of a bunch of chicks and do whatever the hell I wanted. And the guys that aren’t like that….they just aren’t wired like me and they never will be. I can’t help that. So when I was playing with X, I was like, “Oh my God, this is fucking awesome!”
I had written and directed this movie called Zombex. Malcolm McDowell starred in it and we sold the film, which is unbelievable. It was an incredible and horrific experience all at the same time. So when I got finished with that movie, I ran kicking and screaming back into the arms of the music business.
People were asking, “why not make another movie?” I was like no way, I wanted to go out on tour with my friends. There is a saying that actors want to be musicians and musicians want to be actors. Let me go on record and say this: actors want to be musicians a whole “fuck ton” more than musicians want to be actors. When you are an actor, and I don’t care if you are working at the highest level……….Clooney, DeNiro, whoever….you are still sitting around in a trailer all day. And there is no instant gratification whatsoever. So big deal you said your lines right, and 18 people on set clap for you…..It’s nothing compared to walking on stage in front of 2,000 people…..Playing a three minute song and have everybody just go nuts. There is nothing that compares to that.
TL: I can definitely see that.
JD: Friday night, we opened up for Blackberry Smoke in New York at the Beacon Theater. It was sold out, 3,000 people. And we killed the place. I was just so awesome, we got all these new fans. All the radio people were there from Outlaw Country. It was so much cooler than being in the film business. You don’t even get that feeling in theater when you are performing in front of a live audience. It is somewhat similar, but not the same.
I did theater. I played Kinky Friedman in a play and the play did really well. It was so awesome to do, but it was super difficult. It is super demanding, you have to remember all the lines.
TL: And you have to be in character all the time.
JD: Yeah, and for me, I couldn’t go out and party. I couldn’t watch movies because I would forget my lines. Until I internalized my lines, I was just thinking about that solely for 24 hours a day. It was hard work. Theater acting is a tough gig.
TL: I have read your influences are Lefty Frizzell, George Jones, Waylon Jennings, and The Clash? Anybody else?
JD: A lot of the blues guys. I am a big Lightning Hopkins fan. He’s from East Texas. I am also a big Mance Lipscomb fan. All the stuff out of Louisiana on Excello Records like Slim Harpo and Lazy Lester. Lazy Lester did a song called Sugar Coated Love, you should check that out. It is like honky tonk blues (singing a few bars).
TL: So you’ve done a lot of work as a contributor. Which do you prefer, being in a leading role or a supporting one?
JD: Now I think I like being more in the forefront. I have gotten a really good taste of it. I like my team that I have right now, my manager, my agent, and my publicist. Everybody is so cool and easy to work with. We all get it. We’re working towards a common goal. But if that isn’t working, it’s not bad being the guy behind the guy. I think with the new record, people are going to want a follow up record and more guitar playing. I am in the driver’s seat now. I am not going to be in a secondary position for a while.
TL: I would love to see a good follow up to The Revealer.
JD: Actually, that is going to start in January (2017).
TL: Another song I really love on The Revealer is A Possum Ran Over My Grave about George Jones. That, to me, is the perfect country song.
JD: Thanks man! I wrote that song with a guy named Davin James. He is a really great songwriter down in Texas.
TL: I think a song like that is tough to do without sounding sappy, but you pulled it off.
JD: I think it’s because people know I am for real. Seventh generation, East Texas. This is the way I talk. This is the way I sing. This is who I am. It would be hard to believe that kind of song if somebody is from Des Moines. I try to be authentic to myself, instead of to country music. I don’t feel like I have anything to prove, except to myself. I’m not trying to be the next retro country singer. I am trying to be the best Jesse Dayton. When people ask me what kind of music do you play? I say, my own music!
TL: That’s a great response.
JD: Well, there’s never gonna be another George Jones. There’s never gonna be another Haggard. I got on stage with Merle six months before he died. It was me, Haggard, Willie, Kinky Friedman, and two of Willie’s daughters. People like to put things in boxes but there will never be another Waylon or Cash so what you are gonna get is a hybrid. You’ll get versions of that stuff that might take you back in a melancholy sort of experience, but you will never see anything like them again. I don’t want to sit and watch a cover band, somebody mimicking someone else. I can’t stand tribute bands either, I don’t get it at all. Instead of seeing a Van Halen tribute band, I will just see Van Halen (laughter)!
TL: I feel that way now about seeing performers in large, impersonal venues. Afterward, I feel kind of empty, like I just wasted my money.
JD: I did a big tour one time with George Strait called the Strait Tour. I was the first act. George came and saw me at the Continental Club in Austin. We were all freakin’ out because it was George Strait! He got us a bus and we went out and played every baseball stadium. It was my band, Asleep At The Wheel, then The Dixie Chicks, Tim (McGraw) and Faith (Hill), and then George (Strait). I felt like I was practicing every day. The people were like ants. There was zero connection with the audience. Even if they responded when you did something, they were still thirty feet away behind these huge barriers. There was no intimacy.
TL: I think I know the answer to this, but I will ask anyway. Which do you prefer, being on stage or recording in a studio?
JD: Both are great. I really love recording. I have produced records for other people. I produced an Eddie Spaghetti record for Bloodshot (Records), and I produced a record me and Brennen Leigh did together. And I do love being in the studio, but nothing beats the immediate gratification of being in front of a live audience. It’s better than cocaine, women, money, you name it. It is the ultimate rush.
TL: So here is another one…..which do you prefer, singing or playing guitar?
JD: Obviously, I was a much more comfortable guitar player. I think in the last few years, I have liked singing just as much because I have really found my own voice. I know who I am. When I made my first records, I didn’t know who I was. I knew what I liked, but my voice was high. I couldn’t even listen to my earlier records. It was painful. But now I hear my material and I say, wow! I like what I am doing now.
So do we, Jesse. Thank you for speaking to me. We wish you so much success in the future.