Monday, January 25, 2010

Dale Watson's Guitar

Whenever I talk about Dale Watson's guitar, someone gets pissed off. Apparently if I touch Dale Watson's guitar, people get even angrier.

Dale Watson is probably my only living musical hero, a man twenty years my senior who does exactly what he wants/needs to do, and makes a living doing it. Last year, in the men's room of Manhattan's Rodeo Bar, I told a guy who looked suspiciously like Popa Chubby that Dale's guitar wasn't a Telecaster, it was a custom-made Australian Tomkins. The guy sulked off angrily. Oh well.

I've seen Dale play on his home turf of Austin several times, both at the Continental Club and the Broken Spoke. When I met him at the Broken Spoke, and later at the Rodeo Bar, he told me of his affinity for Johnny D's in Davis and vowed to return there.

So when he finally arrived in Somerville tonight, of course I was at the show. But, after an amazing, two-hour set , I refused to stand in the line of couples waiting to talk to Dale. I left, satisfied to have enjoyed some fine, American music.

After I walked out the door, though, I looked back through the slotted blinds of Johnny D's. On the stage, some potbellied, non-urbane, fat bastard in a cowboy hat sat slouched over Dale's battle-worn, custom Australian guitar, slaughtering even the cheesiest blues licks while his wife loudly applauded him. I couldn't even believe that the instrument was still plugged in. "This has to stop," I told my companions, and marched back into the closed club, past the doorman who earlier noted that I was "becoming a regular."

I approached the guy attempting to play the guitar. My right hand found a quarter in the right front pocket of my jeans and I clenched the coin in my fist. When the fat man stood up to relinquish the most important guitar in country music, he stepped on the cable to the amplifier, ripping it out of the guitar. He dropped Dale's guitar on the stage, then attempted to play his own guitar, which he had apparently brought to the show in hope of doing something with it.

Once the fat man moved aside, I picked up Dale Watson's guitar!! Though famously covered with Mexican coins, the guitar was surprisingly light and the fretboard buttery to the touch. I found the instrument cable on the floor and tapped the tip with my thumb--the amp was still live from the set. I plugged the guitar back in, and using the quarter as a pick, started ripping through my song "Teardown Kings," transposed from E to D to match Dale Watson's tuning.

Immediately people began clapping along and moved closer to the stage. Surprised at not being challenged in any way, I shouted: "I paid fifteen dollars, and I'm gonna have fifteen dollars worth of fun!" People clapped more. The suburbanites took offense. I ripped into a few INFRASTRUCTURE leads before the fat man's wife descended on me, ripped Dale Watson's guitar out of my hands, tore the live amplifier cable out of the guitar, and ran off with the instrument, shouting KID, GO HOME! YOU SUCK, KID! KID, YOU SUCK!

You better take a cab home, classy lady! I said, after apparently emasculating the drunken fat hubby. Don't drive tonight. Time to go back to the suburbs!

As I walked away from the stage, I felt a force on my back. The crazy lady had run up to me and grabbed me from behind. She was holding me back with both arms. I felt the fingernails of both her hands through my leather jacket.


I turned around, looked her dead in the drunken eyes, and said: That's even worse.
And walked off.

After that, I somehow ended up talking to Don Raby, Dale Watson's fiddle player, about how he left a successful career developing hardware and software for Dell in favor of a musician's life on the road. I like hearing what I need to hear. Then, I talked for a while with Dale's new drummer, who invited me onto the band's 1975 Eagle tour bus, the Drag N Fly, before they shipped south to gigs in DC and Richmond.

Among other topics discussed, I had the opportunity to ask Dale Watson if he got his guitar back. He made a wincing gesture. That guy was terrible, he said. I just left him to mess around with it and got out of there.

Dale gave me a Lone Star beer to walk home with. But you might want to hide that, he said, the cops have been watching us all night.

Sure enough, a Somerville cop saw me with the bottle, parked and waited for me to walk past him. I stopped in my tracks for about ten minutes. The cop drove around the block with his headlights off, parked again, and waited some more. I had to pour about ten ounces out, but I'm keeping the bottle Dale Watson gave me on my bookshelf.

As for the suburban couple, I hope they made it home alive, but I don't really care either way.

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