Interview By John B. Moore
There’s not many who can boast a résumé that includes recording with Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, and X, but Jesse Dayton has been serving as the bridge between classic country music and punk rock since the 1990s.
So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who knows Dayton’s work that his latest covers album boasts a strikingly disparate collection of songs. He manages to put his coating on tracks from The Cars, AC/DC, The Clash, and Elton John, among others. Mixtape Volume 1 is out Aug. 9 via Blue Élan Records.
Dayton, who will likely be playing many of these covers when he heads out on a three-month U.S. tour starting in September, takes a moment to talk about the new record, playing country music for Social Distortion fans, and directing his own zombie flick.
This is not your first covers album; you put out that album of Kinky Friedman songs, [2012’s Jesse Sings Kinky]. What made you decide to tackle these artists for Mixtape Volume 1?
We had just come off of two original records, [2016’s] The Revealer and [2018’s] The Outsider, back-to-back in two years, as well as four years of nonstop touring the globe. I always wanted to record my own versions of these songs and thought now was the time.
Were there any songs you considered, but for whatever reason, you couldn’t make them work?
I really wanted to do “Rednecks” by Randy Newman, because the world needs to hear it now, but just couldn’t bring myself to say the N-word. A Jewish songwriter singing about institutionalized racism in 1974 is one thing, but I would’ve been crucified for it in 2019. So, I did “Redneck Friend” by Jackson Browne. I also cut “Keep Me in Your Heart” by Warren Zevon, but it didn’t make the final record.
It’s an impressively deep catalog you cover here, from The Clash and AC/DC to The Cars. How did you go about deciding what to cover?
I saw The Clash when I was 14 in San Antonio, [Texas], with Joe Ely opening, and it changed my life. I’m a huge Strummer fan. A lot of these songs were ones that my older brother had in his record collection. I saw Bon Scott with AC/DC as a kid on the Highway to Hell tour, and I thought they were a punk-infused blues band, because punk never hit my little country town and Bon was a madman onstage. Elton John, Gordon Lightfoot, ZZ Top, and The Cars were not on our country radio but always on the big rock stations we tuned in from Houston and New Orleans.
Over your career, you’ve managed to be bridge between country music and punk rock. Are there things those two genres have in common?
Punk and country have always had a weird relationship. Mike Ness from Social Distortion told me he’s been doing “Ring of Fire” by Johnny Cash since the late ’70s. Dwight Yoakam told me he opened for the punk band X around Los Angeles at one point. But when my first record came out in ’95, although it went to number one on the Americana charts, I went out on tours with Social Distortion, X, and The Supersuckers. We played to punk audiences who had never seen a pedal steel guitar live, and it gave me a whole new unexpected fanbase.
Of the two genres, what type of audience is more intimidating?
New country audiences are pretty tame compared to the Johnny Paycheck, David Allen Coe, Willie Nelson shows I attended as a kid in Texas, but our audience is even more eclectic than my music. We literally have all walks, from young to old, rock fans, country fans, punk fans, rockabilly fans, you name it!
What are you working on next?
I’m writing songs and doing pre-production for a new solo record that will be out in 2020. I just played guitar on new records by Shooter Jennings, Duff McKagan, Ray Wylie Hubbard, and The Supersuckers, and I’m writing some songs for a film as well.
Volume 1 is in the title. Does that mean there is a Volume 2 in the future?
We had a blast recording the Mixtape record, so I thought we better call it Volume 1 so we could do another in the future!
You are also working on a book, right?
A friend who is a literary agent and one of the executives at Da Capo [Press] book publishing liked my rants online on Facebook [and] Instagram, so now I’m writing my memoirs with a real book deal. Everything will be in it, from drinking Jack Daniels and Coke with Bill Clinton and Lucinda Williams to making horror films with Rob Zombie to recording with Waylon Jennings as a kid.
Um, that’s a lot. Anything else you’re working on?
I’ve got a lot on my plate! I wrote [and] directed a film called “Zombex” in 2013 staring Malcolm McDowell that did pretty good, so there’s talk about me directing another one. We’re booked on a tour for three months straight in the States [through] the end of October. So much going on, who knows?
JESSE DAYTON 2019 FALL TOUR
Wed, OCT 2 – Horseshoe Tavern – Toronto, Canada
Thu, OCT 3 – Small’s – Hamtramck, MI
Fri, OCT 4 – Reggies Chicago – Chicago, IL
Sat, OCT 5 – Turf Club – Saint Paul, MN
Sun, OCT 6 – The Bohemian Hall – Ashland, WI
Mon, OCT 7 – Bar None – Springfield, IL
Tue, OCT 8 – The Monocle – St. Louis, MO
Wed, OCT 9 – The Historic Rose Bowl Tavern – Urbana, IL
Fri, OCT 11 – The Basement Nashville – Nashville, TN
Sat, OCT 12 – Railgarten – Memphis, TN
Thu, OCT 24 – 4th Annual Horton’s Continental Hayride – Austin, TX
Sat, NOV 2 – Continental Club, Austin – Austin, TX
Thu, NOV 7 – Waves Resort Corpus Christi – Corpus Christi, TX
Fri, NOV 8 – Old Quarter Acoustic Café – Galveston, TX
Sat, NOV 9 – McGonigel’s Mucky Duck – Houston, TX