Jesse Dayton is a perfect combination of country and rock. This is no coincidence, his first show as a kid in Beaumont was The Clash with Joe Ely as the opener. “That changed my life. I got my hair cut like Joe Strummer, bought a leather jacket and quit the baseball team the next day,” says Dayton.
He and his band will be playing in the Galveston and Houston area this weekend with performances at the Old Quarter Acoustic Cafe and The Mucky Duck. When asked if he will tone down the rock for these smaller venues Dayton says firmly, “Not one iota. I will tell you that the reason why my favorite venue in Houston is the Mucky Duck, it is because that’s where all the real songwriters go.”
Dayton knows a thing or two about songwriting and is a real musician's musician, admitting he always enjoys learning about music history. He has been burning up with his latest release Mix Tape Volume One featuring ten cover songs all given the Dayton treatment.
Song selections range from AC/DC to Elton John and fans might be surprised to hear Dayton take on some of the tracks. “The whole point of the record is to break down genres,” says Dayton.
This is Dayton’s twelfth solo release, and this is by far his biggest departure from the expected. “I think everyone thought I was going to make this half outlaw country, half rockabilly record and I think that would have been the most boring unimaginative thing I could have done.”
Mix Tape Volume One has sent Dayton and his band on a nine and a half week tour of 44 cities which Dayton considers “the best tour we’ve ever done.” The album even garnered him a shout out from Sir Elton John himself who shared Dayton’s version of “Country Comfort” on his podcast and suggested his fans go out and listen to the album.
“I’m shocked that it's done so well; it entered the Billboard Country charts at 28. We’re shocked; we can’t believe it. It’s just really been a good vehicle to open ourselves to a larger audience so they can see what I’m capable of,” says Dayton.
Making mix tapes was an art form back in the day, timing the recording from the radio just right or making the perfect segue from one track to another. Dayton made his fair share of them back home in Beaumont, “Oh yeah, to impress girls. They were always for girls and if the girl had good taste in music than it was on, you know what I mean?”
Dayton says that when he presented the idea to his band they were immediately on board and everyone had so much fun they decided to call it Volume One because the chances of a second volume being made are so high.
“My guys are always dying to play something different. The guys that I have playing with me are truly super versatile musicians. If I play “Country Comfort” than the bass player is going to play like Ronnie Lane from The Faces; we are all music nerds.”
Dayton is currently working on new songs and a novel based on his career in the music industry. “It’s all kind of behind the scenes stories about how I met people or how I worked with them or what happened. I’m kind of the only loser in the whole book, it’s not a bunch of dirt on anybody but it is a lot of dirt on me.”
He’s bound to have a plethora of stories dating back to being a teenager pestering legendary Houston music man and “Crazy Cajun”, Huey P. Meaux. “Well I mean, he was a total freak show; he was also a genius.”
Meaux eventually agreed to work with Dayton and set him up in the studio to record with Rockin’ Dopsie on his zydeco hit “Don’t Mess with My Toot Toot”. “I was the only white guy in the band and he paid me 50 bucks at the end. I was like, this is definitely what I’m going to do.”
Dayton has worked with big country names like Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson. He managed to pin down Texas Tornado Doug Sahm, getting him to play on his debut album by securing them front row tickets to an opening day Astros game.
He has also moved seamlessly into the rock scene, playing as a backing member in X for John Doe and writing and performing music for Rob Zombie’s horror films. Dayton describes how Zombie pitched him the offer to contribute to his film by saying, "Hey we're making the ultimate white trash horror movie and we think your music would be perfect."
Dayton began touring in his youth and when he landed in Austin, which he still calls home, was floored by the unique scene. “This scene did not exist anywhere but Austin. It was a lot of this cow punk people in pointy toed cowboy boots with Sex Pistols shirts on listening to Buck Owens. Everyone else in the country was either doing rockabilly or swing music, but nobody was Texas two stepping.”
Since he began his career as a young man, kids could easily look to him for guidance in their quests to the stage. “I don't have any great advice for kids except that if you were meant to do that, you’ll do it, regardless of what happens. It’s a calling of the highest order I think, above teachers or preachers. Musicians are weirdos, the ones that end up making a living doing it are pretty single minded in their focus.”
Jesse Dayton will perform Friday November 8 with Mike Stinson at The Old Quarter Acoustic Cafe, 413 20th in Galveston, doors open at 8 p.m. $25-30 and Saturday November 9 at The Mucky Duck, 2425 Norfolk, early show at 7 p.m. and late show at 9:30 p.m. $30.