Texas Music

Reverend Horton Heat vs. Dale Watson: The Texas Tall Tale Showdown

For Texas music fans, it’s hard to imagine two artists who represent what makes Texas music special in the first place more than the Reverend Horton Heat and Dale Watson. Beyond their perfectly styled pompadours and musical chops for days, both men share an abiding love for their home state that transcends everything else save perhaps their guitars and Lone Star beer. That’s not all they have in common, either: Both men have been making records since the early ’90s, many of them quite good. While their peers can be wildly hit-and-miss from one release to the next, the Reverend (a.k.a. Jim Heath) and Watson pretty much hit their marks every time.

In an idea whose time has come, but could have come a lot sooner, this summer the two men have decided to join forces for a joint tour dubbed “The Real Deal: An Intimate Evening of Tall Tales and Short Songs.” Houston fans get a special treat, because two of the tour’s nine dates are in our area: Tomball’s Main Street Crossing this Friday and, for all you Inner Loopers, the Mucky Duck on Saturday. With that in mind, the Houston Press recently scrutinized each man’s catalog for ammunition in this looming showdown – a true “Duel at the Two O’Clock Bell," to quote one Horton Heat instrumental – according to a number of themes common to each man's catalog. Hold onto your longnecks!

For two men who spend as much time on tour as Watson and Heath, it's not too surprising their albums can be counted on to burn some gasoline every now and again. The Reverend’s memorable rides in “The Devil’s Chasin’ Me” and “Five-o Ford” (a.k.a. “Fucked-Up Ford”) were a prelude to 2002 album Lucky 7, which packed “Reverend Horton Heat’s Big Blue Car,” “Galaxie 500” and “Suicide Doors” all under its hood. (Note: “Love Whip,” from much earlier, is not about a car.) Watson, on the other hand, has recorded and released three volumes in his The Truckin’ Sessions series, which is loaded with 10-4 tunes like “Good Luck N’ Good Truckin’ Tonight” and “Truck Stop In La Grange." Advantage: Even

Where to begin here? Best not light a match near either Watson or Heath’s repertoire, but their frequent elbow-bending is equally awash in consequences. Watson could fill a whole recycling bin with the empties left in the wake of “Hey Brown Bottle,” “Wine Don’t Lie,” “I Lie When I Drink” and “Thanks to Tequila,” plus, well, “Drink Drink Drink.” Heath, for his part, once notched an unusual (but useful) public-service announcement in “Please Don’t Take the Baby to the Liquor Store.” Neither is either one hurtin’ for songs about the morning after, either, Watson on “Hair of the Dog” and Heath with “Sue Jack Daniels,” “You Gotta Hand It to Me” and “Callin’ In Twisted.” On 2004’s Revival, Heath took that a step further and darkened his tone considerably on the angry anti-heroin tune “Indigo Friends,” a far cry from the celebratory “Marijuana” on 1990’s Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em, or the manic “Bales of Cocaine” on ‘93’s Full-Custom Gospel Sounds. Advantage: Heath

Country cheating songs don’t come any more classic than Watson’s “Caught.” But both he and Heath have exceptional range when it comes to relaying a vast range of human romantic entanglements. Watson’s latest album, last year’s Call Me Insane, stands as Exhibit A, veering from the giddy “Hot Dang” to “Burden of the Cross,” Watson’s wrenching account of the roadside memorial he erected after his lady love was killed in a motorcycle accident. The Reverend, as a rule, is not nearly as mellow as Watson can be on “I Owe It All to You,” although every so often Heath releases a lovely olive branch like “The Bedroom Again.” But just like Watson, the man can turn a phrase, whether he’s pissed off (“Go With Your Friends”), tongue in cheek (“Just Let Me Hold My Paycheck”) or just unbelievably horny (“Wiggle Stick,” “Let Me Teach You How to Eat” and quite a few others). Advantage: Even

Decades before founding the “Ameripolitan” movement, Watson was an outspoken critic of commercial country music, memorably singing “I’m too country now for country/ just like Johnny Cash” on 1995’s “Nashville Rash.” More recently, he’s stuck up for the Don Williamses and Merle Haggards of the world on 2010’s tender “Hello, I’m an Old Country Song” and, on Call Me Insane, saluted a fallen country hero in “Jonesin’ For Jones.” For his part, Heath has affirmed his faith in rock and roll in “If It Ain’t Got Rhythm” and “Never Gonna Stop It,” but also taken a remarkably unsentimental look at the drudgery of touring life on “Scenery Going By.” But even asserting his rockabilly pride in the highly humorous “Death Metal Guys” isn’t enough to tip this category Heath’s way in the face of Watson’s brilliant “I Hate These Songs.” Advantage: Watson

It seems only fair that our last category be songs about Texas itself. Neither Watson nor Heath has written a lot, but several of the ones they have rank among the more memorable Texas songs in recent memory. Those include Watson’s ode to the spiny critters that all too often end up as roadkill (“Texas Armadillo”) and the Reverend’s oh-so-helpful warning to Hollywood types disguised as a Tex-Mex polka, “Ain’t No Saguaro in Texas,” but those are still in the also-ran column. If the legislature ever gets around to giving Texas a new state song, either Watson’s “Way Down Texas Way” and “That’s What I Like About Texas” or Heath’s “There’s a Little Bit of Everything in Texas” would represent the Lone Star State, the best state, with wit, charm and swing, the way God intended. Advantage: Watson (barely)

WINNER: The fans…obviously

Dale Watson and the Reverend Horton Heat perform 8 p.m. Friday, July 15 at Main Street Crossing, 111 West Main in Tomball, and 7 and 9:30 p.m. Saturday, July 16 at McGonigel's Mucky Duck, 2425 Norfolk in Houston.
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Chris Gray has been Music Editor for the Houston Press since 2008. He is the proud father of a Beatles-loving toddler named Oliver.
Contact: Chris Gray