Jesse Dayton On The Hard Way Blues

Jesse Dayton will perform as part of The Continental Clubs 24th anniversary weekend on Friday, July 12.
Jesse Dayton will perform as part of The Continental Clubs 24th anniversary weekend on Friday, July 12. Photo by Daniel Sanda
Jesse Dayton’s Houston roots are strong, so firm indeed that the busy rock and roller started his recent The Hard Way Blues tour last month with a spectacular in-store performance at Cactus Music where he treated fans to the stories behind his new songs, hand shakes, hugs and autographs all with a big Texas sized smile.

“It was something I wanted to do because I grew up going to Cactus and I love it. I think there's only two people that live in Austin that like Houston more and that’s me and Lyle Lovett,” says the Beaumont native.

Dayton will return to Houston with his current three-piece band of Houston based players with Mark Riddell on bass and Eric Tucker from Dayton's early band The Road Kings on drums to perform at The Continental Club on Friday, July 12.

Houston's own Luba Dvorak will open the show which will serve as part of the club's 24th anniversary week of events to celebrate the clubs long history and another year of bringing great shows to our city.

“Not every big major city has a cool club like that,” he says of the historic venue. “I just hope people don’t take it for granted.”

Dayton comes across as a man who has not taken any of his many career highlights for granted. From his younger days as part of Waylon Jennings band to his most recent successful album and major tours with Samantha Fish for their album Death Wish Blues, Dayton embraces it all.

The guitar slinger has had an eclectic range of successes and opportunities as he tows the line between country, punk rock, rockabilly and blues. Even before his 1995 debut album Raisin’ Cain, Dayton had already had an exciting career as a young guitarist playing with some real musical heavy hitters.

“It’s a weird thing when you get thrown into these historical situations and you're young and you're just trying to keep your mouth shut, give good ideas when you're asked and play while having no one notice you because you're just nailing and playing everything right and that was kind of my thing.”

In his 2021 memoir Beaumonster, Dayton tells the many stories that have led him to where he is now with truth, humor and grit giving the reader a passenger seat on his fascinating journey.

“I did it,” he says of trying his best to be a great side man to legends until he went on to do his own thing. “I’ve been lucky to have that kind of career because if all you can do is be a singer or songwriter then man you're a one trick pony.”

Being free from the confines of a label or trying to define himself by one genre, Dayton allowed himself to be open to opportunities with a wide range of artists exposing himself to new audiences with each opportunity.

“It kept me out there in front of people,” he says. “That’s why I'm putting so much effort into making guitar music now because I realize now that this is something that I do that a lot of people can't do and I really need to concentrate on that and be grateful for it.”

The Hard Way Blues sees him really fleshing out the stories in his songs, much like mini novels or chapters pulled from his book, while bringing his wicked guitar skills front and center in the sound.

“It’s a weird thing to be this kind of carnie slash musician,” says Dayton of telling his tales from his youth in Beaumont to being taken under the wing of Clifford Antone to working with Danzig and Rob Zombie.

“I realized if i didn't tell some of the stuff that I did, no one was going to do it and frankly I've never met a successful front guy who didn't just go out there and tell people what they did so that's kind of the approach that I took on the songs.”

For The Hard Way Blues, Dayton tapped old friend Shooter Jennings, who back in the day was closer to Dayton’s age than any Jennings band member. They laid down the tracks in five short days taking a live and raw approach to recording, a project they had done before Dayton got busy traveling the world in support of Death Wish Blues.

“We didn't try to clean it up or make it too slick, I told Shooter that I didn't want that and I put aside some of my country roots for more of my rock and blues roots because I just kept painting myself into a corner over and over with the traditions of country.”

Dayton found not only a friend but a great partner with Jennings who nailed the laid back, vintage vibe of the album allowing Dayton’s true voice in storytelling and guitar style to take the center stage.

Songs like “Night Brain” and “Navasota” play like road maps through Dayton’s Texas blues influences, a by-product he says of entering what he calls a “Heavy East Texas blue rabbit hole” during the pandemic shut down that inspired him to go there with his playing taking a fresh approach to classic blues.
Dayton hit his rock and roll influences hard with "Baby's Long Gone" featuring burning harmonica solos from Matt Hubbard and the amazing, soulful harmonies of Courtney Santana giving the track a real old school, Rolling Stones, rock and roll vibe.

“Me and country music, we are legally separated. We are seeing other people,” jokes Dayton of his musical departure for his latest album adding “I love it, trust me I do.”

“Me and country music, we are legally separated. We are seeing other people."

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Taking a step in a new direction for an artist is always a bold move and may not please everyone, but Dayton is not concerned with that and really comes across as being truly himself on The Hard Way Blues.

“You’re being vulnerable and it might not be for everybody,” he says of the shift in sound. “I’m kind of glad this record came out after Death Wish because Deathwhish did so good that now I’m like, this is for me.”

It may have been for him but ultimately, the gift of the album is for his fans and another testament to his Doug Sahm-like ability to melt so many various Texas music sounds and influences.

“I think once you start making it easy for everyone to interpret you, that's when you just become a product instead of an artist and there's no fun in that, there's no danger. I don't want to sit down and make a perfect record that's perfectly boring for me to play every night.”

Jesse Dayton will perform with Luba Dvorak on Friday, July 12 at The Continental Club, 3700 Main, 9 p.m, $23-38.
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Gladys Fuentes is a first generation Houstonian whose obsession with music began with being glued to KLDE oldies on the radio as a young girl. She is a freelance music writer for the Houston Press, contributing articles since early 2017.
Contact: Gladys Fuentes