If you're thinking of calling Dale Watson a country singer, think again. On the cover of the singer-songwriter's recently released 3-CD box set entitled The Truckin’ Sessions Trilogy is a sticker that says “File Under Ameripolitan.” So, what exactly does that mean?
“I don’t even call it country music that I do anymore. Most people think of traditional country music as Brad Paisley and Alan Jackson, which is fine -- there’s nothing wrong with it. I’ve been a champion of this genre called 'Ameripolitan’ -- which are people that are roots-influenced, but not Americana, which is traditional music with folk and rock influence," Watson tells Billboard. "Ameripolitan’s roots start with Jimmie Rodgers, and go on to Hank Williams. Fans today of what they call traditional country don’t even know who Jimmie Rodgers or Hank Williams are. That’s why we don’t fit that mold.”
The Truckin’ Sessions set -- a collection of three discs Watson has recorded over the years under the Truckin’ Sessions moniker -- was inspired by the men and women driving big rigs across the nation. “When I did the first one, I brought it to (former record label) Hightone and they said, ‘Trucking albums are history.’ It ended up being the longest-lived record I’ve had. It still sells," says Watson. "The audience I didn’t expect to have with it is women. They’ve bought it and like it. It surprises the heck out of me, but they will listen to it while they are driving.”
The Texas-raised Watson -- whose father was a trucker -- says he got the idea for the series during a truck-stop tour. “I was playing trucker appreciation days at all these truck stops to help with raising money to help find missing children," he says. "I got to follow a truck around for the whole tour, and do some shows on the side.” That tour brought back nostalgic memories of Watson's journeys with his dad when he was a kid. “We traveled the same roads and tried to eat at the same restaurants," he recalls. "If we slept at a motel, we tried to stay at the same ones.”
Of the newer cuts in the Truckin' Sessions collection, Watson is excited about “Freewheelin,” where his fans got to help out with the creative process. “We were at SiriusXM doing the Road Dog show. They came up with the idea where people would call in and made suggestions on lines. So, we tried it," he says. “Truck drivers are very creative. You’ve got a lot of closet singer-songwriters out there.”
The new set also contains a rarity -- a male/female trucking duet, “We’re Truckin’ Along,” with Texas favorite Amber Digby, of whom Watson is a fan. “She is so fantastic," he says. "There’s two things I have on the CD that I don’t remember hearing: a trucker waltz and a trucker duet. That’s why we did ‘I’m A Truckin’' as a waltz, and the duet with Amber."
Though songs like “Six Days On The Road," made famous by singer Dave Dudley in the early '60s, and Del Reeves' “Girl On The Billboard” are no longer radio fare these days, Watson says there is still a group of listeners who identify with the songs -- though there are some differences. “You’ll probably see a lot more on the road today, as you have so many women truck drivers, as well as husband and wife teams," he explains. "I think there are more truck drivers now than ever.”
And what they're listening to has changed as well. “It used to be that they wanted to hear just country music, but nowadays it could be acid rock, hip-hop, a little bit of everything. But, even if they like another genre, I think that these songs have an appeal to them too," says Watson. "It’s pretty much about them and their life, which no other genre really caters to.”