Many Salt Lakers know Dayton as well as his luminescent antecedents. The Austin-based Americana pusher plays here two to four times a year since the late 1990s when his rockabilly trio the Road Kings started comin’ around. He’s since become a reliably strong draw thanks to his trusty trad/non-trad country music. The Jesse Dayton Appreciation Society, though, isn’t confined to Salt Lake City—it spans the globe because, as Cash said, Dayton’s “different.”
“He was just talkin’ about me in relation to the current Nashville people,” Dayton says, “which was, ‘You’re really different than the rest of these guys.’”
Cash meant that Dayton ain’t your stereotypical—even archetypal—country singer. He was born on the Texas border and took in the Cajun, honky-tonk, rockabilly and R&B music he heard from passing radios, ultimately tapping it all in his own hell-raisin’ “turbo country.” When he plays, he cuts a striking figure—confident, maybe a little sad, drawing power from both and reflecting it onto his audience.
So he gets these phone calls, like from the owner of Austin’s storied club, Broken Spoke. After covering someone else’s show one night, Dayton’s phone rang with an invitation to play the Spoke again—every week. “I actually have the same gig Willie had, he played there on Thursday nights,” Dayton smiles. “It’s just packed, man. Every week.” Soon after, while Dayton was touring with the Road Kings, Jennings called.
“It was a total fluke. He was watchin’ me on this television show in Nashville, and he cut his hand in the kitchen.” Jennings had a must-play gig the next day, so tracked Dayton down at his hotel, catching him as he was checking out. “He said, “Hey Hoss, I saw you on the TV last night. I cut my hand; wanna come pick some guitar for me?” So I was like, “Boy, howdy.” When Dayton arrived, Cash opened the door. Dayton was gobsmacked. “I actually just got four hours footage of nothin’ but me, Waylon and Johnny Cash in the studio,” he raves. “It’s amazing, man. We’re just bullshittin’ and playin’ music and recordin’ and talkin’ about fuckin’ everything from movies to books.”
That led to Dayton playing on Jennings’ 1996 album, Right for the Time, and kick-started his career. The Road Kings released their self-titled debut on Surfdog/Hollywood in 1999, then Dayton went to Austin to start Stag Records and release his “cheap songwriter albums.” Dayton’s proud to say that from Tall Texas Tales (2001) through his new duets album with Brennen Leigh, Holdin’ Our Own, he’s in the black. He’s even richer for another project that sprung from a fortuitous phone call.
“I got real lucky with that Banjo & Sullivan thing,” says Dayton of the ghost-written and –performed album culled from Rob Zombie’s film The Devil’s Rejects. “[Zombie] called me up and said, “We’re makin’ the ultimate white trash country horror movie. We think your music would be perfect.” I was like, “Man—that’s like somebody pissin’ on your leg and shakin’ your hand at the same time. Are you makin’ fun of me, or what?”
He wasn’t. Zombie flew Dayton to Los Angeles and explained the concept—a “fake record” by a fake country duo in his film. Dayton “didn’t know shit” about Zombie and didn’t really get the concept, but Zombie told him not to worry, he’ll sell it to his fans. “That record sold more than all of my records combined by—phew—500,000 copies,” marvels Dayton. “And we made the record for nothin’.”
Dayton recalls when Zombie called him six months later with the good news. “He said, ‘Man this thing’s sellin’ really good.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, Rob, but everybody thinks it’s two dead guys from your movie.’ And he goes, ‘Does your [bank account] know who it is?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ And he said, ‘Well then shut the fuck up and go buy a ranch or whatever you rednecks do.’”
JESSE DAYTON w/ Mike Ness @ The Depot, 400 W. South Temple, Monday May 26, 7 p.m. DepotSLC.com