On a weekend afternoon in April 2013, Dale Watson found himself spending a rare day at home, listening to old George Jones records. He played everything he owned, then fired up his computer and downloaded some more. The Possum had died earlier that week, and Watson — a Texan who, like Jones, had kicked off his career in the Lone Star State — wanted some way to pay tribute to one of his heroes.
Later that night, he headed to the Continental Club in Austin. Watson and his bandmates had been playing the venue for years, moonlighting as the house band during breaks in their touring schedule. On this particular evening, they were booked for three hours straight. Looking to throw something unexpected into the middle of the group’s marathon set, Watson began making up a new song on the spot, improvising lyrics about the late George Jones. The other musicians, boosted by the sort of semi-telepathy that comes with playing several hundred shows per year together, joined in.
The result was “Jonesin’ for Jones,” a honking, hell-raising ode to the country legend. (Listen to the studio version of the song, which appears on Watson’s upcoming album Call Me Insane, below.)
“It just came out,” says Watson, who often writes his new material on the fly, with a full audience watching. “It’s not a brain surgery type of song. I’m not trying to write ‘American Pie.’ It’s just something that came from the heart, set to a ‘White Lightning’ beat. I love George’s tearjerker stuff, too, and I think that kind of balance — the songs that make you sad, mixed with the songs that make you glad — is the beauty of George.”
There’s definitely heartbreak to be found in “Jonesin’ for Jones,” but Watson’s song keeps the mood relatively light. “I’m jonesin’ for Jones since George Jones is gone,” he sings in the chorus, adding, “Thank God that his music still lives on.”
The two Texans actually crossed paths in 2001, while both were recording separate tracks for the Webb Pierce tribute album Caught in the Webb.
“We had our recording sessions on the same day,” Watson remembers. “George told me he wanted to cover ‘Country My Ass,’ because he felt the same way as I do in that song. He couldn’t actually do it, though, because I cuss in it! Hearing that made my day, though, just to know he knew about the song and liked it.”
Jones would likely be proud of the country songs on Watson’s Call Me Insane, an album that pledges allegiance to a style of Texas country music that’s more concerned with old-school twang and authenticity than mainstream success. Lloyd Maines, another country vet with deep roots in Texas’ red dirt, produced the record.
“I call it ‘Ameripolitan’ music,” Watson says. “It used to be called country music, but nowadays, country music means something totally different. The whole album does have the same vibe of ‘Jonesin’ for Jones,’ though. And I hope it makes people smile when they hear it, the way it made me smile whenever I heard him.”