Jesse Dayton spent Halloween onstage at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, playing Elvis Presley songs behind Glenn Danzig. It’s the kind of oddball convergence of personalities and styles that could only find its way to Dayton, an outspoken Texas singer, songwriter, and guitarist who has collaborated with everyone from Misfits Glenn to “Rhinestone Cowboy” Glen.
“Glenn’s an old-school rock star. He bought everyone in the crowd a Voodoo Doughnut with an upside-down pentagram on it — something Glen Campbell would never,” Dayton says.
In his debut memoir Beaumonster — a play on his native Beaumont, Texas — Dayton, 55, connects the dots in his surreal life. He wowed Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash with his guitar playing, toured with punk greats Social Distortion and X, and cultivated a wildly diverse fan base of country hell-raisers, intellectual anarchists, and rockabilly dreamers along the way. In Beaumonster, he documents his winding two-lane blacktop as a singer, songwriter, studio musician, filmmaker, and solo artist, all in an East Texas drawl that is both confident and charmingly cocky.
“I’m a Texan,” he says. “Even with all the baggage and silly bullshit that’s generated out of my state, I still love it.”
We talked to Dayton about writing a memoir, meeting Merle Haggard, and why Matthew McConaughey should not run for governor of the Lone Star State.
You’ve written everything from songs to screenplays for horror movies. What led you to a book?
I had been approached by Ben Schafer at Hachette, who did the Lonely Boy book for [Sex Pistols’] Steve Jones, and he did the Replacements book. He was talking to a friend of mine who is my literary agent now about my online rants, and he said, “I think this guy’s got a book in him.” They asked me to write three chapters and I wrote one about playing guitar for Waylon; one about making horror movies with Rob Zombie; and another chapter about playing Bill Clinton’s inaugural ball with Lucinda [Williams].
What did you learn about yourself in writing the book?
That it’s a little embarrassing to throw yourself under the bus, but there’s no way to write a real book without doing that. I really made sure that I was being honest about all my downfalls and my pitfalls because I just can’t stand these kind of candy-ass, softball, suck-up books. All the bad stuff is why the good stuff is so good.
Do you write every day?
I write all the time. What seems like a bad fourth-grade homework assignment to some people is what I do: I get up every morning and put my tool belt on and I write — songs or story ideas or just musings. Whether I publish it and press send is another thing. It’s a great habit for creative people to get into. If you don’t like the stories being told, you need to write your own.
Some of the book’s best moments are when you meet your heroes, like Waylon Jennings or Merle Haggard, and how nervous you were.
I think those little things matter. The devil’s in the details. It was weird when I met Merle. Later that night I got to smoke a joint with him and Johnny Paycheck, who had just gotten out of prison.
What’s your view on what’s happening politically in your home state of Texas?
Well, I have a generator now that is Greg Abbott-proof, in case we freeze again, because they never fixed our infrastructure. I’ll never understand how these conservatives in Texas are so anti-regulation — yet they want to regulate women’s bodies. The hypocrisy is unbelievable. It’s like, “If you’re really a libertarian, do you really want your government on your wife’s body?”
Beto O’Rourke is running for governor of Texas, but Matthew McConaughey also made some noise about running. How did you feel about that?
I got to sing a duet with McConaughey one night at this Johnny Cash tribute… But, no, I don’t want McConaughey running. I love Kinky Friedman and I don’t want him being governor of Texas, and he’s my friend. What you want in times of strife and natural disaster is somebody with political relationships. And Beto has those kind of political relationships where he can get some things done. Now if he wins, that’s the $28,000 question.