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Jesse Dayton becomes a country soul brother

By Andy Turner, December 2004

Raw. Real. Emotional.

Fans of country and soul music will likely find similar words to describe the songs that they connect with in some manner.

For Jesse Dayton, whose new "Country Soul Brother" passionately combines the two genres, country and soul are a natural fit.

"To me, Ray Price is a soul singer," he says via cellphone from Bastrop, Texas. "Hank Williams was influenced by a black guy. George Jones learned to sing by a black blues guy from Beaumont. Conway Twitty loved Sam and Dave. A lot of that stuff is the same thing...You can go into any honky tonk in Beaumont, Texas, and you'll find Percy Sledge right next to George Jones on the jukebox."

But Dayton thinks that most other musicians of his generation in Texas and elsewhere don't really appreciate that link between the genres anymore.

"With the climate in Texas music now, where's it's all pretty much the same and all 'the boy next door' and that kind of thing, I think not only the state, but the whole world needs a shot in the arm of something that's a little edgier and more soulful and more black influenced," Dayton says.

Dayton, a Beaumont native, said his Gulf Coast upbringing exposed him to a number of musical styles. He says he wanted to explore those influences on "Country Soul Brother" as a way of shaking up his sound from predominately honky tonk.

"The Gulf Coast is a totally different thing from, not only the rest of the state, but the rest of the country. I grew up around Cajun music, soul music, a lot of black music. A lot of the '70s country stuff that I listened to was country soul stuff. It just made sense for me. If I was going to use a bigger band, then maybe I can get some of these influences out: That swamp pop stuff out of Louisiana that I grew up hearing, all the '70s country stuff I heard that had horns and chick singers and all the whole thing. It's just a new challenge and a new way to stay fresh and reinvent myself and not keep making the same record."Dayton believes "Country Soul Brother," his fourth album, is his best effort and one that shows how far he - and his rich baritone - have come since his acclaimed 1995 debut on Justice Records, "Raisin' Cain."

"The first record I didn't really know who I was yet. This record, I'm just real comfortable with creating a style, creating my own mood in the song. That's what it's all about for me vocally; I just want to create my own hybrid," Dayton says. "Luckily, I have had time to grow my own thing. I haven't had some label or producer saying I have to sound a certain way. I really I think my voice is becoming more and more distinct. You can hear me sing a few words, and you know immediately if it's me."

The album, released on his own Stag Records, was recorded over the course of a year, in between touring, at a friend's house in Austin and at Eighth Note Studios in Houston.

Dayton says he and engineer Steve Chadie were able to take their time and "live" with the songs before recording them. A variety of players helped out, including the Supersuckers' Eddie Spaghetti, Austin musician D.B. Harris and Robert Kerns of Bottle Rockets.

"We might wake up one day and go, let's call in the Antone's horn section and get them on this, or let's get Redd Volkaert over here and play guitar on something, so it won't sound like me on every track - give it a breather," Dayton explains. "It was really amazing. We didn't have a time clock in the studio, recording that record. We just kind of chilled out."

Dayton believes he best achieved the country-soul sound he was going for on "Ain't Grace Amazing" and "Just to Get You Off My Mind."

"Those songs they've got that Tony Joe White groove to them, they kind of got that Southern funky feel to it," he says. "I just love the way they turned out. I definitely could see myself doing more of that."

The song on "Country Soul Brother" getting the most notice is a cover of The Cars' "Just What I Needed," on which the pace of the song is slowed way down and the keyboard parts are replaced by pedal steel guitar. According to Dayton, "Just What I Needed" is being played by radio stations across Texas. He says got the idea to do the song while on tour with The Supersuckers.

"This friend of my mine called me and start singing it to me in my voice mail," Dayton says. "He said, 'Man, this sounds like the words to a Ray Price song.'"Dayton starts singing: "It's not the perfume that you wear/it's not the ribbons in your hair."

"He pretty much dared me to play it, so I went out and worked up a version at sound check that night," Dayton says. "We knew it was going to be a big deal because by the first chorus, the whole crowd knew every word to the song.

"Some people are getting it, and some people aren't. But my point is I don't think people want to hear me rewrite a Merle Haggard song. I don't think they want hear me cover or do an impression of a George Jones song. My point is you can take any well written song and make it your own."

"Country Soul Brother" might be just what Dayton needs to expand his audience beyond cult favorite.

"I can't say that a lot of Toby Keith fans are going to like my record, but you never know," Dayton says. "We don't want to count ourselves out. Eventually we're moving toward that, where we're opening our arms to a more mainstream audience.

"But we want to make it real and honest, and keep it cool. That's really important to me. I've been lucky because I've got a cult following, a worldwide cult following. I've been blessed because I can do my art the way I want to. I haven't really had to answer to labels and Clear Channel and all that kind of stuff. For me, it makes for a happier time.