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For Dale Watson, his latest comes from suffering

By Jon Johnson, September 2001

As much of a clichˇ as it is to say it, from suffering oftentimes comes art.

And Austin country singer Dale Watson might well agree. His new album, "Every Song I Write Is For You," released in late July on the Nashville-based Audium label, is a compelling and deeply personal account of love, loss, grief, and moving on, based on recent events in Watson's own life.

The new album is easily Watson's best since 1997's "I Hate These Songs" and could well be regarded in years to come as his masterpiece. Time will tell. But the album came at a heavy price.

Watson and Terri Lynn Herbert met last year at a mutual friend's birthday party, while he and his wife of nine years were involved in divorce proceedings. Hitting it off, the two soon began dating, fell in love and were planning on marrying.

"Hopefully you'll get a little feeling of how she was by the songs," says Watson, 37, in a telephone interview from his label's Nashville offices. "She was extremely bright. She was an attorney for the attorney general's office in Texas. Very quick-witted and always helpful, smiling, cheerful, and optimistic. Just everything you'd like in a person."

It all ended for Herbert on Sept. 15, 2000. Just outside of Austin she lost control of her car, which then rolled. Not wearing a seatbelt and mortally injured in the crash, Herbert was pronounced dead at the scene.

"She was going to Houston where I was supposed to be going. And I changed my mind because I was tired. I'd played all night, finished eating breakfast, and I didn't want to make the drive. So, I left my phone in the van, and she went ahead on. They're not sure whether she fell asleep (at the wheel) or dropped her phone and was trying to get to (it). We think that's probably more likely since she didn't have her seatbelt on. We surmise that she bent down to pick up her phone, and the car went off the road, and she overcompensated and flipped."

For Watson, the months after Herbert's death were like a bleak, twisted version of the movie "Groundhog Day," in which Bill Murray wakes up every morning to the same day that he had lived through the day before.

"Every day I woke up was like the first day I heard Terri was killed - all day long - for (three-and-a-half) months. I guess the closer I got to the Christmas season, it was unbearable being there 'cause of all the plans me and her had made for the cold weather. It would have been our first winter together. It all came to a head, and I couldn't cope with it."

On Dec. 28, 2000, deeply depressed and unable to deal with Herbert's death any longer, Watson checked into an Austin hotel and ingested a combination of sleeping pills and vodka in hope of killing himself.

Fortunately, he was found in a semi-conscious condition by his road manager, Donnie Knutson, who got Watson to a hospital before any permanent damage could be done to his internal organs.

"Yeah, who knows how he found me. He don't even know. I never told anybody where I was; he just guessed from a remark I'd made earlier in the day about the general area."

Although Watson recovered from the suicide attempt after a short hospital stay, he was still in the same emotional state.

"I was out of my head. I was bouncing off the walls. It was part of the post-traumatic disorder that I had. It put me in that frame of mind. Anybody who's been through a big trauma's been through that kind of thing. What happens is your mind doesn't go into R.E.M. (Rapid Eye Movement) when you sleep. You don't get a deep sleep, and it's surmised that that's when your mind copes with the events of the day. If you don't cope, you're stuck, like a needle in a groove."

Immediately after his hospital stay, Watson was treated at a local counseling center with a technique known as eye movement desensitization and reprogramming - E.M.D.R. for short - which allows victims of trauma to cope with events that would normally be dealt with during the R.E.M. or dream stages of sleep. Watson swears by the technique.

"What really did it was this E.M.D.R. In this therapy, they focus on what your main trauma is. And, of course, mine was guilt. They don't know how it works, but it works just like the R.E.M. does. After that was when everything clicked. It felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders."

Much like his 1998 trucker album, Watson's latest - largely written and recorded before his suicide attempt - started life as a shorter (10 songs vs. its current 14), independently released recording aimed purely at his hardcore fan base.

"I didn't plan on putting it out because I didn't think it would appeal to anybody. I thought it was such a personal album nobody could identify with (it). I just wanted the songs down for my own reasons. I didn't put it in a magazine, and I didn't try to sell it on the internet or anything. But I started getting such a big response, (I decided) it was a really important album to get out."

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