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Dale Watson chooses between God and whiskey

By Ken Burke, May 2006

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Watson's girlfriend, Terri Lynn Herbert, an attorney in the Texas State Attorney General's office, died in an automobile accident on Sept. 15, 2000. "Me and Terri had only been in a relationship four months," he states before observing, "It's amazing how little time it takes to build something."

The aftershocks of Herbert's death sent the singer into a spiritual tailspin. "I went and searched out psychics and did the Tarot cards, and then I turned to the Ouija Board, and the Ouija Board took me to a whole different thing, and it turned into automatic writing, and then I started hearing the voice of my girlfriend," he recalls. "It had turned my girlfriend into a spirit guide. I got into all this New Age thinking, which nobody would think that somebody like me would of. But I did. And I found a lot of comfort in it."

"That's the part that was beautiful. Then it turned into a more religious thing, talking to Jesus. When you're sitting there thinking you're walking and talking with Jesus Christ, that's a pretty beautiful place to be. That's where I thought I was. I didn't want to leave that. But then, this thing - the voice - turned into something else. It said, 'You turned to me in the Ouija board, and you didn't hear your girlfriend, your spirit guide, or Jesus - you heard me, Satan. Then it turned bad. In that regard, I'm glad I'm out of that. But for a while there, it was euphoria."

After a suicide attempt and a brief stint in a mental facility, Watson delivered on a promise he had made to God.

"I had made a deal," he says. "If I could snap out of this stuff, I'd make a gospel album and write a book about what I went through."

One of those promises will be fulfilled by the upcoming book "A Deal with the Devil to Get Her Back," out sometime next year. "This came out of me really fast, and some of it was still under the influence of whatever my mental state was at that time," he says of the book. "I had just got out of the nut house. It's taken a little over a year to take this manuscript and pick it apart. I'm able to step back and have the clarity without the cloudiness of the grief. I'm able to look at stuff a little more objectively."

Interest in his manuscript also led to a leading role in producer/director Zalman King's upcoming film "Austin Angel."

King "was looking for a lead actor for this country musical called 'Austin Angel,'" explains Watson. "It's the story about a guy who sells his soul to the devil to save his daughter. It's a musical in every aspect. When they were looking for somebody, (Asleep at the Wheel's) Ray Benson suggested me because they wanted Ray to produce the music. This was about three years ago. A year went by, and they went out on the road with me - Zalman and his partner Rod Harris who wrote the play - and I started to tell them what I just came out of. I had written a manuscript on that, and he said, 'Well, I'd like to see it.'" Struck by the similarities between Watson's personal story and their movie script, they enlisted him for the movie's lead role.

Progress on the film has been delayed by "scheduling, red tape here and there, lawyers stuff like that." More footage will be shot later this year, and David Carradine has signed on to play the devil.

"In the meantime," reports Watson. "Zalman King had a lot of extra footage, and he approached me about doing a docudrama on what I went through in 2002. He was going to use a lot of the b-footage and then shoot some more stuff. So, I agree to it, and the documentary 'Crazy Again' was made pretty quickly."

Asked if it felt odd to see his personal turmoil spill out on screen Watson replies, "Yeah, it's pretty uncomfortable. It's like being naked. But I'm really glad it was made because afterwards I've had people come up with tears in their eyes because they've been through something similar. I think that's the lesson in life. Nothing we go through do we go through alone."

"Crazy Again" has already premiered at the Austin Film Festival and will be booked in art-film venues nationally. This June, the 42-year-old honky-tonker will tour the Midwest before returning to work on "Austin Angel."

Yet one question remains. Did Watson ever resolve the crisis of faith addressed by his new album's title track "Whiskey or God?"

"Absolutely," he crows triumphantly. "That's one of the things I prayed about too. 'Hey, if this is what I'm meant to do, then step in, and help me do it.' And, He did. I was on my way out of this business, and the man upstairs changed things. So, I'm not trying to go against the grain anymore. I've gotten so much response from people about what I do, I just feel like I'm not going to be fighting God's will anymore. I'll just do what I do, and let it all sort out."

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