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Introducing Dale and Ray
Dale and Ray
Dale & Ray
“Making music our own way. That’s right, that’s how we roll. We’re Dale and Ray!” — “The Ballad of Dale and Ray”
Dale and Ray are, in their own words, the hottest young, or maybe the youngest hot, duo in country music. Never mind that gray hair; they swear that they’re youthful twins out of Bedsore, a suburb of Snook, Texas. Sure, one of them towers over the other, but Dale explains, “That’s because Mama loved him more.”
As the original bro country act, these guys will likely overwhelm country music when they unleash their debut album, Dale & Ray, on Jan. 6. So it’s probably a good idea to learn a little more about who they are before everybody else does.
It started, I don’t know, maybe 20 years ago. Ray Benson, in his guise as founder and leader of Asleep at the Wheel, and road-toughened country balladeer Dale Watson had already been crossing paths for some time. They’d find each other the same bill at some roadhouse or honky-tonk or even travel together, mostly in Texas but sometimes out in a city far from home.
When that happened, they’d share the stage for a while. When time allowed, they might meet afterwards at some truck stop, catch up on how things are going, trade a few stories, tell a few jokes …
And just before going back to their buses to head off to wherever each one’s next show was, they’d always say the same thing to each other.
“‘We’re gonna do that record together,’” says Ray. “After a while it became a running joke.”
What took them so long to finally cut Dale and Ray, their official debut as “just two young country singers”? Well, the main thing has been that each one has been tied up with his own responsibilities as an artist and worldwide ambassador for Texas music.
When not in the studio or on the road, Ray has hosted the Austin Outer Limits show on SiriusXM’s Willie’s Roadhouse channel as well as his nationally syndicated Texas Music Scene TV show. Plus he’s accepted all kinds of awards, including nine Grammys, Texan of the Year honors and induction into the Austin City Limits Hall of Fame.
As for the stubbornly independent and resplendently tattooed Dale, when not leading his Lone Stars band, he’s written tons of songs — “I Lie When I Drink,” “Carryin’ On This Way,” “Hey Driver” and other classics in the catalog of truck-driving, honky-tonk country music, where grit trumpets glitz and real life isn’t a posture for the spotlight. He also channeled his passion for authenticity in music and life into creating the Ameripolitan genre, whose official charter is to “leave the hopelessly compromised word ‘country’ behind (and) to reestablish this music’s unique identity, elevate its significance and pass a great musical tradition on to future generations.”
So he’s been pretty busy too.
“They have worked together before,” notes Sam Seifert, who co-produced and played on Dale and Ray. “Ray produced Dale’s Dreamland album back in 2004.Obviously, they could have done it a long time ago if they’d just picked their favorite songs by others and done a covers record.”
“But the deal was for both of them to actually write together and come up with some tunes they can both be proud of.”
That’s just what they’ve done — but that’s not all that makes Dale and Ray an anomaly on today’s country playlist. For instance, they did the basic tracks in just two days at Ray’s studio in Austin. No click tracks, no guitar solos flown in from some hotshot in L.A. Writing and recording more or less melted into each other: They’d sit on Ray’s couch, batting ideas back and forth until they had something they felt good about cutting.
As Texas music icons, each informed by decades of performing not to mention just dealing with life in general, they came up a variety of material. “The Ballad of Dale and Ray” is an ambling, tongue-in-cheek account of their friendship. (Dale sings the opening line: “I like to drink Lone Star.” Ray answers: “I like to smoke pot.” Then they croon: “It makes us happy. We do it a lot.”) They mourn the loss of a close friend, colleague and mentor on “Feelin’ Haggard,” add onto a classic country ballad that is a tribute to the late Buck Owens “Cryin’ to Cryin’ Time Again,” toss in a little Western swing (“Nobody’s Ever Down in Texas”) and a dose of Red Simpson-flavored trucker feel (“Bus’ Breakdown”), which is based on a “you’ll laugh about this someday” moment they once shared.
“See, Dale bought our old bus,” Ray relates. “And now it’s always breaking down! So when Dale says in the middle of the song, ‘When you sold me that bus, you told me you fixed everything,’ that’s true! We gave him a binder of all the work we’d done on it for the six or seven years we had owned it. But it doesn’t matter how many times you fix a bus — it’s gonna break down!”
The broader point here is that every song they wrote for Dale and Ray is real. Each one comes from actual experience, whether it’s about setting aside everyday frustrations on “Forget About Tomorrow,” facilitating that process with a few too many rounds on “A Hangover Ago” or that familiar issue of love lost on the incongruously swinging “Sittin’ and Thinking’ About You.”
They do cover one Willie Nelson tune on Dale and Ray but, like many of his songs, it speaks from their hearts, in this case about authentic country artists who some record label executive doesn’t think fit today’s mold. “Even though it’s a funny song,” Dale says, “it’s serious. It resonates with us, given what we’ve seen and gone through in the music business. See, what they’re doing in Nashville is of no concern to us because we know the music we do has a home. We know we’ve got an audience.”
Why is 2017 the right time to finally bring this message home? “Well,” Ray suggests, “Dale needs the money. But actually, now is the time to reinforce the fact that country music has a great history. That’s what it’s built on. It’s not just about what you do; it’s what you build it on.”
So maybe Dale and Ray is too country for modern country. After all, it’s spontaneous, it’s relaxed and it’s about real life. When you hear them banter in the middle or at the end of one of these cuts, none of it was prearranged; that’s all ad libbed in the moment. “These two guys believe in their music and in themselves,” according to Seifert. “These songs were easy for them to write because they’re real. Everybody played what they wanted to play. It comes out as being very traditional, but that’s a testament to who they are and the music they like to play.”
Luckily, having wrapped that album they’ve been talking about for so long, Dale and Ray will take their show on the road in 2017. The early gigs will be in Texas but later they’ll point their buses, which will hopefully be running well, toward further territories. Wherever they wind up, though, they’ll be bringing a lot of Texas with them, which is probably just what country music needs right now.
“In all honesty, this record went way beyond my expectations,” Seifert sums up. “And the live shows are going to be just as good if not better, with them playing whatever they want, talking off the cuff and having fun. They’ve cut their teeth and played and toured as Texas artists. Their lineage is Bob Wills, George Jones, Willie Nelson, and Waylon Jennings. They don’t take that lightly. The musical bar doesn’t get set any higher than that.”
Or, put more simply, they’re Dale and Ray.