Interviews

Jesse Dayton Memoir Recalls Recording With Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson

Jesse Dayton plays three shows in Denver and reads from his new autobiography, Beaumonster, this week.
Jesse Dayton plays three shows in Denver and reads from his new autobiography, Beaumonster, this week. RayRedding

Guitarist Jesse Dayton played on records by country legends Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings, toured with the punk band X and raucous rock act Supersuckers, wrote songs for Rob Zombie's films and directed Malcom McDowell in his own horror movie, Zombex. But his career really got started during a family trip to Boulder, where he became hooked on guitar.

The musician writes in Beaumonster, his new memoir published by Hachette Books, that he was a teenager at a Boulder Holiday Inn when he met an older Black man named Granville Cleveland. Cleveland taught him the D, G and A chords as well as the “Three Heys” – Hank Williams’s “Hey Good Lookin,’" Neil Young’s “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)” and “Hey Joe,” made famous by Jimi Hendrix.

Dayton, a longtime resident of Austin who grew up in Beaumont, Texas, is currently on tour to promote Beaumonster and its accompanying ten-song soundtrack. The soundtrack, also titled Beaumonster, includes songs written by musicians found in the book, such as X’s “Burning House of Love,” Willie Nelson’s "Pretend I Never Happened," Kinky Friedman’s “Wild Man From Borneo,” Doug Sahm’s “At the Crossroads,” Social Distortion’s “The Story of My Life” and more.

Dayton will read from Beaumonster and play a few songs at the Colfax Tattered Cover on Tuesday, November, 30. He'll play Globe Hall on Friday, December 3, and Saturday, December 4, and the Soiled Dove on Sunday, December 5, with Jim Dalton & Amigos.

Dayton was in Colorado about a month ago riding vintage motorcycles on Mount Evans and Pikes Peak with a group of people. He says he is glad to be back in the state where his guitar obsession began.

“Now when we go back and play Colorado, I just [try to] always give them that extra thing that I can find in me on stage,” Dayton says.

On one of his family’s many trips to Colorado to escape the Texas summer — what he calls the “devil’s armpit” — Dayton remembers going to the Little Bear in Evergreen, where Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson were playing songs to about eighteen people in the bar.

A few decades later, in 1996, Dayton got to meet Kristofferson during a taping of the Nashville television show Crook & Chase. As Dayton describes in Beaumonster, the two later shared a joint on the way to a private late-night tour of the Gibson guitar factory. The next day, Dayton got a call from country icon Waylon Jennings, who saw Dayton on TV the night before and invited him to down to Woodland Studio to record. When Dayton knocked on the studio door, Johnny Cash greeted him.

“My jaw hit the floor,” Dayton writes in the book. “Sorry, but this next sentence deserves the severity and intensity of a good ol’ F-bomb. On the outside, sure, I’m just trying to reel it in and trying to be cool, but inside, I was freaking the fuck out! I have a whole chapter later dedicated to my hyperventilation.”

Dayton says getting a chance to play with legends like Cash and Jennings was very humbling.

“I'm glad for the upbringing that I had, because I just tried to keep my mouth shut and play some really cool simple stuff that wasn't too outrageous,” Dayton says. "I made it all about the vocal. Everything on those records should be just be a way to prop the vocal up.”

On their trip to the Gibson factory, Dayton got a chance to talk to Kristofferson about some of his favorite writers: Kurt Vonnegut, Charles Bukowski and Hunter S. Thompson, he recalls. Colfax Avenue, where Dayton will have his reading, is mentioned often in one of his favorite beatnik novels: On the Road, by Jack Kerouac.

“We haven't been on tour in twenty months,” Dayton says, “and we're on tour right now, and I've been thinking about On the Road incessantly. There's something about doing a book thing on Colfax that somehow relates to Kerouac. It’s a turn-on for my inner book nerd.”
Just before his tour started in early November, Dayton played Elvis Presley songs with Glenn Danzig in Hollywood on Halloween. Dayton was a big fan of Elvis growing up.

“It’s funny when you see a person's aesthetic and their uniforms and what scene loyalty they have, what genre loyalty they have,” Dayton says. “You can look at them and see, ‘Okay, this is what that person thinks a rock star or a country star is supposed to be.' For me, it wasn’t the Beatles; it was Elvis. That’s why I tried to look like him, because I was like, ‘Oh, wait, this guy's got a Southern accent.’ I have more in common with him than I do these English guys.”

Dayton has long straddled country and punk worlds, but he says he still feels like an outsider in both.

“I'm super proud of that,” Dayton says. “I love to think I'm a good hang. I don't have a lot of snark or judgment in me. And I just go and try to have fun and make everything better, you know?”

During the pandemic, he says, he looked back on his career and worried that touring could never happen again. So he spent six months writing about 100,000 words for Beaumonster, and the next three months editing and rewriting it.

“I got to play with all of these people,” Dayton says, “so there was a lot of meat on the bone if I wanted to write a book. I've had a super varied career, with movies with Rob Zombie, and [music with] Johnny Cash and Glen Campbell, and in punk rock.... I was like, ‘Okay, let's just get down and dirty and get into it.’

"I'm the only one I threw under the bus in the book," he continues. "It's all love and admiration, but I'm kind of this goofball who has enough sense to come out of the rain, and that's the way I approach the book. Hopefully people get that my sense of self-deprecating humor is sincere.”

Jesse Dayton Presents Beaumonster: 7 p.m. Tuesday, November 30, Tattered Cover, 2526 East Colfax Avenue; with the Railbenders, Friday, December 3, and Saturday, December 4, 8 p.m., Globe Hall, 4483 Logan Street, $22.50, and with Jim Dalton & Amigos' Holiday Brunch, 11 a.m. Sunday, December 5, Soiled Dove Underground, 7401 East First Avenue, $25.
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Jon Solomon writes about music and nightlife for Westword, where he's been the Clubs Editor since 2006.
Contact: Jon Solomon