Often described as “the best kept secret in modern country music,” Jesse Dayton has achieved a level of success that most people can only dream about. Armed with an eclectic musical background and collaborations with artists such as Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, and The Supersuckers, Jesse has truly made a name for himself in the music industry. The Austin, Texas-based guitar slinger has also found further musical success in the film and television industries. Directors and producers have been knocking on Jesse’s door for years, asking him to be a part their projects. Rob Zombie took notice of Dayton’s talent and recruited him for two of his films. Jesse is responsible for creating the music of Banjo & Sullivan in The Devil’s Rejects and most recently took on the role of bringing Captain Clegg to life in Rob Zombie’s Halloween II. Humbled by his success, Jesse believes that his career is the result of proper timing, a little bit of luck, and the support he has received from his cult following of fans. Steve Johnson of Icon vs Icon catches up with Jesse to discuss his long career, the current state of country music, the creation of Captain Clegg & The Night Creatures, his upcoming tour with Rob Zombie, and the fact he may be booked up solid for the rest of his life during the month of October! Are you phantom jammers ready to begin? Yes? Well then, I give you Jesse Dayton!
Where did you grow up?
I was born down in Beaumont, Texas. On the Texas, Louisiana border. A big Cajun music kind of scene down there. It was a great place to grow up. I have been coming to Austin all my life. So I live in Austin, Texas. That’s where I live because there’s such a burgeoning music scene. It’s kind of a liberal hub of the south, if you will.
How did music first come into your life?
Man, all kinds of stuff happened. My parents are big music fans. My whole family went to the University of Texas. They used to take me to these incredible concerts in Austin when I was a kid. It was very much like San Francisco was. We’d go to The Armadillo Palace when I was a little kid and see Willie, Waylon, Miles Davis, and Frank Zappa all on the same bill. I grew up on big doses of honky tonk music, Cajun music, and rhythm and blues. Stuff like that. Then when I got older, of course I got introduced to punk rock. I just had to immediately start rebelling against the family. [laughs]
How did you get your start in the music industry?
Man, I did all kinds of stuff. I got a record deal when I was pretty young. One thing that really helped me tremendously was a fluke. I was in Nashville and I was doing this TV interview that Kris Kristofferson was on. Waylon Jennings and his wife Jessi Colter were watching the show that I was on because they were watching for Kris. They were good friends with Kristofferson. They saw me on there and while they were watching the show, Waylon cut his finger in the kitchen while he was cooking. The next morning as I was leaving my hotel, I got a phone call saying Waylon Jennings saw me on the television show, would I come down and play guitar for him. So I started playing guitar for Waylon Jennings. That led to a whole bunch of stuff. The day that I got to the studio, Johnny Cash opened the door to the studio. He hung out with us all day, so I played with him. I played with Waylon. I got a job playing with Ray Price. I played on some Willie stuff. It just kind of snowballed after that. I was this young kid who played guitar, who was from Texas. I just got introduced to everybody in a real cool way.
Your music has been described as everything from honky tonk and rockabilly, to Americana and speed-country. For people who aren’t familiar with your music, what would you classify yourself as?
Aw man, I hate to classify. It’s really hard for me and always has been for me to put a label on it. It’s so many things from American music and I just kind of make them into hybrids. It’s just got a lot of different stuff. Honky tonk, blues, punk, psychobilly, and all kinds of stuff.
You are often referred to as “the best kept secret in modern country music.” What are your thoughts on that statement?
Well it’s kind of interesting. I never really tried to appeal to the mainstream country radio people. I think because of that, that’s where I kind of got that response. A lot of those people end up liking me after they hear me. To lump me in with whoever is on modern country radio would be a huge mistake. My music is just way more gritty and more hardcore. It kind of freaks me out when people call me country because people immediately think of who’s on country music today. I think modern country music today sucks. It’s Nashville factory. Real safe, middle of the road, pop music that has very, very little to do with country music.
What do you attribute the longevity of your career to?
Man I don’t know. I somehow built a cult following of fans and I really attribute my career to them. I could somehow go on tour and play and people show up. I’ve never had to do anything super mainstream. I think a lot of it is just me going out and playing for all of those years and building up that cult following. It was always something that no record company or radio station could ever take away from me.
Being in the music industry as long as you have, are there still surprises?
Yeah. The music business is about the most cutthroat business I can think of. The thing that surprises me is the lowest depths of misery that these labels will go to prefab some artist and put them out there, and then people buy it. That is what surprises me.
What do you consider the defining moment of your career so far?
Man, I don’t know. I’ve had a lot of good things happen to me. When I made records with all of these legendary outlaw country guys, I think those will probably go down in history. Somebody will probably pick up that Jesse Dayton played guitar on that. That was a big deal. There’s been all kinds of deals. I played at the inaugural ball. I met the president. I don’t know… There’s been so many great things that have happened. Somehow people in the film industry have really taken to me. That has always given me kind of a leg up. I’ve had a lot of songs in a lot of films, TV shows, and stuff like that. One thing that happened with me is that I was one of the first artists seven or eight years ago to go to a major label and ask to be let off the label so I could start my own record label. They all thought I was crazy. Of course the house of cards totally fell and the record business went under. It helped me pin point who my audience was and who I wanted to play for. I think the defining thing of me and my career is probably when I took a hold of my career and started doing what I wanted, instead of doing what labels wanted me to do.
If someone were to go out and pick up just one of your albums, which one would you recommend and why?
‘The Country Soul Brother’ record is probably a pretty good starter kit. It’s got all of the stuff in it that I think appeals to different fans. We have a lot of rock n’ roll fans, in the same way that Waylon sold to a lot of rock n’ roll fans. We have such an edge to our music. ‘The Country Soul Brother’ record has that edge throughout the whole thing. It’s got some real aggressive guitar playing. I appeal to a lot of different people for different reasons. There are some people that come out just to listen to my guitar playing because they are guitar freaks. There are some people that come out who just want to hear that outlaw, crazy country, something different than what they hear on the radio. Then there’s the girls. [laughs]
You recently released a Captain Clegg and the Night Creatures album. How did that come about?
It was such a cool deal. I had done the Banjo & Sullivan record for ‘The Devil’s Rejects’ movie. It came about in a real wild way. Rob called me and said, “Hey, we’re making this crazy white trash horror movie called ‘The Devil’s Rejects’. We think your music would be perfect. Would you be interested in doing this fake CD for Banjo & Sullivan?” I was like, “Yeah! Sure!” So I flew out to L.A. and I wrote a bunch of songs. I took them to Rob. I went into his office, it was the first time I ever met him. He died laughing listening to all of the lyrics. He just thought it was really cool, so we put out that record. The record did pretty good. Then he calls me when I am playing with Social Distortion in a theater in Hollywood. He calls me and he’s like, “Are you in L.A. right now?” I’m like, “Yeah.” He goes, “Me and Sheri are going to come down.” I was like, “OK!” It was kind of a big deal. The show I was playing with Social Distortion was real cool. Everybody was kind of freaking out because Rob and Sheri were coming backstage. Rob and Sheri come backstage and we hang out for a while. He’s like, “Hey man, I’m doing this new movie and I think I want to put you in it.” I was like, “Great!” I was like, “Sign me up man!” He watches the show and when he saw that show, that must have been where he got the idea to do the Phantom Jam scene. It was a really cool show that night. We had tons of people there just freaking out and singing along to our stuff. It was a very edgy, kind of punk rock crowd. Anyway, he called me later and said, “Hey. I want you and your band to be in the movie. I want you to play this new character. The movie is going to be ‘Halloween II’.” I was like, “Holy shit!” I was like, “Right on man!” Immediately we started to email each other song ideas back and forth. Rob was very much the person who came up with all of this. He came up with the idea for the name of the band, which he took from an old English horror movie. We started talking about hybrid music ideas. What would it be like if Buck Owens did an Iggy Pop song? What would it be if we mixed The Misfits with The Cramps? There were all of these different ideas. I just wrote all of these ideas down and I got in the car and drove to New Orleans. I checked into this haunted hotel called the Lamothe House on Esplanade Avenue and I wrote all of these songs in like two days.
What has it been like working with Rob?
Rob is the greatest. He’s a sweetheart. He’s a real nice guy and he’s very much all about ideas and art. Things don’t really turn him on. What turns him on is ideas and art. You talk about somebody who’s got some integrity. When it comes to his vision, he won’t back down for anything. Working with him… He creates a really nice vibe on the set. We did two days that were over fifteen hours long when we filmed the Phantom Jam. We went and filmed other stuff besides that that didn’t make it in the movie, which will probably make it on the DVD. The two days we did the Phantom Jam, we’re out in the middle of Georgia in this super hot barn. He’s got it all decorated like it’s a club that’s in hell. It just looks unbelievable. There was me and like four hundred extras and the crew. I didn’t hear anyone bitch the whole time. That’s just unbelievable. That’s just unbelievable man! I mean we’re in there sweating our asses off dude. It is like one hundred and five degrees in the place. We’re all made up, perfectly coiffed, with these incredible costumes on. The vibe that Rob creates on the set, it’s like no one wants to let him down. He’s just a good dude. No one bitched the whole time. I thought about that afterward and I was like, “Wow! That’s unbelievable!”
Are there any noticeable differences between Rob Zombie the musician and Rob Zombie the director?
You know, I don’t really see any differences. I think for him, it’s probably all just art. Rob’s a multi-level kind of guy. He does art and shit that’s incredible. He whipped out the artwork for the Banjo & Sullivan record himself, like it was nothing. I don’t think he sees a difference between making music, directing, drawing, and producing. The guy is a multi-talented guy and he just tries to go for what’s honest. That usually ends up being very cool. You know what I mean?
Definitely! I enjoy his movies a lot. I definitely liked this new one even though the so-called critics panned the hell out of it.
The thing is, it’s real easy to beat up on a horror movie guy. Let’s face it man, Rob’s movies are really about escapism. Rob doesn’t just make movies, he makes whole worlds. No director goes to the plane of being that elaborate to where you make your own fake TV commercials, fake TV shows, and you invent fans. Directors don’t think like that. The difference between Rob and most directors is that most directors are usually super geeky film guys, where as Rob Zombie is a cool guy that chicks are crazy about! [laughs] When people pan his movie, I think there’s got to be some kind of jealousy in there for that guy. He’s an animal man. He’s non-stop, constantly inventing and doing shit. I think people who pan his movies are just kind of jealous of him.
Did you have any input into the look of Captain Clegg and the rest of the band or did Rob have that laid out for you?
We talked about it. He had the idea. I was like, “Yeah, that’s cool man!” When we first came out with pictures of the band, a lot his crowd said, “You look like The Ghastly Ones.” Rob was like, “No! They look like The Damned!” Rob was like, “That’s where they got that look dude, The Damned. OK!” If anybody took the look from anybody, it was from The Damned. He just wanted something that was totally creepy and kind of like grave digger. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the background bio that he wrote for Captain Clegg and the Night Creatures. Rob Zombie actually sat down and wrote that shit out man. That’s just crazy. We’re four grave diggers from Sherman, Texas who decided to start a band. It’s crazy. I read it and I just busted out laughing. Everybody in his movie has these incredible back stories.
I do enjoy the fact that he takes these characters and gives them these huge back stories that you’ve never had before, especially in this new ‘Halloween.’
It’s cool. It helps actors. It helps people realize who they are. It gives you a sense of what he wants. There’s nothing worse than working with somebody who doesn’t know what they want.
Whose idea was it to come up with a full album of material and release it separate from the film’s soundtrack?
It was Rob’s idea. We didn’t know how we were going to do it. We didn’t know if we were going to get a big label to put it out. Universal put out Banjo & Sullivan. Rob was like, “How are you doing on your own label?” I said, “Man, my label is doing great!” He goes, “Why don’t we resurrect my label Zombie A Go-Go.” I didn’t know the name of it until after I wrote the song by the way. It was totally a fluke. So we made a deal. Rob let me put it out on my own label imprint with his label, which shows you how cool he is. He didn’t have to do that. He really gave me a piece of the album. If the record goes good, I’ll do really well. The record has been doing really well.
I actually downloaded it last week off of iTunes.
They’re playing it a lot on satellite radio. The buzz is spreading. Every day I jump on my Facebook or MySpace and somebody talks about how they just heard it on the radio.
Were there any challenges to making the music/album?
Yeah, there were. Like I said, it’s only difficult doing stuff like that when you don’t really know what your director wants. Rob gave me all these ideas. He would text message me. We made the video for Zombie A Go Go. Rob would text message me back, “Just saw some of the footage from the video. Needs more blood and gore! Ha Ha Ha!” Then he’d text message me later and he’d go, “What do you think about a bouncing skull, like a bouncing ball following the bouncing skull for the chorus?” Just hilarious stuff. I just made it happen man. I called some friends of mine here that are in the Austin film scene and said, “Hey! Rob Zombie wants a bouncing skull. Can you animate that for me?” It was just all fun man. The thing that you can see with Rob and his fans too, is that little inner kid inside of you gets to come out and really get mischievous and really have a good time. We’re hoping the record does that. The big news that we got and I can’t release any dates, is that Captain Clegg is going on tour with Rob Zombie. It’s going to be amazing bro. We are going to go out as Captain Clegg and the Night Creatures and play these big huge places every night and open up for him. It’s going to be amazing.
Speaking of your tour, are you going to have the go-go dancers up there with you?
I am! I’m bringing the go-go dancers with me. I’m bringing a pedal steel guitar player and The Night Creatures, the three guys backing me up. We’re doing all kinds of crazy shit. Since we only have one record of material, in the middle of certain songs we put in other people’s songs. In the middle of ‘Creeps For Cushing’ we bust into ‘War Pigs’ by Black Sabbath. Then on another song, in the middle of ‘Zombie A Go Go’ we break into ‘Hybrid Moments’ by The Misfits. It’s just a fun set. It’s like a whirlwind set. I’m excited.
You mentioned the ‘Zombie A Go Go’ video. Can we expect anymore videos from Captain Clegg?
I don’t know if you knew this, but before we did the Phantom Jam scene Rob flew us to Florida and we made videos for every song on the record in a civil war graveyard. Rob is telling me that he is going to have all of this footage of Clegg and the Night Creatures on the DVD. We’re talking about actually doing a Clegg and the Night Creatures Psychobilly EP for Christmas. Like the most fucked up Christmas album you’ve ever heard in your life. I think the world could use one right now. Really, just totally unchristian Christmas record.
Do you think you will have time to breathe for the rest of your life during the month of October?
Oh man! I know we’re playing with Rob on Halloween night. As soon as the movie came out the Halloween offers started pouring in. I hope I don’t man. I hope I am swamped every year in October with Captain Clegg stuff. The cool thing about the Clegg music and the record is that it’s such a party record. It is a record to just get down and dirty and drink and party. That’s what kind of record it is. I think we’re going to be pretty much booked on Halloween for the rest of my life bro. [laughs]
What do you hope that people come away with after listening to your music or seeing your live performance?
My favorite thing that happens is when people come up and they go, “You know I’m not really into country or rockabilly, but I like this guy because he was edgy and different and he put on a good show.” That’s the highest compliment I could ever get from anybody. Like somebody who wouldn’t necessarily be into that music, but saw us and just converted.
Ever had a “Spinal Tap Moment” on stage?
Oh yeah man! One time I was playing in Hollywood and I fell off the stage and I fell into a box that held a bunch of microphones and it got stuck perfectly on my ass. When I stood up I had this box on my ass. Quentin Tarantino and Warren G were in the crowd in the front row. A musician named Dave Alvin actually pulled the box off of my ass. It was one of those devastating moments. I was like, “Oh well! I can’t do anything about it! I guess I’ll have a shot and keep rocking out!” Dude when you play thousands of shows, when you play two hundred shows a year, there’s going to be shit that goes wrong. It’s all in good fun man.
Other than the tour with Rob, what’s next for you and your band?
I’ve got some more stuff coming out in Rob’s animated movie. Supposedly they animated me as Adam Banjo and I get to sing ‘Dick Soup’ in the movie. What we’re talking about doing is a Captain Clegg versus the Zombies grind-house b-movie in New Orleans. This will be a thing that me and a buddy of mine, who is a film guy here in Austin, are working on. I’m going to have another Jesse Dayton record coming out at some point. Right now I just need to focus on getting ready for this tour because it’s going to be a humongous tour.
Do you have an advice for anyone who would like to get involved in the music industry?
Yeah man! The best advice for people getting involved in the music industry is to just treat it like you treat anything else. Just be honest with yourself. If you work and you play a ton of gigs, all this other success stuff will come. I’ll tell you one thing, being in the music business, you’ve got to be a lifer. It ain’t for the weak of heart.
That’s good advice. That’s basically what I have been hearing from everyone that I have interviewed. You’ve got to go balls out or go home!
Yeah! Same thing with acting or anything. One of my best friends in the world is Lew Temple. He was the guy that puked on the bed in ‘The Devil’s Rejects’ and he was the guard that raped the girl in the last ‘Halloween’. Lew calls me the other day and goes, “Man, you’ll never guess what happened.” I said, “What?” He said, “I met Tony Scott. I just got cast in a big character actor part opposite Denzel Washington in the new Tony Scott thriller.” I was like, “Wow!” Lew’s been at it in acting as long as I have been at it in music. He just never gave up man. Now he finally got this big, huge part in this movie. It just pays off man.
Is there anything else you want to add or let your fans know?
Be sure to visit www.captainclegg.com. You can go on iTunes and get the record now. The record will be in stores any day now. It can be found at most of the independent music stores and Hot Topic.
Thanks for your time and best of luck!
You got it man! Thanks a lot!
For all the latest information on Captain Clegg And The Night Creatures, be sure to swing on by the official site at www.captainclegg.com!