Editor’s Note: This is a contribution to Saving Country Music by Zac McDaniel who is a freelance writer. Zac is also a rancher and small business owner from Oklahoma. Along with immersing himself in the music of others he is also an aspiring songwriter. He enjoys spending time with his wife, children and Gibson guitar.
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One hand loosely gripping a non-alcoholic beer and the other pinching the end of a cigarette butt like the last of heavily passed joint, Dalton Domino coughs his last puff of smoke into the cold mountain air. Only 26 years old, the well-traveled Domino speaks with the determination and wisdom of a much more seasoned singer/songwriter. Two years after his initial release, 1806, when he delves into the subject of his new album, the excitement in his voice reminds you that he is still a young man. His new album, Corners is set to paint a picture of the road that led him here: to the back steps of Red River, New Mexico’s famous Mother Lode Saloon in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains where I spoke to him before a show on February 11th.
“I thought I made it,” says Dalton as he laughs and shakes his head.
The young troubadour, who calls Lubbock, TX his home, describes nights where dreams were realized only to be forgotten in the stupor of the next morning. “I don’t drink anymore. I don’t do drugs anymore. It was starting to fuck up my life … We had that record and we started getting put on big shows and we started being what we thought was successful and I got wrapped up in the party of it. Almost killed a career over it.”
The O’Douls and chain of cigarettes are common indicators of a man moving upward and onward from a certain type of past. In this case, the past is not far behind and serves to be an inspiration for Domino’s upcoming record. Well-traveled before he ever hit the road as a musician, Dalton spent his youth moving across the south with his family until they finally settled in Dallas, TX. From Dallas, he pin-balled his way to Lubbock and found a home at The Blue Light Live—a venue in which many great musicians like Wade Bowen and William Clark Green found initial success.
Like a fighter proudly showing you his scars, he reveals that he spent every single day in the Blue Light for about four years. “Me, Randall [King] and Cleto Cordero of Flatland Calvary all started going up there at the same time.”
Red Shahan was the host of the songwriter’s night on Monday and Dalton admits that it was Shahan who had a tremendous impact on his own sound. Red told him, “Country music isn’t just twin fiddles and a steel guitar, you can fucking crank some amps.”
Although, the first record showed a wide variety of musical influences that featured some rock driven guitar tones and riffs, Domino’s new record may reach even further in that direction than the last. “We picked up our guitars and relearned our instruments,” he says. “Turned up our amps a little more. I got rid of my acoustic guitar and got Red’s [Shahan] Gretsch.”
After a great experience recording 1806 in Mount Vernon with Jon Taylor, the band turned to Century Recording in Dripping Springs for a change of pace. “We wanted something new. We wanted something really different. This record is a lot more rock.”
With some of the recently acclaimed releases that delve into the darker side of the industry and life on the road, the musical stylings of this album may be what sets it apart.
“On this next record it’s a lot heavier,” he says. “A lot darker and a lot more guitars. While the last one was really Texas Country, for the most part it was built around an acoustic guitar. This one we built around the band.”
He describes how the new record will lay a soundtrack to life on the road, back stage, and the shaded corners found not only in the honky tonks and bars but in the back of his own mind. Taken from his own experiences with his band and the host of other musicians one encounters on the road, Domino describes the album as deeply personal. “These group of songs are about chasing your dreams but finding the dark side of it, and it’s not so much all glitz and glamour … All the songs are stories that people, right then and there, will know it’s about them or one of those nights.”
The first single released ahead of the full-length album is “July”—a song Domino simply says is “about kicking somebody’s ass.”
With a bit of a grimace he goes into the story behind the second track on the new record, “Decent Man.” The song is about a night in Lubbock where the aforementioned Randall King managed to keep law enforcement from taking him to jail.
“One night we got drunk and I got put in handcuffs out in Lubbock,” Domino says. “[Randall] had to come pick me up and talk the cops out of taking me to jail. Randall had to drive my car home. I made a stupid decision of drinking and driving. I don’t know how I didn’t go to jail that night.”
Dalton goes on to describe some of the other songs on the new album with a humble sincerity. The title track on the album describes the personal change that he has gone through.
“ ‘Corners’ is about sobering up. I wrote that in Nashville on my 26th day of sobriety. It’s about finding a peace with it. Who you are is acceptable, but don’t fall back into the pits of it.”
Domino was in Nashville that day thanks to Wade Bowen. Dalton talks with endless gratitude about Bowen, Jack Ingram, Cody Canada and Travis Meadows—the acclaimed songwriter that Bowen flew him to visit in Music City that weekend. “I got to meet Travis, talk to him and pick his brain about staying clean.”
While Meadows was a big influence on the songwriting of Corners and the entire sophomore effort, the second album also includes a co-write with Charlie Stout and R.C. Edwards of the Turnpike Troubadours called “16 Years.” Describing the story behind the song, Domino once again speaks with glowing admiration about his peers. He describes Charlie Shafter as one of his favorite musicians and when referencing Edwards, simply says, “I love that guy.”
Asked about his first album drawing comparisons to William Clark Green, he not only called it an honor but said he owed most of his career to the native of Flint, Texas and another Texas legend. Pointing over my shoulder in the bar’s back alley, Dalton says, “That’s Will’s trailer right there. I wouldn’t have a job if it wasn’t for William Clark Green and Larry Joe Taylor.”
An alumnus of the Larry Joe Taylor Music Festival and countless other venues, both historic and hole-in-the-wall, Dalton Domino has put his life into his music. Widely anticipated, Corners details the rough of the road that he has experienced along the way and incorporates styles and influences from countless acts to whom Domino feels he owes his career.
When asked about the biggest hurdle that he’s facing right now, Dalton answers immediately and confidently, “Accepting that if this ends tomorrow, then I did everything that I wanted to do.”
Domino is currently on tour with his Front Porch Family Band and his new album is set to release April 28th.