Best known for his collaborations with Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Rob Zombie, and Samantha Fish, Jesse Dayton is a gunslinging, outlaw-country-meets-rock guitarist whose star is on the rise.
His 2023 album, Death Wish Blues, which he recorded in collaboration with Samantha Fish, garnered rave reviews, which is a good thing as Dayton is set to unleash another barnburner in May of 2024, Hardcharger, via Blue Elan Records.
When he’s not recording blistering modern blues and rock tunes, Dayton can be found frequenting his favorite haunts around Austin, Texas, and partaking in various horror movie-related activities, as he’s a super fan.
Music, horror, and guitars aside, during a break from the action, Jesse Dayton beamed in to dig into the ten records that changed his life for ClassicRockHistory.com. Are any of these your favorites, too?
The Great Twenty-Eight – Chuck Berry (1982)
It’s 1975. I’m eight years old and fighting with my parents about wanting to stay up past my bedtime to watch TV. Johnny Carson is on TV telling jokes, doing his opening monologue in the background, while I’m whining about having to go to bed. Something catches my ear. I turn around to look at the TV, and Chuck Berry is doing his classic Duck Walk across the screen while playing a scorching lead guitar part to his song “Carol.”
This album and moment were a complete game changer for me. From that second, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. If you don’t have this album in your collection, run like your hair is on fire and get it. Chuck is the GOAT, and so many, from Dylan to Lennon to Keef to Waylon, will tell you he is.
Fandango – ZZ Top (1975)
The first record I ever bought with my own money from mowing lawns from Sunrise Surf Shop in Beaumont, Texas. When we found out that Little Ol’ Band from Texas all grew up in and around Southeast Texas where we did, it became instantly apparent that Billy Gibbons was writing the soundtrack to our lives.
Texas blues with high energy live boogie-woogie and a guitar tone that men have jumped out of buildings trying to discover. Half the record was recorded live in Texas, and the other half was recorded in the studio. You get the best of both worlds from what I would call the ultimate heavy-power trio ever.
Hard Again – Muddy Waters (1977)
This record was produced by Beaumont, a Texas superstar, and our neighbor as a kid, Johnny Winter, and it is a record I always go back to. Sure, there are brilliant earlier recordings of Muddy, but the lead track, “Mannish Boy,” might be the rawest and most dangerous thing I’ve ever heard. Austin blues club owner Clifford Antone, from Antone’s Home of The Blues Club, gave this record to me when I was 15.
Highway to Hell – AC/DC (1979)
Bon Scott’s last hurrah with Angus and Malcolm at the very top of their game. The lyrics and the imagery pissed all the parents off, like the punk bands were doing, but again, this was heavy blues and boogie music like Chuck Berry and the Stones on steroids. I saw them at the Beaumont Convention Center, and it was Bon’s last tour. Angus didn’t just shred; he wrote timeless guitar hooks that will be stuck in our heads till the end of time.
Goat’s Head Soup – The Rolling Stones (1973)
For many Stones fans, it’s always Exile on Main Street, Beggars Banquet, or even the stuff with Ron Wood in the ’80s. I love them all, but this was the record that hipped me to the Stones. The last record was produced by Jimmy Miller and recorded in Jamaica with Nikki Hopkins on Keyboards and Bobby Keys, from Lubbock, Texas, on sax.
It delivers the rock ‘n’ roll goods like no other. From the sleazy opening guitar riff of “Dancing with Mr. D,” you know you’re going on a dangerous journey with these rock ‘n’ roll gypsy pirates that your parents would not be happy about. For me? The coolest rock ‘n’ roll band of all time and Jimmy Page even guested on the song “Scarlett.”
Honky Tonk Heroes – Waylon Jennings (1973)
The greatest outlaw of them all with his black-and-white leather-bound telecaster and his mid-1970s MXR Phaser pedal. This guy scared the shit out of uptight squares in the country music establishment with his leather pants, long hair, and non-stop partying. The great Texas outlaw singer-songwriter Billy Joe Shaver wrote almost all the songs, and Billy Joe’s son Eddie Shaver influenced my guitar playing a lot.
Listen to the record Shaver with Eddie shredding! I went on to play on a Waylon record called Right for The Time, which was one of his last records. It might shock some of you rockers that I picked this, but this is as cool and dangerous as country music gets.
London Calling – The Clash (1979)
Until I heard this record, I was 1000% into all the usual suspects on the radio, from Mountain to Zeppelin to Willie and Waylon to James Gang to UFO, which I still dig! But The Clash broke the floodgates wide open with my generation, so it was a mindblower of new musical styles and provocative imagery we had never seen.
The record isn’t just a “punk” record. But it is the greatest punk rock band of all time, experimenting with many different musical styles. Joe Strummer turned me on to everything from reggae to politics with this one and gave me a free pass to be pissed off about my teenage angst. I saw them live in Houston; it was the highest energy show I’ve ever seen. Period.
Various Records by Lightning Hopkins/Buddy Guy/Jimi Hendrix
Sorry, this is a triple bill because I only get ten slots! Lightning, doing his East Texas droning guitar work on Burnin’ L.A. Down, would influence countless guitar players. Buddy Guy’s record A Man and The Blues, who I got to open for on tour in 2023, might be the most emotional guitar playing I’ve ever heard. And Jimi Hendrix’s Smash Hits redefined the electric guitar entirely. What do you get when you put these three guitar players together? Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Various Records by James Burton & Hank Garland
These two probably played on more hit songs than any guitar player in the history of the music business. These two guys perfected Telecaster chicken pickin’ and inspired every monster country and rockabilly picker from Jerry Reed to Glen Campbell. Both can be heard on loads of recordings by Elvis, Sinatra, Johnny Cash, Gram Parsons, Merle Haggard, George Jones to Elvis Costello; you name it.
Truth – The Jeff Beck Group (1968)
My older brother had all of Beck’s records, but this one, with a young Rod Stewart on vocals and Ronnie Wood on bass, blew my mind. Nicky Hopkins from the Stones, John Paul Jones from Led Zeppelin, and Keith Moon from The Who all appear on this record. But Beck’s unusually inventive guitar changed the music landscape forever with Truth.
I saw Jeff Beck open for ZZ Top in Houston just weeks before he suddenly passed away. Even at 78 years old, he was playing at an incredibly high level without a guitar pick, fingers only, and using the tremolo bar on his Stratocaster in a way that none of us can ever nail down. For a band from the UK, they sure sound like some juke joint Southerners. “Ain’t Superstitious” sounds so vibey and greasy that you may wanna take a shower after you listen to it.