Dalton Domino

Texas country songwriter Dalton Domino writes about life, warts and all, in an approach honed by demanding Lubbock crowds.

Charlie Stout photo

There’s a lot of Dalton Domino’s life captured on his arms and his songs.

On his arms are tattoos. The cardinal on his left biceps is for his birthplace, Memphis — the Memphis Redbirds is the city’s minor league baseball team — where he grew up largely with his grandparents due to his mom’s multiple jobs. Above the cardinal is his grandmother’s name, Mary Lee, written in her hand.

On the right arm, the phrases “right now” and “3 minutes,” favorites of his grandparents and also tattooed in their handwriting.

His arms also carry the logo of Lubbock’s The Blue Light bar, where the Texas singer-songwriter learned a lot of his songwriting from the musicians playing there; the serial number of Cody Canada’s guitar, in Wade Bowen’s handwriting; “lifer,” a Jack Ingram encouragement in Ray Wylie Hubbard’s handwriting; and a Lone Star flag.

“I like handwriting — it’s a piece of somebody’s identity,” he explained in a phone interview from his home in Dallas. “It’s like a thumbprint or a fingerprint . . . I could never forge my parents’ handwriting at school.”

Domino’s songs also carry pieces of identity, particularly those on his latest album “Corners,” released in April and written after he “got clean and sober” about a year and a half ago.

As his Friday night audience at The Backyard will find, “Corners” has stories of broken relationships, run-ins with the law, personal transformation, transitions and a need to move forward in life.

“It’s a party album,” Domino joked.

With songs coming from times of heartbreak and pain, is it hard to revisit that every night he performs? “After awhile, it doesn’t get too hard. Lyrically, you kind of spit it out,” he said. “The feeling that comes around with the music — that is when you feel it.”

Even then, he always has fans after a show tell him how a particular song spoke to their experience or situation.

“Singing about drinking, raising hell and dancing — I’m not that guy,” Domino said. “But anyone who says ‘Corners’ really hit home — those are the people I like hanging out with. These people have been through some s--t.”

Domino, 26, grew up with music, though he and his family frequently moved, and started in punk rock as a teenager. Time in Lubbock, however, put him on the path of life as a driving Red Dirt/Americana singer-songwriter that he’s been on ever since.

Lubbock’s rich songwriter tradition — Joe Ely, Terry Allen, William Clark Green, Pat Green, Wade Bowen (the latter two while they were Texas Tech University students) — meant musicians and audiences who knew good songwriting from bad, he said. “It’s that Lubbock stare . . . They don’t put up with any bulls--t,” he said. “People like Red Shahan at The Blue Light taught me to gain respect of your peers, then respect of the fans will follow.”

Domino pulled together his Front Porch Family Band and after a few years of seasoning, released his first album “1806” in 2015. Around that time, Domino started to deal with his drinking and abuse issues. Many of the songs written during that period ended up in “Corners,” which led Rolling Stone magazine this spring to pick the Texas musician as one of “10 New Country Artists You Need To Know.”

Some of “Corners’ ” songs are getting regional airplay, but Domino says he’s not writing to chase hits. “Ain’t no money in music, but the more songs you put out there, the better. I write songs. If it happens, it happens,” he said.

Domino carries a soft-cover Moleskine notebook — blank pages, beige paper — with him to work on his songs while traveling, taking time at night in the motel to transfer what he wrote on his phone to the notebook. A typical song might take four or five pages of rambling, then another two or three as he becomes focused on it.

After a tour, he might have two or three books filled with material. Right now, he’s at about a half book, he said, with plans of recording and releasing a new album before year’s end.

Friday night will find him and his band before a friendly Backyard crowd. “We’ve always like playing Waco,” Domino noted.

Expect them to start with “Decent Man” and end with “Monster,” but in between there’s a lot that happens on the fly, Domino said. “We’re loud. We don’t really talk much when we play, but it’s us — It’s a fun time . . . Might play some new songs.”

Tribune-Herald entertainment editor