Dwight David Yoakam (born October 23, 1956) is an American singer-songwriter, actor, and film director, most famous for his pioneering country music. Popular since the early 1980s, he has recorded more than twenty one albums and compilations, charted more than thirty singles on the Billboard Hot Country Songs charts, and sold more than 25 million records. He has recorded five Billboard #1 albums, twelve gold albums, and nine platinum albums, including the triple platinum This Time. In addition to his many achievements in the performing arts, he is also the most frequent musical guest in the history of The Tonight Show.
by Jim Casey | @TheJimCasey | September 26, 2016
With Bluegrass in His DNA, Dwight Yoakam Wanders Back Home on New Album, «Swimmin’ Pools, Movie Stars»
Born in Kentucky. Raised in Ohio. Perfected in California. That’s the ol’ Dwight Yoakam adage. It’s no secret the Kentucky native gave Nashville a try in 1977 before becoming disinterested with the city’s pop-country proclivity. Instead, he boot-scooted across the heartland to California, where he found himself better suited to the L.A. Cowpunk scene with The Blasters, X, Rank & File and others. The Nashville-to-L.A. move was a pretty good decision, to say the least. In his 30-plus-year career, the hillbilly-music maverick has sold more than 25 million albums worldwide, earned 21 Grammy nominations and charted five Billboard No. 1 albums. For the most part, the California transplant has done it without the help of Nashville—never compromising his high-grade, hard-core, honky-tonk music for the of-the-moment stylings of Music City. While Dwight’s instinctive approach to country music has been unconventional, his genius is undeniable. It’s in his DNA.
Growing up in Kentucky’s easternmost Pike County, bluegrass music was also in Dwight’s DNA. Dickenson County, Va., which is the birthplace of bluegrass luminaries Carter and Ralph Stanley, borders Pike County. Before the Carters, the Hatfields and McCoys were in the area, probably front-porch pickin’ when they weren’t a-killin’ each other in the backwoods. Dwight wandered back to those Kentucky roots for his new album, Swimmin’ Pools, Movie Stars, a 12-song bluegrass record that dropped on Sept. 23. “My grandpa took me to a coon dog meet up in the [Pike County] hills every month and we’d get together on a Sunday afternoon,” says Dwight. “And all these old boys would bring their dogs—their best dogs—out. They would challenge—there’d be a pot of money up for grabs—of which dog could tree this raccoon. And I remember going down to this holler with him and getting up in there, and I saw these guys pulling guitars and mandolins out of their trucks. This is out by a lake way up in the hills, and during and after the whole exercise to run these dogs and doing this kind of event, they were all just walking around playing toward one another in little circles, little groups. They would break off into groups of two or three or four guys and just blaze. It was the first time I was ever as a kid just taking that in.”
No doubt young Dwight took it all in. Now, as he approaches his 60th birthday in October, Dwight decided it was the right time to let it all out.
Swimmin’ Pools, Movie Stars reflects the love for bluegrass Dwight developed in those Kentucky hills. To do his roots justice, Dwight assembled a world-class group of bluegrass virtuosos for the project,
including Grammy winner and nine-time international Bluegrass Music Association Guitar Player of the Year Bryan Sutton, Grammy winner Stuart Duncan on fiddle and banjo, 14-time Grammy winner Barry Bales on bass, Adam Steffey on mandolin and Scott Vestal on banjo. The album was coproduced by Dwight and nine-time Grammy winner Gary Paczosa and Grammy winner Jon Randall. Dwight recorded the album at both Southern Ground Studio in Nashville—making it the first album he has recorded in Music City—and the legendary Capitol Records Studio B in Los Angeles.
“[The coon dog hunt] is what [recording the album] reminded me of when we would gather at the beginning of each track and sort out the arrangement with one another,” says Dwight. “JR [Jon Randal] and Gary and I already had a loose idea, but it could change and it did change based on the moment.”
The album is comprised of 12 songs, 11 of which are cuts from Dwight’s previous catalogue, reimagined and reinvented as bluegrass ditties. Many of the tunes are deep cuts from Dwight’s collection, including “What I Don’t Know” (1988’s Buenas Noches From a Lonely Room), “Sad, Sad Music” (1990’s If There Was a Way) and “Free to Go” (2000’s Tomorrow’s Sounds Today), among others. He coupled those deeps cuts with Top 10 hits like “Guitars, Cadillacs” and “Please, Please Baby,” before rounding out the album with “Purple Rain,” which was recorded with scratch vocals after Dwight heard the news that Prince had died.
“‘Purple Rain’ was a completely spontaneous response,” says Dwight. “I was in the hotel in the West End [of Nashville] getting ready that morning to go to the studio. I’m an addict of 24-hour news channels and I glanced at the TV and it was on mute and there was something about Prince’s compound, so I unmuted it and it said there was a death at the compound. So I listened for the next 20 minutes or so, then it just unfolded and it was in fact Prince who had passed away.
“I never met him, only in passing like in a hallway, and a nod, and he’d do a Prince wink. He actually came to a play I was doing in L.A., and stood in the wings, he was friends with another actor in the paly. He snuck in and watched the play.
“There was a sadness about [his death]. The details, he was 57 or 58, he will always be that kid who broke out in the late ’70s, early ’80s, with that outrageous kind of style and sense of himself and music and a rediscovery again of a radical, rebelliousness of music. That was one of the shocking deaths this year. It literally came from nowhere. When we got to the studio, it was what everyone was immediately talking about, just wow.
“I said, ‘Let’s play “Purple Rain.”’ I’d just always loved the melody. There’s something really innocent and sweet and pure about that melody . . . I’ve listened to a lot of music, a lot of different kinds of music. ‘Purple Rain,’ from the beginning when I first heard that song, it stopped me melodically. The emotion of the melody, so pure and simple. On [the video] footage [recorded that day], everyone starts walking toward one another, just playing from their heart. I tried to re-sing later to do a better track, better vocal. Because it was the third day of the sessions and I was pretty beat up, more beat up than now, just from working my voice. I thought, ‘Wow, I’m awfully torn up there. Maybe I’ll sing it again when I get back to California.’ . . . And I left it alone because there is something in the moment of that with what five players did that day in that room. It was just an expression, I think, of respect to someone that came from a whole different genre of music. Recognized in that room. We all knew him [musically]. We’re all touched in some way, you know. The world was affected musically. The musical world was affected by the fact of him. . . hopefully, [Prince] would be flattered, with what [we] did in his memory.”
Yoakam was born in Pikeville, Kentucky, the son of Ruth Ann (née Tibbs), a key-punch operator, and David Yoakam, a gas-station owner. He was raised in Columbus, Ohio. He graduated from Northland High School in 1974. During his high school years, he excelled in both music and drama, regularly securing the lead role in school plays, such as "Charlie" in a stage version of Flowers for Algernon, honing his skills under the guidance of teacher-mentors Jerry McAfee (music) and Charles Lewis (drama).
Outside of school, he sang and played guitar with local garage bands, and entertained his friends and classmates with his impersonations, such as Richard Nixon, who, at the time, was heavily embroiled in the Watergate controversy.
Yoakam briefly attended Ohio State University, but dropped out and moved to Los Angeles in 1977 with the intent of becoming a recording artist. On May 7, 2005, Ohio Valley University in Parkersburg, West Virginia awarded and presented him with an honorary doctorate degree.
When he began his career, Nashville was oriented toward pop "urban cowboy" music, and Yoakam's brand of hip honky tonk music was not considered marketable.
Not making much headway in Nashville, Yoakam moved to Los Angeles and worked towards bringing his particular brand of new Honky Tonk or "Hillbilly" music (as he called it) forward into the 1980s. Writing all his own songs, and continuing to perform mostly outside traditional country music channels, he did many shows in rock and punk rock clubs around Los Angeles, playing with roots rock or punk rock acts like The Blasters (Yoakam scored a small video hit with his version of their song "Long White Cadillac"), Los Lobos, and X. This helped him diversify his audience beyond the typical country music fans, and his authentic, groundbreaking music is often credited with rock audiences accepting country music.
Yoakam's recording debut was the self-financed EP Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc. on independent label Oak Records produced by lead-guitarist Pete Anderson; this was later re-released by Reprise Records, with several additional tracks, as his major-label debut LP, 1986's Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc.. The record hit the market during a sea change in country music: the urban cowboy music was out of style, and neotraditional music based on classic styles, such as Yoakam's honky-tonk inspired music, was now in demand. The LP was a breakout hit and spawned his first two hit singles: "Honky Tonk Man", a remake of the Johnny Horton song, and the title track "Guitars, Cadillacs." His stylish video "Honky Tonk Man" was the first country music video ever played on MTV. The follow-up LP, Hillbilly Deluxe, was just as successful. His third LP, Buenas Noches from a Lonely Room, included his first No. 1, a duet with his musical idol, Buck Owens, on "Streets of Bakersfield". 1990's If There Was a Way was another best-seller.
Yoakam's song "Readin', Rightin', Route 23" pays tribute to his childhood move from Kentucky, and is named after a local expression describing the route that rural Kentuckians took to find a job outside of the coal mines. (U.S. Route 23 runs north from Kentucky through Columbus and Toledo, Ohio and through the automotive centers of Michigan.) Rather than the standard line that their elementary schools taught "the three Rs" of "Readin', 'Ritin', and 'Rithmetic", Kentuckians used to say that the three Rs they learned were "Readin', 'Ritin', and Route 23 North".
Johnny Cash once cited Yoakam as his favorite country singer. Chris Isaak called him as good a songwriter that ever put a pen to paper. Time dubbed him "A Renaissance Man" and Vanity Fair declared that "Yoakam strides the divide between rock's lust and country's lament." Along with his bluegrass and honky-tonk roots, he has written or covered many Elvis Presley-style rockabilly songs, including his covers of Queen's "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" in 1999 and Presley's "Suspicious Minds" in 1992. He recorded a cover of "The Clash's "Train in Vain" in 1997, a cover of the Grateful Dead song "Truckin'", as well as Cheap Trick's "I Want You to Want Me". He has never been associated only with country music; on many early tours, he played with hardcore punk bands like Hüsker Dü, and played many shows around Los Angeles with roots/punk/rock & roll acts. His middle-period-to-later records saw him branching out to different styles, covering rock & roll, punk, 1960's, blues-based "boogie" like ZZ Top, and writing more adventurous songs like "A Thousand Miles From Nowhere". In 2003, he provided background vocals on Warren Zevon's last album The Wind.
In the 21st century, Yoakam released dwightyoakamacoustic.net, an album featuring solo acoustic versions of many of his hits; left his major label and started his own label. 2005 saw the release of Yoakam's well-reviewed album Blame the Vain, on New West Records. He also released an album dedicated to Buck Owens, Dwight Sings Buck, on October 23, 2007. His duet with Michelle Branch, a song titled "Long Goodbye", was released as a free download on her official website in early 2011. In July 2011, Yoakam resigned with Warner Bros. Nashville and announced plans to release a new album. 3 Pears was released on September 18, 2012 with twelve new tracks. Produced by him, it includes a collaboration with Beck. 3 Pears was released to resounding critical acclaim and earned him the highest-charting debut of his career on the Billboard 200 and Billboard Country Albums charts. 3 Pears reached #1 on the Americana Radio chart on October 29, 2012 and went on to break the 2012 record for most weeks at #1 on Americana Radio. By the end of 2012, it was named on annual best of lists by NPR, Rolling Stone, American Songwriter, AOL's The Boot, Entertainment Weekly, The Village Voice, and Rhapsody, and has been included in more critics' "best of 2012" lists than any other artist in the country genre. In June 2014, Rolling Stone ranked the song "Guitars, Cadillacs" #94 in their list of the 100 greatest country songs. In February 2015, Yoakam announced a new studio album, titled Second Hand Heart and released on April 14. In 2016, he supported the album by performing at the C2C: Country to Country festival in Europe.
Film and television career
Yoakam has also starred in many films, most notably in critically acclaimed performances as an ill-tempered, abusive live-in boyfriend in Sling Blade (1996), as a psychopathic killer in Panic Room (2002), as a police detective in Hollywood Homicide (2003) and as the sheriff in The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (2005). He appeared in a supporting role as Doc Miles, the doctor for Chev Chelios, in Crank and its sequel, Crank 2: High Voltage. In addition, he also guest starred in the King of the Hill episode "Nine Pretty Darn Angry Men" as Lane Pratley. He also had a cameo appearance in the 2005 comedy movie Wedding Crashers. In 2006, he starred alongside Penélope Cruz and Salma Hayek in Bandidas; in 2008, he played Pastor Phil in Four Christmases, starring Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon; and he appears in Dirty Girl. He also appeared in The Last Rites of Ransom Pride, an independent 2010 Western that also stars fellow country singer Kris Kristofferson. In 1993, he played a truck driver in the Wyoming crime thriller, Red Rock West. He also played Brentwood Glasscock in The Newton Boys
Some of his songs are included in the film Big Eden (2000).
Yoakam was featured in a recurring role as Bruce on the FX series Wilfred but was replaced by William Baldwin in the show's fourth and final season. He also appears in the second season of Under the Dome as Lyle Chumley, who runs the Chester's Mill's barbershop.
(Picture: With Jason Statham in Crank)
Yoakam's food brand, Bakersfield Biscuits, sells frozen foods at retailers such as Wal-Mart Superstores, Walgreens, Sam's Club, and Kroger.
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