Personalities | Dwight Yoakam | New Country & The Neo-Traditionalists

Of all the new-traditionalist acts, Dwight Yoakam was arguably the most flamboyant, with his tight-fitting designer jeans and cowboy hat. He was also the most distinctive of those to emerge on the country scene in the mid-1980s.

Yoakam was born in Pikesville, Kentucky, on 23 October 1956. He was primarily raised in Columbus, Ohio, before relocating to Los Angeles. There, in the early 1980s, he debuted on the independent Oak label.

A Musical Maverick

Hugely influenced by both the music of Bakersfield, as typified by Buck Owens, and by his own Kentucky heritage, Yoakam’s songwriting matured during his formative years, and he didn’t so much emerge on to the country scene, as explode. The influence and assistance of producer/lead guitarist Pete Anderson – who stuck with Yoakam through both the big years and when Warner/Reprise seemed to turn its back on him – cannot be underestimated. He and Yoakam have done more than most in keeping Bakersfield on the country map.

Ever a maverick, Yaokam played only by his own rules: after pre-fame rejection from the powers that be in Nashville in the mid-1970s, he never returned, deciding to remain on the West Coast to be near Hollywood, where lucrative deals were struck as he also diversified into movie work. Unfortunately this has meant that Yoakam never quite gained the recognition he deserved when it came to awards handed out by Nashville’s highest power, the CMA. Guitars, Cadillacs Etc. Etc. (1986, platinum), Hillbilly Deluxe (1987, gold), Buenas Noches From A Lonely Room (1988, gold) and the triple platinum This Time (1993) helped bring the music to both a wider audience and raise the standard. In all, despite his devoting more attention to films – his starring role in the Oscar-winning Sling Blade (1996), South Of Heaven, West Of Hell (which he authored) and other movies in which he featured, such as Rosewell, The Newton Boys and The Little Death – he is still huge in the eyes of the public.

A West Coast Icon

‘Streets Of Bakersfield’, a duet with Buck Owens, became Yoakam’s first No. 1 country single. After eight years in retirement, Owens was persuaded to make a comeback due to the reaction sparked by this revival of a song from a 1972 Owens album. Yoakam’s run continued with ‘I Sang Dixie’, the Grammy Award-winning ‘Ain’t That Lonely Yet’ (US country Top 3), plus the brooding ‘A Thousand Miles From Nowhere’ (also Top 3) and ‘Home For Sale’ (the latter three all included on his acclaimed 1993 album This Time). Another variation, his film work aside (three movies emerged in 2005 alone), has been where, like his hero Buck Owens, he has recorded covers of classic pop/rock material by The Beatles, Van Morrison/Them, Elvis, The Everly Brothers, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks and even ‘Train In Vain’ by The Clash, without disturbing his country roots. This resulted in the 1997 album Under The Covers. After...

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Source: The Definitive Illustrated Encyclopedia of Country Music, consultant editor Bob Allen


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