Dwight Yoakam's the kind of cool character who gives country music a good name

click to enlarge Dwight Yoakam never met a venue where he couldn't kill. - EMILY JOYCE PHOTO
Emily Joyce photo
Dwight Yoakam never met a venue where he couldn't kill.

I was never the type to proclaim "I hate country music." As a child I'd spent far too many hours with my parents with the sounds of Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn and Willie Nelson emanating from the crappy radio in our Ford Falcon station wagon to think such a thing.

I grew into a punk-loving teenager in the '80s, and then absorbed hip-hop and metal as the '90s arrived, and there wasn't a lot of new country music to keep my interest. Much '80s country was rife with cheesy production, meaning new artists sounded too "pop" for my taste, and classic artists like Cash and George Jones and Dolly Parton suddenly sounded, well, too much like those new artists. The '90s didn't sound much better; forgive me Spokane, I know you love Garth Brooks, but his music always seemed all-hat no-cattle to my ears. Same goes for the likes of Brooks & Dunn, Tim McGraw and Shania Twain.

One artist, though, helped me keep the faith that there was hope for mainstream country music, and he's coming to Spokane Sunday night for a headlining gig at the First Interstate Center for the Arts.

Dwight Yoakam's 1986 debut, Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc., was the first I bought, thanks to an appearance on an MTV show called I.R.S.'s The Cutting Edge, which showcased hot then-young artists like R.E.M., Los Lobos and even a country cat like Yoakam. That blast of rockabilly-ish music started a 35-year bout of fandom for me as Yoakam has navigated the industry with a mix of platinum albums, hit songs and dalliances with Hollywood (as an actor and one-time Sharon Stone beau).

The appeal for me starts with Yoakam's dedication to traditional country music. Whether penning his own tunes or covering beloved oldies, his songs have a timeless quality. Whether weepy ballads, honky tonk dance tunes or straight-up rockers, Yoakam handles them with ease, with a hiccup in his vocals and an Elvis stage pose always at the ready when he's performing live. I first saw him in concert 20 years ago, and last saw him two years ago, and he still delivers a scintillating set adorned in a cowboy hat and jeans so tight they might have been spray-painted on.

If you've never given Yoakam a listen, go track down albums like Guitars, Cadillacs or If There Was A Way or Second Hand Heart or Dwight Sings Buck, his tribute to his buddy Buck Owens. And then peruse this list of things that make Yoakam something special among his country peers of the last quarter century.

His video for "Honky Tonk Man," from his debut album Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc. Etc., was the first country video ever played on MTV.

He's acted in some mighty fine movies (Sling Blade, Red Rock West), some clunkers (Hollywood Homicide) and some genuine box office hits (Panic Room, Wedding Crashers).

He's recorded 12 gold albums (for sales of 500,000 and more) and nine platinum albums (for sales greater than 1 million copies). That's a lot.

After struggling early in his career in Nashville, he moved to Los Angeles and played his "hillbilly" music in clubs alongside punk and non-country acts like X, the Blasters and Los Lobos.

He sang backup vocals on Warren Zevon's last album, The Wind. If Warren thinks he's OK, he's OK.

He's a killer with a cover tune. Over the years, he's done a honky-tonk spin on Queen's "Crazy Little Thing Called Love," Cheap Trick's "I Want You To Want Me," The Clash's "Train In Vain," Prince's "Purple Rain" and the Grateful Dead's "Truckin," among others.

He's collaborated with country royalty like Buck Owens, Earl Scruggs and Ralph Stanley.

His SiriusXM station, Dwight Yoakam and the Bakersfield Beat, features music that influenced the Southern California "Bakersfield sound," as well as Yoakam interviewing fellow artists.

He's released 15 studio albums. The most recent, Swimmin' Pools, Movie Stars in 2016, was made up of bluegrass versions of some of his older songs, along with that Prince cover. And his two albums before that one, Three Pears and Second Hand Heart, are among the best of his career. Yoakam seems far from slowing down. ♦

Dwight Yoakam • Sun, Sept. 19 at 7 pm • $58-$88 • First Interstate Center for the Arts • 334 W. Spokane Falls Blvd. • firstinterstatecenter.org • 509-279-7000

Mike Monsky @ Dry Fly Distillery

Fri., Oct. 22, 6 p.m.
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About The Author

Dan Nailen

Dan Nailen is the managing editor of the Inlander, where he oversees coverage of arts and culture. He's previously written and edited for The Salt Lake Tribune, Salt Lake City Weekly, Missoula Independent, Salt Lake Magazine, The Oregonian and KUER-FM. He grew up seeing the country in an Air Force family and studied...