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Dwight Yoakam Biography

23 October 1956, Pikeville, Kentucky, USA. Much of Yoakam’s hip honky tonk music paved the way for rock audiences accepting country music in the 90s. A singer-songwriter with an early love of the honky-tonk country music of Buck Owens and Lefty Frizzell, he has always shown a distinct antipathy towards the Nashville pop/country scene.

Yoakam, the eldest of three children, moved with his family to Columbus, Ohio, when he was two. After an abortive spell studying philosophy and history at Ohio State University, he briefly sought Nashville success in the mid-70s, but his music was rated too country even for the Grand Ole Opry. He relocated to Los Angeles in 1978 and worked the clubs, playing with various bands including Los Lobos, but for several years he worked as a truck driver. In 1984, the release of a self-financed mini-album on the Oak Records label led to him signing for Reprise Records. Two years later, following the release of an expanded version of the mini-album (also called Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc. Etc. ), he registered Top 5 US country chart hits with Johnny Horton’s ‘Honky Tonk Man’ and his own ‘Guitars, Cadillacs’. His driving honky-tonk music made him a popular visitor to Britain and brought him some success in the USA, although his outspoken views denied him the wider fame with the mainstream country audience of his contemporary Randy Travis.

Nevertheless, in 1987 Yoakam enjoyed chart success with his cover version of the old Elvis Presley pop hit ‘Little Sister’. He followed it in 1988 with a US country number 9 hit with his idol Lefty Frizzell’s classic ‘Always Late With Your Kisses’. He would also make the top of the country charts with ‘Streets Of Bakersfield’, duetting with veteran 60s superstar Buck Owens, and with the self-penned ‘I Sang Dixie’. Yoakam played several concerts with Owens, after being instrumental in persuading him to come out of retirement and record again for Capitol Records.

Yoakam’s straight country style is his most effective work, a point made clear when he attempted to cross over into the mainstream rock market in the early 90s with the European release La Croix D’Amour. During this period he also turned his hand to acting, appearing in a Los Angeles stage production, Southern Rapture, directed by Peter Fonda (by the end of the decade Yoakam had established himself as a film star of some note.) Yoakam returned to his roots in 1993 with the hardcore country of This Time. The album included the number 2 country hits ‘Ain’t That Lonely Yet’, which won a Grammy Award for Best Country Vocal Performance, ‘A Thousand Miles From Nowhere’ and ‘Fast As You’. Dwight Live, recorded at San Francisco’s Warfield Theatre, captured the fervour of his concert performances. Yoakam enjoyed his biggest hit for over five years with a cover version of Queen’s ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’, featured on 1999’s compilation set. The following year’s reworked his back catalogue in an acoustic format. Tomorrow Sounds Today included three further collaborations with Owens and a cover version of Cheap Trick’s ‘I Want You To Want Me’.

Following one further new release for the Warners conglomerate, a soundtrack for the movie South Of Heaven, West Of Hell, Yoakam opted to cut ties with his long-term recording home. His time with the Reprise label was neatly chronicled on the 4-CD box set Reprise Please Baby: The Warner Bros. Years. He made his recording debut on the indie Electrodisc imprint in summer 2003 with his new studio album, Population Me, before switching to the New West label for 2005’s Blame The Vain.

After almost 20 years of commercial success, Yoakam has firmly established his staying power as one of the leading artists of the new era of country music. There seems little doubt that his songwriting talents and singing style will ensure further major success. To quote Rolling Stone, ‘Neither safe nor tame, Yoakam has adopted Elvis’ devastating hip swagger, Hank Williams’ crazy-ass stare and Merle Haggard’s brooding solitude into one lethal package. Yoakam is a cowgirl’s secret darkest dream.’

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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