100 Greatest Men: #46. Dwight Yoakam

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One of the strongest voices of the New Traditionalist movement, Dwight Yoakam revitalized the Bakersfield sound as he shot to stardom in 1986.

Yoakam was born in Kentucky and raised in Ohio. Growing up, he pursued both music and acting, putting greater emphasis on the former after graduating from high school.   He moved to Nashville in the late seventies, but did not fit in well with the pop-flavored country music scene.

However, he did meet guitarist Pete Anderson while there, and the two headed off to Los Angeles, where Yoakam became popular in both rock and country clubs, thanks to his contemporary take on classic country and rockabilly sounds.

An independent EP caught the attention of Reprise Records, and Yoakam landed a deal with the label.   His debut LP, Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc., shot to the top of the charts upon its release in 1986.  It established Yoakam as a significant leader among the New Traditionalists, updating the classic sounds of California country legend Buck Owens, among others.

Yoakam would spend the next decade selling platinum and beyond, despite having less consistent radio support than contemporaries like Randy Travis and Ricky Van Shelton.   In addition to writing his own material, he smartly chose covers that worked for his style, including one that partnered him with idol Owens.  Their collaboration “Streets of Bakersfield” was Yoakam’s first #1 hit, and it brought Owens back to the top slot for the first time in sixteen years.

Yoakam reached his critical and commercial peak in 1993 with This Time, an album that featured three huge hits, sold more than three million copies, and earned him a Grammy for Best Male Country Vocal Performance.   While riding high on the success of the album, he began to pursue acting in Hollywood.  From this point on, he would split his attention between music and film.

As the nineties progressed, his album sales slowed but continued to earn him critical acclaim.  He had his last major hit with a cover of the Queen classic “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” in 1999.  Since then, he’s released well-received albums on independent labels, most recently his stellar tribute album, Dwight Sings Buck.   In 2007, the CMA honored Yoakam with its award side effects from diflucan for International Touring Artist, and in 2012, he received the prestigious Cliffie Stone Pioneer Award from the Academy of Country Music.

Yoakam has not released a new studio album since 2005, but he has re-signed with his former label home of Warner Bros., and is scheduled to release an album of new material this year.

Essential Singles:

  • Guitars, Cadillacs, 1986
  • Streets of Bakersfield (with Buck Owens), 1988
  • I Sang Dixie, 1988
  • Suspicious Minds, 1992
  • Ain’t That Lonely Yet, 1993
  • A Thousand Miles From Nowhere, 1993
  • Fast as You, 1993
  • Things Change, 1998

Essential Albums:

  • Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc., 1986
  • Buenas Noches From a Lonely Room, 1988
  • If There was a Way, 1990
  • This Time, 1993
  • Gone, 1995
  • dwightyoakamacoustic.net, 2000

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14 Comments

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14 Responses to 100 Greatest Men: #46. Dwight Yoakam

  1. Paul W DennisNo Gravatar

    Actually, Dwight issued the Buck Owens tribute album after Buck’s death in 2006. It was a studio album

  2. Great write-up, K. I love Dwight. His style just always feels fresh and ageless now matter how many years ago the music was first released.

  3. Michael A.No Gravatar

    Nice picks for essential singles, but the acoustic.net album never did much for me. Great write up!

  4. VNo Gravatar

    Can’t believe he is placed so low

  5. TomNo Gravatar

    …where do you place a “god” among “mortals”? 42 might have been a smarter answer than #46.

    dwight yoakam’s many talents defy rankings somehow – in order to compare him and his work you end up mentioning people like hank williams, johnny cash, elvis or his idol buck owens. if you got in the topic of legs and leg wear, he would almost certainly be the only guy that could get honourably mentioned next to names like giselle bündchen or megan fox.

    there is probably not many instruments that he couldn not include in a country song and still having the whole thing sound the way the little genre title above the stalls in the record store would indicate. did i mention i was an analog man?

    and what hank is for lost highways, dwight is for lost love. his originals are quite often poetic gems and his covers make an amish quilt feeling a little thin.

    guess, 42 really says it best, when it comes to try putting dwight yoakam into perspective.

  6. Kevin John CoyneNo Gravatar

    I usually only refer to albums of new material as studio albums. Live, tribute, covers, compilations aren’t included in my definition.

  7. Erik NorthNo Gravatar

    Besides his incredible updating of the 1960s Bakersfield sound of Buck Owens in his music, Dwight also represents an extension of the whole California approach to country music, which has always been different from the way it’s done in Nashville. He isn’t afraid to throw a few Mexican influences in (like Flaco Jimenez’s recorder on “Streets Of Bakersfield”), and a bit of harder rock on “Fast As You”, showing that it can still be country while also having a lot of eclectic styles put into the mix. Dwight is a true country music maverick of our time, in my book.

  8. Susan KNo Gravatar

    Dwight would be in my top 5. I can’t wait for his new album to come out.

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  10. ArleneNo Gravatar

    I remember watching Johnny Cash being interviewed by Larry King in one of the last televised interviews he ever gave. When asked to name his favorite male and female singers the Man in Black identified Dwight as his favorite male one and Emmylou Harris as his favorite female one (which made me wonder what June Carter Cash and Rosanne Cash thought of his response). Anyway, I’ve always respected Johnny Cash’s musical taste….

  11. Dwight is one of my personal very favorites, which is odd since I didn’t like his music at all until 2006. Up until then, I really didn’t like him, but something just instantly clicked one day when one of his songs, “Blame the Vain”, came on the radio and it’s been love ever since.

  12. Leeann, it’s nice to know there’s a radio station in Maine willing to play music like “Blame The Vein.” Those DJs have some good ears!

    I’ve been a Dwight Yoakam fan for a long time, but first bought an album of his in 1999 (I bought both GH projects at once). I’ve always been a fan of his individual style, and even though he identifies with the Bakersfield Sound, his music sounds all his own. I appreciate artists willing to stick to their guns and forge their own paths.

    While I love almost all his hit recordings, I have a soft spot for his polarizing hit “Nothing.” It’s very much indicative of his individuality, and one of the coolest sounding records he’s ever made. His Rodney Crowell cover, “Thinkin’ Bout Leavin'” is a close second. “Back of Your Hand” is probably third.

    While I’ve tried, I haven’t been able to get into his post-Pete Anderson albums. His exaggerated twang on DWIGHT SINGS BUCK lessened my enjoyment of that project considerably, while the offbeat nature of “Intentional Heartache” hasn’t been a taste I’ve acquired.

    But I’ve grown more adventurous in my musical listenings of late, so I’ve most likely acquired that taste in these last seven years.

    I’ve also thoroughly enjoyed what I’ve heard of THREE PEARS. It’s been far too long since he last released an album of all new material.

  13. Jonathan,
    It’s poossible that a station in Maine played “Blame the Vain” back then, but my experience came from hearing it on XM Radio.

    I haven’t heard anything from the upcoming project yet. I’m nervous, because Beck is involved, but I’m still hopeful. I do like his Buck Owens tribute and the Blame the Vain album.

  14. Figured it had to be XM Radio. That’s all I listen to anyways.

    I think, but I could be wrong, Beck is only involved in two of the tracks.