Country music legend Dwight Yoakam
Thursday, July 15, 2010
There’s a line in “Streets of Bakersfield,” a dusty ballad inspired by Steinbeck’s chronicling of the Dust Bowl refugee migration, that might best define Dwight Yoakam’s career.
“I’m not trying to be nobody,” it goes. “Just want a chance to be myself.”
The country music legend, who performs Saturday at the Salinas Municipal Stadium, has subscribed to that mantra since the very beginning of his career, when he first moved to Los Angeles from Kentucky in the late 1970s. During a time when country music was moving from raw and authentic to pop and cutesy, Yoakam cultivated a fierce following with his unique brand of what he called “Hillbilly” music – while playing the same clubs as punk rockers like X and neo-rockabilly bands like The Blasters.
“Country music was [once] a very edgy rock and roll energy,” Yoakam says. “That’s what I had most in common with the bands playing the rock club circuit at the time.”
With his 1984 self-financed, homemade EP, Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc., Yoakam rerouted his music back to its traditional roots, attracting audiences beyond the typical country music fans. His music also began attracting record labels: One record exec jokingly told him that his music was “too country for rock and too rock for country.”
His overwhelming popularity – he’s sold more than 25 million records – shows that in being himself, and being country, Yoakem has become nothing less than an American icon.
Yoakam cites his move to California at 20 and his Kentucky-Appalachian roots as the two main musical influences. It was in the Golden State that he was exposed to other genres.
“I liked the Stones and a lot of the Memphis and Motown stuff,” he told Music Express Magazine. “It’s so closely aligned in an emotional sense with rural white music.”
In a 30-year career spanning more than 10 albums – along with acting roles in more than 20 films, including a gripping turn as Doyle Hargraves in Academy Award-winning Slingblade – Yoakam has been known to ruffle some feathers. Most famously, in 1986, he criticized sacred-cow Nashville powers for rejecting Johnny Cash. But dogging on the country music establishment didn’t prevent the musician from being named one of the Top 25 Country Stars of the past 25 years by Billboard Magazine last month.
“I’m glad someone cares enough to vote in that direction,” Yoakam says.
One of Yoakam’s heroes, country great Buck Owens, might sum up how the Kentuckian’s offensiveness and continuous appeal are one and the same thing. “I think if Dwight has brought any grief upon himself,” Owens says, “it was by telling the truth about what he thinks.”