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Dwight Yoakam goes his own way

By Jeffrey B. Remz, July 2003

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Yoakam says "Population Me" did not "come together as a contiguous kind of collection until I started mixing it. It had a moment of confluence for me that seemed that I had conceived it almost as a collection of 10 songs that were somehow meant to be conceptual. And thematic, one to another connected as a theme without being intentional. It just kind of happened by a natural process in a real organic way, which is the best way for it to happen to me."

But Yoakam makes it clear that he does not write autobiographical songs. "I don't journal my life," he says. "I don't (find) it interesting. I know there are writers that do that. It's just not my thing. I'm (writing) from a place (where) I'm not sure what it refers to."

Meaning that Yoakam leaves the songs open for interpretation. If you're looking for lyrics to hit you between the eyes, that's not Yoakam.

As for the title track, Yoakam says, "I guess I was writing more like you'd write prose. I'm writing based on emotional experience in my life, but for that one, not for any specific experience at all."

The most different song on the album is the single and closing track, "Back of My Hand," written by Greg Lee Henry.

The song, which moves along a far slower clip than the other songs, centers on a relationship and whether a couple really knows each other.

Yoakam picked up the song while doing a stint on the recent movie "Hollywood Homicide" with Harrison Ford and Josh Hartnett. He was in a makeup trailer with fellow actor Bruce Greenwood. An actor friend of Greenwood, Henry, came by to pick up a CD that he was recording in Greenwood's home studio. Henry penned all the material.

"After Greg left, Bruce and I had time on our hands. We went out to the car and listened to what they'd been recording. About the fourth or fifth song in, 'The Back of Your Hand' played. I was immediately taken with the song. I said, 'can I hear that again? That's a really good song.' I'm envious of his talent as a songwriter. I listened again. I asked if I could take it to the trailer and listened a couple of more times. One of my managers happened to be there, and I said, 'I think I got to record this.'"

Yoakam may have liked the song just fine, but he did not exactly envision it as a first single either.

"I wasn't thinking about it as a single, a first single," he says. "I mixed 'Late Great Golden State' (the lead-off track from the hand of Mike Stinson) and that song the first few days. I had an acoustic show in Vegas and five days on the bus. I played the mixes that I had. I played "Late Great Golden State' and loved that and "Back of Your Hand" and loved that. I played it back for the fourth or fifth time in a row, and I realized it might be an indication that it had merit as the lead-off single. At first, it wouldn't appear to be that. The more I listened, to that, the more I wanted to hear that."

Yoakam received praise for the song, particularly from women. Re-search backed up Yoakam. "By that point, it was too late. We had already shot the video anyway."

Yoakam hasn't exactly been one to hold up his finger and figure out which way the wind is blowing. He's pretty much stuck to his guns in putting out his hillbilly, honky tonk music.

Yoakam proved to be musical at an early age, playing guitar by 6 and writing his first song at 10. As a teen, he formed bands laying country, rockabilly and rock.

After a brief stint at nearby Ohio State, Yoakam headed south to Nashville. But the city and Yoakam did not quite mesh, and he went west to Los Angeles. He formed Dwight Yoakam & Kentucky Bourbon hitting the local haunts, but the group did not fare well because they were playing their own music and classics from likes of Hank Williams and Lefty Frizzell.

Yoakam also gained the attention of session musicians like pedal steel player Jay Dee Maness (now a Nashville mainstay) and recorded a 10-song demo in 1981. Yoakam shopped the project to labels without any luck.

The demo led Anderson to Yoakam through a mutual friend. Yoakam sat in one night while Anderson played with a Western swing band in the L.A. area. A few weeks later, Anderson went to Yoakam to learn his songs and play some classics together.

Still getting nowhere on the club scene, the two hatched an idea to re-record Yoakam's songs with Anderson producing. With help from a former Kentucky Bourbon drummer and relatives, they raised the necessary money for the recording.

Timing was on Yoakam's side as well because the Los Angeles scene was picking up with groups like The Long Ryders, Rank + File, Lone Justice, Rosie & The Screamers led by Rosie Flores, and The Knitters, a spin-off group of X, playing about town.

Finally in November 1984, the six-song EP "Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc. Etc." came out on the small Oak Records label with "It Won't Hurt," "I'll Be Gone" and "Miner's Prayer," an ode to his grandfather, among the songs.

Thanks to future Concrete Blonde singer Johnette Napolitano, the EP found its way to reviewers around the country. Yoakam soon was touring with The Blasters.

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