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Dwight Yoakam goes his own way

By Jeffrey B. Remz, July 2003

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The word was getting out, and Warner eventually signed Yoakam to record an expanded version of the EP.

And Yoakam arrived quickly it seems with the release of his cover of Johnny Horton's "Honky Tonk Man," which shot to number three on the charts in 1986. In fact, Yoakam registered a slew of hits including "Guitars, Cadillacs," a cover of Elvis' "Little Sister," "Little Ways," "Always Late with Your Kisses," originally done by Left Frizzell, and number ones in "Streets of Bakersfield," a duet with Buck Owens, and "I Sang Dixie."

Yoakam had a great run with his first three albums - "Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc." "Hillbilly Deluxe" and "Buenas Noches from a Lonely Room" all hitting the top of the charts.

Yoakam's brand of honky tonk, hillbilly music continued going strong despite the advent of the hat act scene in country, which tended to be country wannabes who were more a flavor of the month than the real deal.

But as the '90s continued, Yoakam's star was not quite as bright. "Under the Covers," an album of Yoakam doing songs like "North to Alaska," "Wichita Lineman" and The Clash's "Train in Vain" received some mixed reviews and produced nothing close to a hit single.

The hits may not have been as frequent, but Yoakam was not resting on his laurels either. "dwightyoakamacoustic.net" was out in 2000 with Yoakam recording his songs all acoustic.

And his last regular studio album, "Tomorrow's Sounds Today," released only five months later, received boffo reviews and made the top 10 of the country charts.

With a long recording career in hand, Yoakam has extended himself beyond music.

He also has been on the silver screen. Yoakam often plays a dark character in movies.

Yoakam says he is currently in the midst of developing a screenplay from a novel. "I'm hoping to have it come to fruition in the future."

Yoakam also is starting work as an actor in another movie. Only this one doesn't quite possess the star power of "Hollywood Homicide."

An indie movie, "Three Way Split" counts Yoakam among the cast members. "That's a very small independent and austere film, which has proved to be the most fun and invigorating."

The movie, which features a cast of unknown actors, has been filming in California.

Yoakam is not a newcomer to acting, looking to broaden his resume beyond music. In fact, he was acting back as a junior high schooler in Columbus, Ohio, where his family moved to from Kentucky when Yoakam was only a year old.

Yoakam made his debut as Hanabel in "Curios Savage" and while a sophomore portrayed James in "The Miracle Worker."

Years past, but he eventually made his film debut in the film noir western of John Dahl "Red Rock West" with Nicolas Cage, Dennis Hopper and Lara Flynn Boyle. Yoakam later gained acclaim as the mean, dark Doyle Hargraves in Billy Bob Thornton's "Sling Blade" and a robber in Richard Linklater's "The Newton Boys" with Matthew McConaughey, Ethan Hawke and Skeet Ulrich.

Yoakam also found the time to put out his own project, "South of Heaven West of Hill," which encountered some legal issues along the way and not so sterling reviews either. Vince Vaughn and Bridget Fonda joined Yoakam and Thornton in the film.

Last year, Yoakam appeared in "Panic Room" with Jodie Foster.

When asked why he acts today, Yoakam says, "I think for the same reason (as I did) when I was 14 and did 'You're a Good Man Charlie Brown" in a ninth grade theatre production. They just started a drama program at that junior high. It's an exciting way to express emotion. And it's a variation of what music does for me."

"One inspires the other for me," says Yoakam.

But for now, the greater focus for Yoakam seems to be his music. He's been touring this year, but with a different set up - sometimes solo and sometimes with a few backing pieces, including guitarist Keith Gattis, who had a cup of coffee on RCA back in 1996.

This summer, Yoakam is adding an upright bass player, Dave Roe, and drummer Mitch Michelson. It's a different line-up for Yoakam than typical long-time mainstays like Anderson.

"It's (got) a sling of rockabilly to it, and we're having a great time making music."

Asked why he opted for a different musical line-up, Yoakam says, "Because I liked it. It's a different configuration entirely."

The touring will be an extension of what Yoakam did during the winter and spring. "It was supposed to be two weeks," he says. "It turned into 45 dates."

At the age of 46, Yoakam apparently is undergoing changes. The core of his music remains the same, but not the business end of it.

"Hopefully, it's the best of both worlds," Yoakam concludes.

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