To call Dwight Yoakam a country singer really doesn’t do him justice. If that were strictly true, Johnny Cash’s classic “Ring of Fire” wouldn’t have the sound and rhythms of T Rex’s classic “Bang a Gong” when played by Yoakam and his hard-rocking band.
As Yoakam told the Post-Dispatch in the days leading up to Sunday night’s concert at the Pageant, genre is something music marketers worry about, “but it’s not a boundary for musicians.”
And that was true throughout the generous 32-song, two-hour-plus show. “Trying” from last year’s “3 Pears” CD, rode on Jonathan Clark’s bass line and rhythm, which would be at home on many a Memphis soul record. Other songs took on a similar vibe with washes of organ by multi-instrumentalist Brian Whelan.
Another new song, “Rock It All Away,” was built on power chords any rock fan would love, and early Elvis Presley hovered over the stage during a cover of “Little Sister” and in the Jordanaires-like background vocals of “Always Late With Your Kisses.” (Missing was his rave-up cover of Elvis’ “Suspicious Minds.”)
Country music star Dwight Yoakam is spending the summer reconnecting with fans on a tour that takes him to a mix of venues, from theaters and festivals to state fairs and casinos. It’s a variety he appreciates, but he’s especially partial to festivals, having played Cheyenne (Wyo.) Frontier Days, Bonnaroo in Tennessee and Stagecoach in California, among others, already this year.
I caught up with him late last month while he was home in Los Angeles for one day, running errands and doing interviews before heading out on the road again. (I wrote an advance for his concert in St. Louis on Aug. 18 based on this conversation for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.)
We talked about a variety of subjects, from geeky guitar stuff to Western music fashion to the future of music distribution. But we started off with “3 Pears,” his latest album that came out last fall and landed him atop the Americana chart for eight straight weeks, a big change from his days as a hitmaker on mainstream Country radio.
Here is a transcript of that 44-minute interview, edited for length and clarity:
BG: Let’s start off with “3 Pears.” It’s been nine months, I guess? It was a smash on Americana …
DY: Yeah, it was an honor to have that kind of response to it, held the No. 1 spot for eight weeks on Americana radio. I was just elated. In some ways it felt like it was a full circle journey to have this album come out and be received on an alternative format, sort of like the first EP was when I began with “Guitars Cadillacs.”
Dwight Yoakam was part of what Steve Earle has called the Great Credibility Scare of the late ’80s, when so-called New Traditionalists filled the country radio charts post-“Urban Cowboy” and pre-Garth Brooks. But Yoakam’s career has been anything but traditional.
A Kentucky native reared in Ohio, Yoakam was embraced by Los Angeles roots rockers and punk rockers despite channeling the Bakersfield vibe of country icons Buck Owens and Merle Haggard. Even while racking up hits on mainstream country radio, his music drew from other genres and was unlike most of what was being played.
Most recently, after spending some time on independent labels, he returned to his original home at Warner Reprise — but to the label’s Nashville office, where expectations turned upside down again and he became a hit on the Americana radio chart.