Last week I featured Randy Travis and how his impact was immense on the future of Country Music in 1986, essentially saving the genre. Dwight Yoakam was right there with him. And from my seat when these two showed up, everything changed for country. Dwight Yoakam had a bevy of really great songs, but who he was, was just as important. Dwight Yoakam was good for us in so many ways, the music was just one of them.
His Break Through Song!
As Urban Cowboy was running out of gas, we were at a pivotal point in our genre. Do we continue to record, release, market, and play the same stuff that was stagnant, vanilla and not really loved by fans, or do we go in a very different direction? Travis' Storms of Life album shifted the direction of the format for years to come, as did Yoakam's Guitars And Cadillacs. Musically the two were entirely different, and in style and image as well. But the one thing they totally had in common was they were new, young, and here to make an incredible difference. They arrived at about the same time, the right time, they just took very different paths.
This Was A Very Popular Song!
Yoakam for the most part grew up in Columbus, Ohio where he went to school and eventually enrolled in Ohio State, but that didn't last long. He was heavily influenced by the music he grew up listening to on Columbus country radio, and what he saw on TV. Elvis, and others to be exact. He moved to Nashville in the early 80's and was told he was too honky-tonk, too bluegrass, too rockabilly, in short, he was just too much - period. You see, country was very safe in those days. My first number of years in country radio there were safe pop sounding songs from mostly established older artists and no one new was finding us, listening to us, and most of all enjoying us. We were officially "non-fun" and "non risk taking" overall and we all were concerned. We were treading water.
A Former Elvis Hit One Of His Heroes - Big For DW
Yoakam moved to California where he embraced the Bakersfield sound, and eventually found the ear of Reprise Records and recorded an "EP" at that time with some songs Yoakam had written and a couple of covers. It would become the iconic, Guitars and Cadillacs, and it was a huge success. I emceed a live show with Yoakam right at his beginning, as Honky Tonk Man was just finding its way to the charts. It was at some big club in Columbus, and I was doing mornings at WRMZ FM-100 Country there, we were the sister station to WMNI, the station Yoakam had grown up with as a kid. We had done shows there a few times with a local legendary group called, McGuffey Lane, all great guys. (They were sort of the Michael Stanley of Columbus, in how much they were loved) The place was mobbed, I mean jammed, with people seemingly hanging from the rafters to see Yoakam play. He was different, and you could feel and see it.
With One Of His Idols - Legendary Buck Owens #1 (This Song Was A Big Moment In His Run)
Yoakam was this new avant garde hybrid with his look and way. He was a new deal with a low riding hat, tighter than tight jeans that had holes in them, pointed boots, un-tucked shirt, jean waist jacket with some kind of rhinestones, and other stones lining the seams of his clothes with leather straps hanging off his sleeves, and some strange handmade belt worn low. All of that unheard of at the time, common place later. He had some Elvis type moves, a rockabilly singing delivery, and was just - cool. That's the best way I can describe it. The music was a bit loud, with a band that looked nothing like any country backup band I had ever seen. The music was also respectful of his heroes well before him, and we knew that was his passion, and loved him for it. We believed him, and that's a BIG DEAL for any country singer. He was on to something, it was new and really fun. It was a new day.
Huge Hit - Grammy Award Winner
Gone were the freshly pressed leisure suits of the day with badly died hair, capped teeth, long necklaces with wide open collars, and boots with no hat or anything else that was up to date. And also gone were the perceived "fake cowboys" of country where the big belt buckle and occasional hat wasn't fooling anyone anymore. This was a new kind of country star. And to me, along with the incredible music, that is the real gift Yoakam brought us.
A Real Yoakam Favorite
As where musically Randy Travis was politely asking Urban Cowboy to kindly step aside so others could play too, Yoakam seemed to give them the old heave-ho by the seat of their polyester pants, and Jordache jeans. Yoakam's music in many ways was a throwback to an era gone by, but it had a thump, it was traditional, loud, brash and more in your face, all being delivered by a guy in a very cool and new kind of get up and approach. He really helped begin the change of the stage show for country, another great gift. We were not just standing at the mic anymore.
Great Song - Cool Video
DW would enjoy a number of years of really good success in country. There are those who had more number one songs, and so on, but he was loved. His music was as distinct as he was. You knew it was him on the radio and I always feel that is the mark of a really great artist, the one that can cut through. His look which was - and is - distinctly his. It directly led to others in the years straight ahead to be more as daring, different and new. Yoakam made us far more adventurous. And at the beginning, we could have played him and Travis about 10 times an hour and no one would have minded.
Big Concert Song For Him
Yoakam opened up the minds of those reluctant to do so, while easing the minds of those longing for a new traditional country sound, and he brought us new listeners who decided to give us a try after seeing and hearing him. He was right there with Randy Travis closing out the Urban Cowboy pop country era for the newer traditionalists that were on the way. He is a Grammy winner, a CMA and ACM winner going on to sell close to 30 million albums which was unheard of then. He also was the very first country artist to EVER to have videos played on MTV. He was that cool and different. Acting was ahead as you know and he became re-famous in Hollywood doing great work there.
Later Yoakam - Different But Still Really Cool -
Dwight Yoakam to me is a very important player in the evolution of a far more modern country music landscape. He broke down a bunch of barriers and was daring enough musically and style wise to help change the direction of country music and its future entertainers. In the last few decades, he is one of the most respected artists we have had. He was accepted by artists from many genres as a real innovative artist. In a different way, he was as pivotal as Travis - and for us he was right on time.
Dwight Yoakam - A true trailblazer.