In the early '90s, when I was even dumber than I am now, I spent most of my time driving around the country in a van named Rocco and playing dive bars with the band Watershed. (You can read all about it in the acclaimed book Hitless Wonder.) Growing up in the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio, the only thing I knew about country music was that it sucked, whereas KISS, well, they rocked.
Thing is, the country music coming out of Nashville around that time did, in fact, suck. This is the era of "Achy Breaky Heart," "Boot Scootin' Boogie" and a whole shitload of Garth Brooks and Shania Twain. Or put another way, my idea of country was plugging in a cassette of Hank Williams Jr. and wondering what was this "Family Tradition" he was always singing about. To summarize: country sucked and I was stupid.
Still, from all of our travels, generous souls occasionally took pity on our poor barren brains and would share nuggets of musical enlightenment over beers before last call. The name Dwight Yoakam would come up repeatedly. Country doesn't suck, you dipshits just don't know where to find it, check out Dwight Yoakam and Steve Earle.
Yeah, yeah, we should check out Dwight Yoakam. Whatever, old-timer. Country sucks.
So cruising late one night, Rocco was eating up I-71 while we listened to the Truckin' Bozo on WLW 700-AM and a mystery song came on. All our ears perked up. Damn, this sorta sounds like country except it doesn't suck. Now, the Truckin' Bozo was an overnight DJ who would take calls from big rigs all over the USA and occasionally play a tune so he never bothered to mention the title of the song or anything like that. But still, we all remembered that song and wondered who it was by.
Fast forward about six months and Mike "Biggie" McDermott pops in a CD (modern technology!) and says, "Might as well see what this Dwight guy is all about." We were all sort half paying attention when suddenly that song came on. "That's the song!!" we all yelled in unison. "That song" was "It Only Hurts When I Cry" and the album was If There Was a Way. We were smitten. Dwight vaulted into heavy van rotation and never left. If fact, we were so taken with Dwight, that we tried to slip a cover of "Turn Me Up, Turn Me Loose" on to a Watershed record. When the wise label suits at Epic got wind of our scheme they sent a memo that said in so many words, "What, are you guys crazy? No fuckin' way." It eventually showed up as a bonus track on a Star Vehicle re-issue when nobody cared what we did.
Yoakam and his master producer/guitarist Pete Anderson followed up If There Was A Way (1990) with This Time (1993) and Gone (1995). Each one better than the last. How was this possible? If there has been a more impressive three-record run in any genre, let alone country, I'd like to hear it. All three albums are stone-cold classics, a music production clinic and a tour de force of great songwriting. And to top it all off, Dwight can deliver the goods live and has one of the great voices in all of country music.
Dwight's latest album, 3 Pears, is his first new release in seven years and his best since Tomorrow's Sounds Today, but that is hardly a knock on his other records. Mainstream country is still best to be ignored, but everything Dwight Yoakam puts his name on is worth your attention (movies included).
Dwight Yoakam will be performing at the Bluestone in Columbus, Ohio Tuesday April 9th.
Colin Gawel writes for Pencilstorm, plays in Watershed and apologizes for the subpar grammar in this story. See, he wrote it while working at Colin's Coffee and rushed it to have ready for the Dwight Yoakam show the same night in Columbus, Ohio. We will polish it up for the archives. What do you think this is? Grantland? More at colingawel.com