DWIGHT YOAKAM Biography - Musicians


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Name: Dwight David Yoakam                                                                       
Born: October 23, 1956 Pikeville, Kentucky, USA                                                 
Dwight David Yoakam (born October 23, 1956) is an American country music singer,                 
songwriter, and actor. Active since the early 1980s, he has recorded more than                   
twenty albums and compilations, and has charted more than thirty singles on the                 
Billboard Hot Country Songs charts.                                                             
Yoakam was born in Pikeville, Kentucky, the son of Ruth Ann, a key-punch                         
operator, and David Yoakam, a gas-station owner. He was raised in Columbus,                     
Ohio, growing up with his mother and stepfather, who had a white-collar job in                   
the automotive industry. He graduated from Columbus' Northland High School on                   
June 9, 1974. During his high school years, he excelled in both music and drama,                 
regularly securing the lead role in school plays, such as "Charlie" in the stage                 
version of Flowers for Algernon, honing his skills under the guidance of teacher-mentors         
Jerry McAfee (music) and Charles Lewis (drama). Outside of school, Yoakam sang                   
and played guitar with local garage bands, and frequently entertained his                       
friends and classmates as an amateur comedian, impersonating politicians and                     
other celebrities, such as Richard Nixon, who, at that time, was heavily                         
embroiled in the Watergate controversy.                                                         
Yoakam briefly attended The Ohio State University, but dropped out and moved to                 
Nashville in the late 1970s with the intent of becoming a recording artist.                     
When he began his career, Nashville was oriented toward pop "Urban Cowboy" music,               
and Yoakam's brand of Bakersfield Honky Tonk music was not considered marketable.               
Not making much headway in Nashville, Yoakam moved to Los Angeles. Yoakam's                     
vision of bringing traditional, Honky Tonk or "Hillbilly" music (as he himself                   
called it) forward into the 1980s wasn't fully realized until he teamed up with                 
lead guitarist and Producer Pete Anderson. While Yoakam wrote most of his songs                 
himself, Anderson had a hand in arranging the songs and shaping their direction,                 
as well as determining their ultimate sound as producer. Pete grew up in Detroit,               
Michigan, where his family had moved North to find work in the Michigan auto                     
factories, a similar move to Yoakam's family's migration North from Kentucky. In                 
Detroit, Pete picked up Blues guitar, being influenced by local Blues guitarists                 
like John Lee Hooker. You can hear Pete playing some Hooker-inspired licks on                   
Yoakam's cover of "Honky Tonk Man", on his debut album. When Pete moved to Los                   
Angeles, he had to pick up other styles of guitar playing in order to work, and                 
he forged his Country style playing in local Country bands. Some of these bands                 
lacked a Steel guitarist, and so he worked out one of his most distinctive                       
techniques: imitating a Pedal Steel guitar on standard electric guitar. Pete has                 
tremendous skill and technique, but rarely over-plays, and has added quite a bit                 
to the unique, hard-hitting Country/Honky-Tonk sound Yoakam featured on most of                 
his albums. Pete has always produced records for other artists, and recently                     
left Yoakam's band to focus full-time on producing.                                             
Continuing, as he was forced to, outside the mainstream Country music channels,                 
Yoakam did many shows in Rock and Punk clubs around Los Angeles, playing with                   
Roots/Punk/Rock & Roll acts like The Blasters, Los Lobos, and X. This helped him                 
diversify his audience well beyond the typical Country music fans; at many of                   
his shows you would see mohawked and leather-clad Punks alongside Rock & Rollers,               
as well as the typical cowboy-shirt wearing Country crowd.                                       
Yoakam's recording debut was on the independent album A Town South of                           
Bakersfield, which was a collection of "New Country" artists who were based in                   
Los Angeles, California, and was planned and produced by Pete Anderson in 1984.                 
He released an E.P. on independent label Oak Records; this was later re-released,               
with several additional tracks, as his major-label debut LP, 1986's Guitars,                     
Cadillacs, Etc., Etc.. It instantly launched his career. "Honky Tonk Man," a                     
remake of the Johnny Horton song, and "Guitars, Cadillacs" were hit singles. The                 
follow-up LP, Hillbilly Deluxe, was just as successful. His third LP, Buenas                     
Noches From a Lonely Room, included his first #1, a duet with his musical idol,                 
Buck Owens, on "Streets of Bakersfield". 1990's If There Was a Way was another                   
Yoakam's song "Readin', Rightin', Route 23" pays tribute to his childhood move                   
from Kentucky, and is titled after a local expression describing the route that                 
rural Kentuckians took to take to find a job outside of the coal mines. (U.S.                   
Highway 23 runs north from Kentucky through Columbus, Ohio and Toledo, Ohio and                 
through the automotive centers of Michigan.) Rather than the standard line that                 
their Elementary schools taught the "Three Rs" of "Readin', 'Ritin', and 'Rithmetic",           
Kentuckians used to say that the 3 Rs they learned were "Readin', 'Ritin, and                   
Route 23 North"!                                                                                 
Yoakam has also taken some acting roles, most notably as the abusive alcoholic                   
Doyle in Sling Blade, (1996) and as a sociopathic killer in 2002's Panic Room.                   
He has also appeared in Southern California live theater, combining his acting                   
talents with the talents of director Peter Fonda. More recently, he appeared in                 
a cameo role as the doctor for Chev Chelios in Crank.                                           
Having diverged from pop-icon status in country-western fare, Yoakam is today                   
more likely to be identified as having an older, more traditional style. At one                 
point, Johnny Cash cited Yoakam as his favorite country singer. But along                       
with his bluegrass and honky-tonk roots, Yoakam has written or covered many                     
Elvis Presley-style rockabilly songs, including his popular covers of Queen's "Crazy             
Little Thing Called Love" in 1999 and Presley's "Suspicious Minds" in 1992. He                   
recorded a cover of the Clash's "Train in Vain" in 1997, as well as Cheap Trick's               
"I Want You to Want Me". Yoakam has never been associated only with Country                     
music; on many early tours, he played with Hardcore Punk bands like Hüsker Dü,                 
and, as noted above, played many shows around L.A. with Roots/Punk/Rock & Roll                   
acts. His middle-period-to-later records saw him branching out to different                     
styles, covering Rock & Roll, Punk, 60's, Blues-based "Boogie" like Z.Z. Top,                   
and writing more adventurous songs like the almost cinematic "A Thousand Miles                   
From Nowhere".                                                                                   
In the last few years, along with acting, Yoakam has continued as a musician;                   
released dwightyoakamacoustic.net, a record featuring solo acoustic versions of                 
many of his hits; left his major label; and started his own label. His latest                   
album of all-new tracks is 2005's Blame the Vain, on New West Records. Yoakam                   
will be inducted into the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame in 2008. Yoakam also                       
released an album dedicated to Buck Owens, Dwight Sings Buck, on October 23,                     
2007. On November 7, 2007, the CMA presented Yoakam the International Artist                     
Achievement Award.                                                                               
Yoakam currently resides in Southern California, but still maintains close ties                 
with his family in the Columbus area.