adidas zx 700 black Country star Dwight Yoakam tough to label
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MOORHEAD Over four decades, music industry folks have struggled with how to label Dwight Yoakam.
A throwback country artist who succinctly introduced himself with his 1986 debut single, “Honky Tonk Man,” the singer/guitarist completely side stepped Nashville. Instead, he emerged from his adopted home in Los Angeles as part of the cowpunk movement led by Los Lobos, X and The Blasters.
His long, winding road leads him to Moorhead on Tuesday night for a show at the Imagine Amphitheater at Bluestem Center for the Arts in south Moorhead. It will be his first F M area show since he played the Red River Valley Fair in 2000.
Since he burst onto the national scene nearly 30 years ago, he’s declined to fit nicely into any mold. A sex symbol in the ’80s and ’90s who dated celebrities including Sharon Stone, Bridget Fonda and Karen Duffy, Yoakam played against type as bad guys in “Sling Blade” and “Panic Room”.
Despite living in Hollywood since 1977, Yoakam never sold out his hillbilly roots for a countrypolitan hit. This may be why he’s only won one solo Grammy, best country vocal performance for 1993’s “Ain’t That Lonely Yet.” In 1999, he was part of the best country collaboration winner as part of a large ensemble that also featured Merle Haggard, Clint Black, Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss and many others on the traditional song “Same Old Train.”
After releasing just two albums of original material (and three covers collections) in a decade, Yoakam returned to the spotlight last fall with the release of “3 Pears,” a disc that would top many critics’ year end best of lists.
During a break between tours and sandwiched while driving between meetings Yoakam talked about his music and his style.
Do you feel like you’re embraced by Nashville?
I’ve certainly had great commercial success with country radio. I was signed to Warner Nashville for 18 years, back for this album (“Three Pears”). Yeah, the music was enabled by the folks at Warner Nashville and the community there. But my entire career has been based out of the cowpunk scene in the early ’80s and the nightclub scene. We broke out of the West Coast neo honky tonk scene.
“3 Pears” is a great album, but I have to ask, why was it seven years between original albums?
You know what? That’s a valid question, and I don’t have an answer. (Laughs) I did the Buck album (“Dwight Sings Buck,” a tribute to his friend and idol, the late Buck Owens, who played with Yoakam at WE Fest in 1999) in the interim, and that was almost like a studio project for myself and the band.
Some critics have called “3 Pears” a “comeback.” Do you see it that way?
Hey, good. In spite of not feeling like I’ve ever gone anywhere. But I understand when there’s a period of time when you haven’t put out original recordings . Hey, I’m still happy to be able to come and go. You hope that you can come and go as you choose and not being refused reentry. To me, it feels more like a full circle. It feels closer in proximity to the first EP in the moment, not necessarily in terms of the sonics and material, but there’s a rugged rawness in the approach to this record that reminds me of “Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc.” and the moment that it was embraced by alt radio and college radio and in the case of “Three Pears,” sometimes AAA (adult album alternative) radio.
What was it like playing alongside punk bands like X and The Blasters in Los Angeles and how did that affect your music?