One of country music’s true originals, Dwight Yoakam’s rise to prominence is a study in hard work and perseverance. Shunned by Nashville, he brought his innovative brand of country music to Hollywood, which accepted him with open arms. After developing a large and devoted fan base known as cow-punks, the major labels took notice, he was signed, and No. 1 albums followed, one after another. After Yoakam’s music career blossomed, he branched out into acting on both the stage and screen to rave reviews. With over 25 million albums sold and a respectable feature film acting career to his name, Dwight Yoakam is truly one of country’s great modern Renaissance men.
Origins and Early Musical Successes
Yoakam was born on October 23, 1956 in the small eastern Kentucky town of Pikeville, which is the same hometown of country singer, Patty Loveless, who was born two months later. His family moved to Columbus, Ohio when he was still young. His mother, Ruth Ann, was a key-punch operator, and his father, David, owned a service station. Dwight attended Northland High School, where he showed tremendous talent in both music and drama. He played the lead roles in numerous school plays and sang and played guitar in a number of garage bands.
After high school, Yoakam briefly attended Ohio State University. But the call of music was too strong, so he dropped out college, packed his bags and headed south to chase his musical dream in Nashville.
The Rise of the Cow-Punks
In the late ‘70s, country music was knee-deep in the Urban Cowboy movement. Pop-friendly cross-over country was the order of the day in Nashville, which ran counter to Yoakam’s hip brand of “hillbilly” Honky Tonk. So with no takers in Music City, he packed his bags and moved to Los Angeles. He continued writing songs and eventually found gigs in the rock and punk clubs around town. Over time he built a large and very diverse group of fans who affectionately became known as cow-punks.
Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc.
In 1984, Yoakam made his recording debut on a six-song self-financed E.P. entitled Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc. The project was produced by lead guitarist, Pete Anderson, who would work and play with Yoakam until 2004. Two years later, Reprise Records (a division of Warner Brothers) signed Yoakam to his first major recording contract. On August 19, 1986, Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc. was re-released with four additional tracks (and one additional Etc. tacked onto the title).
The album’s first single, a cover of the Johnny Horton classic, “Honky Tonk Man,” shot to No. 3 on Billboard’s country chart, while its follow-up, “Guitars, Cadillacs,” climbed to No. 4. The album’s final single, “It Won’t Hurt,” stalled at No. 31. Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc. climbed to No. 1 and eventually sold over two million copies.
Yoakam Gains Serious Momentum
On July 7, 1987, Yoakam released his second consecutive No. 1 album, Hillbilly Deluxe, which spawned four top ten country hits. The album’s first single, a remake of Elvis Presley’s 1961 top 5 hit, “Little Sister,” climbed to No. 7. Yoakam wrote the next two singles, “Little Ways” (No. 8) and “Please, Please Baby” (No. 6). The album’s final single, a remake of the Lefty Frizzell classic, “Always Late with Your Kisses,” climbed to No. 9.
Buenas Noches from a Lonely Room was Yoakam’s third straight No. 1 country album. It gave him his first two No. 1 country hits, including “Streets of Bakersfield” which was a duet with his musical hero, Buck Owens, and “I Sang Dixie,” which Yoakam wrote. More successful albums followed, including 1993’s commercial smash, This Time, which spawned three No. 2 singles, including “A Thousand Miles from Nowhere,” “Fast As You,” and the Grammy-winning “Ain’t that Lonely Yet.”
Yoakam Becomes Movie Star and Food King
Yoakam turned heads in 1996 for his highly acclaimed portrayal of the evil Doyle Hargraves in the Oscar-winning film Sling Blade. Other film credits include playing a sociopathic killer in the Jody Foster film, Panic Room, as well as numerous character roles in films like Wedding Crashers and Four Christmases, both starring Vince Vaughn.
In 1999 Yoakam launched his own food line under the brand name, Bakersfield Biscuits. The line is carried by numerous national retailers, including Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club.
Most Popular Dwight Yoakam Songs
- “Streets of Bakersfield”
- “I Sang Dixie”
- “Ain’t That Lonely Yet”
- “A Thousand Miles from Nowhere”
- “Fast As You”
- “Honky Tonk Man”
- “Guitars and Cadillacs”
Featured Dwight Yoakam Discography