Hokum or Yoakam?

With the recent passing of his chief influence and mentor, Buck Owens, it should prove interesting to witness Dwight Yoakam's mood during his forthcoming appearance in Rockwall. The pair had recently played together, and Owens had been known to dispense some fatherly advice along with an occasionally stern rebuke when Yoakam strayed off track.

Yoakam's life and career have featured enough highs and lows to warrant a good amount of Owens' sage counsel. For every hearty original like "Little Ways," Yoakam has subjected fans to cornpone, stars-and-bars dreck like "I Sang Dixie." It's one thing to have a hit with Elvis' "Little Sister" and quite another to recycle Queen's "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" in shitkicker's garb. And who can forget Dwight's ill-fated liaison with Sharon Stone? What was Ms. Basic Instinct's summation of Yoakam's romantic skills? "Kissing Dwight was like eating a dirt sandwich" was her widely reported response.

Yet despite his miscues, it's still hard to believe it's been 20 years since the release of Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc. , Yoakam's purposefully anti-Nashville debut, an effort that made country cool for college kids. With his absurdly large hat and Flying Burrito Brother fashion sense, Yoakam was championed by a surprising mix of punks, rockabilly hounds and hard-core honky-tonkers.

However, it wasn't until his third release, the dark and ominous Buenos Noches From a Lonely Room, that Yoakam really exceeded his influences and seemed on the verge of becoming a transcendent figure in country music, a la Johnny Cash.

Sadly, Yoakam has not reached such a pinnacle of artistic merit and popularity since. Content with numerous compilations, live recordings and still more dubious cover songs, Dwight Yoakam hasn't released a meaningful effort in a decade. He has become a surprisingly effective character actor, though, turning in memorable performances in Sling Blade and Panic Room. Unlike other singers-turned-actors, Yoakam trained for the stage before taking up music, even securing a lead role as Charlie in Flowers for Algernon while in high school.

Indeed, Yoakam's acting chops cast doubt on the legitimacy of his country credentials. Yoakam's Kentucky and Ohio upbringing contradicts some of the credence generally given to him as the creator of the "Bakersfield Sound." Yet, if Yoakam sticks to songs from his initial quartet of releases, most will hear some terrific music in fitting memory of Owens' enduring legacy.

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Darryl Smyers
Contact: Darryl Smyers