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Dwight David Yoakam (born October 23, 1956) is a Grammy winning Americanmarker singer-songwriter, actor and film director, most famous for his pioneering country music. Popular since the early 1980s, he has recorded more than twenty-one albums and compilations, has charted more than thirty singles on the Billboard Hot Country Songs charts, and sold more than 25 million records.

Early life

Yoakam was born in Pikeville, Kentucky, the son of Ruth Ann, a key-punch operator, and David Yoakam, a gas-station owner.[1] He was raised in Columbus, Ohio. 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 a 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 Ohio State University, but dropped out and moved to Nashville in the late 1970s with the intent of becoming a recording artist.

Music career

When he began his career, Nashville was oriented toward pop "Urban Cowboy" music, and Yoakam's brand of hip Honky tonk music was not considered marketable.

Not making much headway in Nashville, Yoakam moved to Los Angeles and worked towards bringing his particular brand of new Honky Tonk or "Hillbilly" music (as he himself called it) forward into the 1980s. Writing all his own songs, and continuing to perform mostly outside traditional country music channels, Yoakam did many shows in Rock and Punk clubs around Los Angeles, playing with roots rock or punk rock acts like The Blasters (Yoakam scored a small video hit with his version of their song "Long White Cadillac"), Los Lobos, and X. This helped him diversify his audience well beyond the typical Country music fans, and his authentic, groundbreaking music is often credited with rock audiences accepting country music.

Yoakam's recording debut was the self-financed E.P. Guitars Cadillacs, Etc., Etc on independent label Oak Records produced by lead guitarist Pete Anderson; this was later re-released, with several additional tracks, as his major-label debut LP, 1986's Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc.. It launched his career. "Honky Tonk Man," a remake of the Johnny Horton song, and "Guitars, Cadillacs" were hit singles. His stylish music video "Honky Tonk Man" was the first country music video ever played on MTV. 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 best-seller.

Yoakam's song "Readin', Rightin', Route 23" pays tribute to his childhood move from Kentucky, and is named after a local expression describing the route that rural Kentuckians took to take to find a job outside of the coal mines. (U.S. Route 23 runs north from Kentucky through Columbus and Toledo, Ohio and onto the automotive centers of Michigan.) Rather than the standard line that their elementary schools taught "the three Rs" of "Readin', 'Ritin', and 'Rithmetic", Ohio and Michigan locals would joke that the three Rs they learned were "Readin', 'Ritin, and Route 23 North"!

Johnny Cash once cited Yoakam as his favorite country singer.[2] Chris Isaak called him as good a songwriter that ever put a pen to paper. Time Magazine dubbed Yoakam "A Renaissance Man" and Vanity Fair declared "Yoakam strides the divide between rock's lust and country's lament" Along with his bluegrass and honky-tonk roots, Yoakam has written or covered many Elvis Presley-style rockabilly songs, including his 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, a cover of the Grateful Dead song "Truckin'", 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 played many shows around Los Angeles with Roots/Punk/Rock & Roll acts. His middle-period-to-later records saw him branching out to different styles, covering Rock & Roll, Punk, 1960's, Blues-based "Boogie" like ZZ Top, and writing more adventurous songs like "A Thousand Miles From Nowhere". In 2003, he provided background vocals on Warren Zevon's last album The Wind.

In the 21st century, Yoakam released, 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 well reviewed Blame the Vain, on New West Records. Yoakam also released an album dedicated to Buck Owens, Dwight Sings Buck, on October 23, 2007.

Yoakam, who continues to have a lasting transformative impact on country music, is currently finishing work on a new original album, the follow-up to 2005's "Blame The Vain", expected in 2010. His duet with Michelle Branch "The Long Goodbye" is expected to be released as a single at the beginning of 2010 as well.Yoakam has directed most of his own music videos.


Studio albums

Christmas albums

Covers albums

Compilation albums

International releases

  • This Is... (1990)
  • La Croix D/Amour (1992)

Outside of music

Yoakam has carved out a niche as one of the most mesmerizing and respected actors working today, most notably in critically acclaimed performances as the abusive alcoholic Doyle Hargraves in Sling Blade, (1996), as a sociopathic killer in Panic Room (2002), and as the Sheriff in The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (2005). He has also appeared in Southern California live theater under the direction of Peter Fonda. More recently, he appeared in a supporting role as the doctor for Chev Chelios in Crank, and reprised that role in Crank 2: High Voltage. Yoakam also had a role in the 2005 comedy movie Wedding Crashers. In 2008, Yoakam played Pastor Phil in Four Christmases starring Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon.

In 2000, Yoakam co-wrote, starred in and produced South of Heaven, West of Hell, also starring Vince Vaughn and Bridget Fonda.

Yoakam's food brand, called Bakersfield Biscuits[1], sells frozen foods at retailers such as Wal-Mart Superstores, Walgreens, Sam's Club, Kroger, etc.


Honors and other recognition

On November 7, 2007, the CMA presented Yoakam the International Artist Achievement Award.[2] Yoakam was inducted into the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame in 2008.[3]

Country Music, a 2008 poetry collection by Allen Hoey, mentions Yoakam directly in several poems, uses titles of a couple of Yoakam's songs as titles of poems, and dedicates one poem to Yoakam.

21 Grammy Nominations, 2 wins

Noted as most appearances as the musical guest of any artist in any genre on THE TONIGHT SHOW with Jay Leno


Specific references:General references:

  • Himes, Geoffery. (1998). "Dwight Yoakam". In The Encyclopedia of Country Music. Paul Kingsbuey, Editor. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 605–6.

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