Music rebel Dwight Yoakam heads to Gallo Center

bvanderbeek@modbee.comMay 15, 2013 

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It's called the Bakersfield sound, but it resonates from the entire San Joaquin Valley.

Wherever Dust Bowl immigrants settled, bringing with them musical influences and simpler tastes a continent removed from Nashville's slick production values, you'll find a little piece of the Bakersfield sound.

The style spawned its own movement when Buck Owens and his Buckaroos, along with Merle Haggard, embraced electric guitars and rock 'n' roll backbeats to establish a West Coast country sound in the late 1950s. The sound was more reliant on individual talents than the hits coming out of Nashville, built in the studio on lush vocal harmonies and backing string sections.

It was raw and fresh, and now — nearly 60 years after taking its first breath — Dwight Yoakam is its king.

Yoakam will be playing the Gallo Center for the Arts on May 25. The show is sold out.

How the native of Pikeville, in rural eastern Kentucky, gained fame for his West Coast sound is anybody's guess. Or, maybe, it just happened by accident.

"From high school on, I knew country-rock — the hyphenate had happened — was my savior, because there were certain styles of rock music that just lent themselves to me and my voice," Yoakam, 56, said in an interview with musicradar.com. "I would sing Don MacLean's 'American Pie' in high school, or different James Taylor songs, but I would just as likely do Buddy Holly material, or it might be the Everly Brothers.

"The kids in Columbus (Ohio) would look at me like I was from Mars when I did a Stonewall Jackson song. It'd be like, 'Where are you from?' Pikeville is only 90 miles from Columbus, but culturally, it's Appalachia. In truth, there was a lot of country music in Ohio, too. I listened to all of it, and I loved rock music, but I knew that my expression was in some hybrid expression I was bound to make."

When Yoakam began his career in music, his style wasn't gaining fans inNashville, so he moved to Los Angeles, where he opened in clubs for local rock and punk bands such as the Knitters, Los Lobos and the Blasters.

He was 29 and still unsigned when he financed his first EP, "Guitars, Cadillacs, etc., etc.," which turned out to be his ticket to fame.

His cover of "Honky Tonk Man" got him noticed, and his video for the song was the first country video ever to appear on MTV.

His third album, "Buenas Noches from a Lonely Room," included his duet with Buck Owens on "Streets of Bakersfield," a song that cemented his attachment to the south valley oil town.

"Buck was pretty exceptional," Yoakam told musicradar. "He went out on tour with me in '88, after we'd cut 'Streets Of Bakersfield.' I remember when he walked out on stage and plugged into this Fender Twin Reverb that was right behind me and in front of the drum kit. Let me tell you, it was one of the loudest moments on stage I had ever heard. Buck liked it loud. He was all about the exuberance of the honky tonk."

Or the exact feeling Yoakam tries to exude in his live shows. It's about the energy — both creating and maintaining — and the audience had better hold on, because it's a fast ride.

In addition, Yoakam's ability to seamlessly cross and merge genres remains a large part of his appeal. His latest album, "3 Pears," includes duets with pop/rock artists Beck and Kid Rock.

"(Kid Rock) and I have been threatening to do something for years, and I went out to his place in L.A. one night and hung out about three hours," Yoakam told theboot.com. "He beat it out of me. His kinetic energy can be a driving force to seeing something through.

"He was in this very linear, pacing energy. He'd walk back and forth and go outside smoking a cigar and come charging back in. There was this energy of charging ahead, moving forward, moving out ahead while I was in this revolving space. It was because of that charging ahead that it went to its conclusion that evening."

Yoakam also has a second successful creative side as an actor, having appeared in the motion pictures "Red Rock West," "Sling Blade" and "Panic Room." He also has stepped behind the camera to direct.

So he's a singer, a songwriter, actor and director, born in Kentucky, raised in Ohio before moving to Los Angeles, and he has remained comfortable in his own skin in all those settings.

So when asked by avclub.com to provide a description of himself, Yoakam was understandably stumped by his own diversity.

"Well, it can be a mixed bag, a blessing and a curse," he said. "You can find yourself, at least by proxy, disenfranchised.

"I think it becomes incumbent upon you, the individual, to find your own voice, because you're not going to just happen into it with that kind of cultural, geographic movement."

Brian VanderBeek can be reached at (209) 578-2150 or follow him on Twitter, @modestobeek


WHAT: Dwight Yoakam

WHERE: Gallo Center for the Arts, 1000 I St., Modesto

WHEN: 8 p.m. May 25

TICKETS: Sold out

CALL: (209) 338-2100

ONLINE: www.galloarts.org

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