Saturday, May 16, 2020


I was going to go off on one again, lambasting and/or lampooning the various bouffant topped orange faced men leading the free(!) world, but, no, the targets too easy and all that. Plus our own UK mini-me version is looking decidedly pasty of late.....

Dangerous Man

So it is to Dwight Yoakam I turn, even if the lyrics of this song seem oddly prescient for the folk I am shunning in this post. Dwight is a maelstrom of a country maverick, and a conundrum, in that is he is or his he ain't? Is he a bona fide retro country-rockabilly honky-tonk throwback, or is he a polished opportunist with an eye for a gap in the market, seizing the niche between rock ('n'roll) and country, his break through coming at a time when Nashville was all smooth-croonin' "hats"? I incline toward the latter. For a start, as a born Kentuckian, the style he gravitates to is 100% true to that state, even if he was brought up largely in Ohio. He staked an initial claim in Nashville, ahead of slinking away to the West Coast, deemed far too rowdy for the dishes of the day. L.A.'s heady mix of cultures and countercultures was ideal for his energy, performing alongside acts as diverse as X, The Blasters and Los Lobos. Much as, in a way, had George Frayn's Commander Cody a decade before.

Of course, he looked the look, impossibly tight jeans, sometimes of leather, encasing his stick thin legs, a denim jacket and a permanently welded on 10 gallon hat. Yet, rather than aligning him with the dreary Nashville sludge in similar headwear, intriguingly this set him apart. I bought his debut, Guitars, Cadillacs, etc, etc, the expanded vinyl of the original EP, much as soon as I became aware of him: as ever I suspect was probably a piece in New Musical Express or a slot on TV's Old Grey Whistle Test, neither verifiable today, that had alerted me. This was 1986 or 7, and i was ever vigilant for crossover fertilisations, loving equally, if confusingly, folk, country and punk. The Joe Ely association with the Clash had earlier been a huge fillip to the validation of my tastes. And what a buy it was, one part rollicking roustabouts, one part beery country weepies and one part classic covers. Yoakam's yelping delivery, a yodel seeming only ever a hiccough away, was one part of the draw, the other being the searing guitar and arrangements of right hand man (and producer) Pete Anderson. More of him later.

It Won't Hurt

It would have been maybe five years later before I could catch him live, his appearance in an early afternoon slot at Glastonbury being a highlight of that years festival. By now I was expanding my interest in and expanding my collection of cover songs. Yoakam had already made for a credible presence on the Grateful Dead tribute, Deadicated, and I was then lucky enough to chance upon a copy of Croix D'Amour. This does not appear in all of his discographies, being a non U.S. release only, and, not that I realised it then, a compilation of earlier released tracks, including his alluded to version of Truckin'. With eight of the twelve songs being covers, I was in clover. He remains the only person ever able to instil any joy into the anodyne formulaicism of Queen.

Crazy Little Thing Called Love

Over the years I have continued my watch on him, spotting his appearances in not a few films and TV shows, broadly playing versions of what I imagine to be himself. He has released a regular outpouring of recordings, sometimes his own work, often more covers projects, including covering the work of his musical inspiration, Buck Owens, and several repackagings and reworkings, notably his acoustic and near solo In all of this one might forget quite what a great songwriter he is in his own right. Chris Isaak, no slouch himself, cites Yoakam "as good a songwriter as ever put a pen to paper". At the time of writing he continues to remain an active force for good, even if current tour dates are banjaxed. But, if you can't hear him play live, at least you can eat his biscuits, something you can't say for all your favourite stars!

Close Up the Honky-Tonks

Finally a brief word, as promised, about Pete Anderson, by Yoakam's side as rudder, between 1986 and 2002. This extraordinary multi-instrumentalist has become, through his sheer ubiquity, a guarantor of quality across the varied boards he treads. Think of all those guitar runs across most of the songs featured here, all him, the hickory smoke to Yoakam's BBQ wings. Scan this list of all his other projects and prostrate yourself. Here too is a good interview, covering, in part, the years the pair worked together.

Light blue touch paper.....

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