Singer/actor Dwight Yoakam brings his unique twist on rockabilly twang to Caesars.
Singer-songwriter Dwight Yoakam, who headlines at Caesars this Friday, was the original cowpunk crooner, a visionary who never was a Nashville insider. After he was rejected by the Nashville set in the early 1980s, during one of Music City’s bland pop periods, he went to California, following the trail blazed by his musical heroes Merle Haggard and Buck Owens and developed his own unique twist on the Bakersfield sound of roadhouse rockabilly and wailing laments about pain and heartache.
Of course Nashville had to pay attention when he developed an alt-country following that eventually earned him multi-platinum success, 21 Grammy nominations (with a couple of wins) and a string of hit albums (Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc. Etc., Hillbilly Deluxe, This Time) and singles “Honky Tonk Man,” Little Ways,” “Little Sister,” “A Thousand Miles From Nowhere” and “It Only Hurts When I Cry.” He also had a way with remakes, doing “Streets of Bakersfield” with Owens, Queen’s “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” and Presley’s “Suspicious Minds.”
On stage he has developed a persona that features his hat brim over his eyes, boots, tight pants and a mash-up of Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry-style moves plus his signature spins with the guitar neck flying upward. It all adds up to the Dwight shuffle.
He also moonlights as an actor (see sidebar), including Sling Blade. With all his multiple interests, Yoakam is an interesting interview but sometimes he is so eager to go flying off down a side conversation, it is hard to corral his thoughts. What follows is my attempt to do just that, after chatting with him this week about his upcoming show.
How do you define your sound, or do you even like to label it?
It sounds trite to say I can’t label what I do. Certainly it’s country music but I know it has transcended that at various times. I’ve been writing of lot of things recently for an upcoming album that I hope to do this year that is beyond [the country] boundary.
Of course today it is such a crapshoot getting new music out to the public.
Nobody really knows what the delivery platform is anymore for recordings. Terrestrial radio has certainly changed. It is still listened to but it doesn’t seem to be the dominant delivery mechanism. Television viewing might be, whether its traditional television, the Internet, satellite, smart phones … I do think streaming is going to be the future of accessing music. I started to say ‘owning music,’ but Generation Z from research I’ve read, they don’t even want to own iPods, they don’t want to carry a library on an iPod, which I love. I have a huge iPod library. I don’t think they want to hold onto anything. They want a playlist, streaming on demand. It’s like the film business is turning, on demand viewing. CDs will go the way of 12-inch vinyl. Weirdly, all this [technical] minutiae is effecting how you create. We have to forget about it. That’s what I started doing last year to focus on the excitement of music.
How did the acting roles come about?
I did theater growing up, nothing sophisticated, high school, but then I set it aside. I did a play when I first got to California and realized that actors are at the mercy of opportunity, that it’s a struggle, so I focused on my first love, my music.
Yet you’ve been in some terrific films, like Sling Blade.
Yes, it’s wonderful to work in films. It’s another means of expression and I really enjoy it. I’m fortunate to be able to do both.
What should we expect from you show in A.C.?
We’re not really touring but I felt very fortunate to get offers [to play] given the situation the country is in, the world is in economically. So these shows are about forgetting the struggle the last 18 months at least for that hour and a half or two hours we’re playing. Having fun — that is what the show is about, the band literally having as much fun as we can and hopefully taking the audience with us.
Where: Caesars Circus Maximus
When: Friday, Jan. 8, 9pm
How Much: $45, $55, $75
What A Character
While Dwight Yoakam delivers a sexy ambiance as a country music icon, on movie screens he has found his niche as a character actor, often in dark roles although he has also made a few comic contributions. He was an abusive father, really scary in Sling Blade (1996) opposite Billy Bob Thornton. He was also a villain, a burglar with a mean streak, in Panic Room (2002) starring Jodie Foster and Forrest Whitaker. Yoakam revealed his comedic side as a wacky doc helping to keep Jason Statham alive in Crank (2006) and the sequel Crank: High Voltage (2009). He has also directed and starred in an offbeat western, South of Heaven, West of Hell (2000) and produced a film with his friend Billy Bob Thornton, Patrick Swayze, Charlize Theron and Natasha Richardson, Waking Up In Reno (2002).
Yoakam says about filmmaking, “It’s a always a minor miracle that an independent film gets made because it’s so collaborative and so vulnerable to collapse at the weakest point of the collaboration.”
He has two films in the can he hopes get released. The first is Last Rites of Ransom Pride. “It’s kind of a baroque western” (with Lizzy Caplan, Kris Kristofferson, Scott Speedman and Cote de Pablo from NCIS). The other is Provinces of Night. “Val Kilmer and I play brothers; it’s an interesting family drama. Hillary Duff and Kris Kristofferson are also in it.”
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