Hillbilly Highway – The Roadside Church of Yoakam

by Sheldon Birnie

Guitars. Cadillacs. Hillbilly Music. Four short words, and Dwight Yoakam lays out the prerogative of every would-be country crooner since the days of Hank Williams.

A couple weeks back, I laid my relationship with the music of Garth Brooks out to y’all as something that was a long time coming, and — for a time — something of a guilty pleasure. Not so with Dwight. Sure, I was aware of his tunes a youngster. But when my brother played me a couple of Big D’s tracks one night over some heady BC electric a few years back now, I became a Stone Cold convert to the Roadside Church of Yoakam.

Now, Big D’s style isn’t for everyone. His nasally yodel, his painted on denim and oversized Stetson; his penchant for the aforementioned guitars, Cadillacs, and unadulterated hillbilly music have deterred many, to be sure. Those who favour folk stylings over country and western aren’t likely to spend too much time with Hillbilly Deluxe or Buenes Noches from a Lonely Room, but their loss is our gain, friends of Dwight.

My best gal can’t stand when I throw a Dwight LP on the spinner. In fact, I’ve abandoned the practice if she’s in the room. It’s not worth trying to explain for the Nth time how his songs hit at the heart of the experience of every Podunk boy (or gal) who yearned for the bright lights of the city, only to find the city full of scum bags and broken dreams.

But it’s not just the songwriting and masterful delivery that keeps me coming back for more. The high caliber of musicianship employed on all the Dwight LPs I’ve got racked up at home blows my mind. The backbeat is perfect for any honkytonking you could ever dream up, and the guitar licks are some serious sick shit.

Dwight’s Bakersfield-inspired take on Hillbilly music set him perfectly apart from the bulk of his Nashville based brethren in the late 80s. And his keen understanding of LA glam is clear when you look at those pants the man somehow fit into in that era; a honky tonk version of what Motley Crue were doing at the same time.

Indeed, Dwight has always worn his influences on his sleeve, particularly that of Buck Owens. Nowhere is it better showcased than on their duet of “Streets of Bakersfield” or the full length ode to ol’ Buck Dwight Sings Buck, featuring beauty covers of “Close Up The Honky Tonks,” “Act Naturally” and “Excuse Me (I Think I’ve Got a Hearthache).”

Like Buck, Dwight is clearly fond of bright lights of Hollywood. Plenty of bizarre parts have come Yoakam’s way since the 90s. My personal favourite is in Tommy Lee Jones’ modern-Western The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, where Dwight plays a sleazy-as-shit small town cop, comb over and all. Despite his bald head — covered by that 10 gallon Stetson most of the time — and his advancing years, Big D still has the ladies falling over themselves for him. Check out any country-fest he’s headlining if you doubt that, pal.

Like many bold flavours on the Hillbilly Highway, Dwight is one that — for some — comes with time. But if we’re riding this Highway together for a spell, well, there better be some room for a side of two of Big D. To twist an old phrase from Kris Kristofferson to make my point, “If you don’t like Dwight Yoakam, honey, you can kiss me ass.” Let’s roll!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *