It’s a bird!
It’s a plane!
It’s … not Superman, but close!
Dwight Yoakam, arguably the biggest-name entertainer to play Telluride since Neil Young came to Town Park in October, is scheduled to bring his string of hits and other country-rock gems to San Miguel County for a Saturday night performance at Club Red in Mountain Village’s Telluride Conference Center. He’s on tour, having played at Belly Up Aspen on Thursday. He also was scheduled at the Paramount Theatre in Denver on Friday.
VIP tickets for Yoakam’s Club Red gig are sold out, but general admission entry to the show is still available at $55 per person. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. and Alyssa Micaela, a Texas native whose EP “Cowboys Like That” will be released in March, will open the show at 8 p.m. Visit ClubRedTelluride.com for more information.
Repeated attempts to reach Yoakam for a brief interview this week were unsuccessful. But a lot has been written about the honky-tonk hitmaker, who was propelled to stardom in 1986 with the album “Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc. Etc.,” featuring the hit single of the same name and a lead guitar-dominant cover of the late Johnny Horton’s 1956 hit “Honky Tonk Man.”
Since then, Yoakam has proceeded along a three-decade career marked by sales of more than 25 million records. He has recorded five Billboard No. 1 country albums, 12 gold albums and nine platinum albums, including the triple platinum “This Time” (1993). Notable self-penned songs from this early and prolific period in Yoakam’s career include 1987’s “Little Ways,” 1988’s “Streets of Bakersfield (with Buck Owens)” and 1993’s “A Thousand Miles from Nowhere” (1993).
His most recent album release, last year’s “Swimmin’ Pools, Movie Stars…, ” is described in press materials as a cheeky nod to the name of the debut album (“Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc.”) that put him on the map. However, Yoakam’s hardly resurrecting the style of that freshman album. Instead, “he is recasting some of his greatest songs (plus Prince’s “Purple Rain”) in an acoustic mountain-music vein,” the press materials state.
Bluegrass “has always been, as Glenn Frey would say, whispering in my other ear,” Yoakam said in prepared statements. “I hope we did justice to the legacy of that genre and kept the spirit of reckless abandon. When you look back on the ’30s and ’40s, the bluegrassers were considered the wild men in music — on the white side of culture, with of course R&B and jump blues on the black side. Bluegrass was rock and roll, before there was such an animal. Hopefully we have that spirit in this.”
The media materials go on to say that the seed for the “Swimmin’ Pools” project might have been planted long ago by one of the greats of the bluegrass genre.
“In deference to his recent passing, I need to mention that the first person who ever mentioned it to me was Ralph Stanley,” Yoakam says. “In the early ’90s, I went in and recorded with Ralph around two Norman microphones with the live bluegrass band that was the Clinch Mountain Boys at that time.”
The story continues that Stanley had asked him to come in and record a duet of “Miner’s Prayer,” a song from Yoakam’s first album. “And he looked at me after we finished doing ‘Miner’s Prayer’ and said, ‘Me and the band think you ought to think about being a bluegrass singer.’ I said, ‘Well, I guess my birth certificate gives me some credentials to own the holler that I was living in the first couple years of my life…’”
Of course, Yoakam went from living in rural southeast Kentucky — just across the Virginia state line from the area that produced the Carter Family and Stanley Brothers — to finally going west and reviving the California country sound. He was at the forefront of the neo-traditionalist movement that many fans and critics think saved country music in the late 1980s and 1990s, his media kit notes.
It is said that Johnny Cash once cited Yoakam as his favorite country singer and Chris Isaak called him as good a songwriter as ever put pen to paper. Time magazine dubbed him “A Renaissance Man” and Vanity Fair declared that “Yoakam strides the divide between rock’s lust and country’s lament.”
Ever-evolving, Yoakam sometimes strays from his bluegrass and honky-tonk roots, with memorable covers of Elvis Presley (“Suspicious Minds”), The Clash (“Train in Vain”), The Grateful Dead (“Truckin”) and Cheap Trick (“I Want You to Want Me”).
And who can forget Yoakam’s acting turns, including the abusive live-in boyfriend in Billy Bob Thornton’s “Sling Blade” (1996) or the psychopathic killer in “Panic Room” (2002)? One wonders how Thornton was able to channel himself so deeply into those characters, a question the Daily Planet wanted to pose to the star himself, had he been available for an interview.
Indeed, there are many sides to the artist known as Dwight Yoakam, and there’s little doubt that some of them, at least the musical ones, will be on display Saturday night at Club Red.