Born October 23, 1956, in Pikeville, KY; son of David (a gas station owner) and Ruth (a keypunch operator) Yoakam. Education: Attended Ohio State University. Addresses: Record company--Reprise, 75 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10019.

Critically and popularly acclaimed country singer Dwight Yoakam has not only continued to prove himself as a recording artist, he has also made a name for himself as an actor, earning rave reviews for his roles in such films as the Academy Award-winning Sling Blade, released in 1996. Upon receiving Premiere magazine's Premiere Performance Award (in recognition of his "breakthrough performance" in Sling Blade) in October 1996, Yoakam remarked: "Acting is a different form of creative expression for me than performing music. In acting, I'm able to actually escape myself using the character as a vehicle for exploring emotions I might not otherwise confront, whereas with music, I feel as though I go deeper inside myself in articulating emotions that are almost exclusively an outgrowth of my personal experiences." Yoakam's 1997 release of his eighth album, Under the Covers, which features cover versions of songs originally recorded by such diverse artists as The Clash and Johnny Horton, drew praise from critics who expressed appreciation for the singer's artistic inventiveness and mastery of a wide range of musical styles.

Yoakam was born on October 23, 1956, in Pikeville, Kentucky, but the family moved to Columbus, Ohio, when Dwight was very young. Yoakam first showed an interest in playing the guitar at the age of two, and quickly taught himself to play along with Hank Williams records. He composed his first song at the age of eight, but, as he told People's Pam Lambert, because he "didn't think {he} was doing it right, because it came so easily," Yoakam did not write another song until much later. He worked as a singer in night clubs while attending Ohio State University, but after two years he left for Nashville, Tennessee, in search of a career in country music. Unable to get his career started while living in Nashville, Yoakam decided to try his luck in Los Angeles, where he moved in 1978. In Los Angeles, Yoakam worked as a truck driver and on a loading dock while struggling to find a niche for himself among the popular country music artists of the time. These artists had a modern sound that was a far cry from his traditional, down-home variety of country music. Finally in 1986 he landed a recording contract with Reprise and released his debut album, Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc. Etc., which was well-received by critics and country music fans alike.

After making a splash with Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc. Etc., Yoakam released four more albums in the next four years--1987's Hillbilly Deluxe, 1988's Buenas Noches from a Lonely Room, 1989's Just Lookin' for a Hit, and 1990's If There Was a Way--and managed to keep his loyal fans of his traditional country music satisfied. His first album quickly went platinum, and the next four went gold; Dwight Yoakam was clearly a major country music star. Still, there were fans and critics who expressed a desire for the singer to expand his musical horizons, abandon his characteristic honky-tonk, rural sound, and adopt a more sophisticated, rock-driven, contemporary country music sound. Yoakam's response to this request was his 1993 album, This Time, with which he succeeded, according to Entertainment Weekly's Alanna Nash, in "pull{ing} off a near miracle: Staying stone country for his core following, and turning progressive enough for radio, without alienating either audience."

This Time received high praise from critics, who applauded Yoakam's ability to blend rock, pop, and country music without compromising any of the musical influences and without sounding like every other country or pop star on the radio. Songs such as "A Thousand Miles from Nowhere" and "King of Fools" were especially lauded, and Yoakam himself, in an article by People contributor Tony Scherman, characterized the type of music he plays as "country rock," but asserted: "I'll never quit playing country music, or at least acknowledging it, always, as the cornerstone of what I am." In a review in Maclean's, Nicholas Jennings declared that on This Time Yoakam's "songwriting ... ranks among the best in country music," and that even though the artist deviates from his previous traditional country music style, his "plaintive vocals make every song convincing."

Despite his busy schedule as an actor on stage and screen, in 1995 Yoakam managed to release Dwight Live, which, as the name suggests, consisted of versions of songs that were recorded live during concert performances, and Gone, an album on which Yoakam continued the trend he had started with This Time, performing songs that blended a variety of music styles and influences. Both albums were well regarded by critics and were popular with fans. Tony Scherman, writing in Entertainment Weekly, called Dwight Live "the most satisfying country record of the half year," applauded Yoakam's vocal abilities, declaring "the boy can flat-out sing," and praised the singer's unwavering power to "bar{e} his soul" in every song. Guitar Player's Art Thompson also offered a glowing review of the live album, and advised his readers that "{t}his is the music of dented pickup trucks and funky bars, not the silly tight-Wranglers scene that dominates today's `young country.'" Reviews of Gone were largely positive, but some critics asserted, as Alanna Nash did in her Entertainment Weekly assessment, that in incorporating all of the different types of music on the album, some of the heart of Yoakam's music was lost. As Nash termed it, "he's so busy getting the synthesis right that he forgot the soul." Scherman, this time writing for People, offered a different appraisal, proclaiming that Yoakam alone "has the grit and individuality once common currency in" country music, and that on Gone the singer "pushes his voice into places it has never been" with spectacular results.

In 1996 Yoakam earned rave reviews for his potrayal of the abusive, alcoholic Doyle in the film Sling Blade. Regarding his performance, most critics and movie-goers expressed sentiments similar to Entertainment Weekly contributor Owen Gleiberman's assertion that in the film "Yoakam ... gives a shattering performance, lending Doyle the redneck varmint authentic shades of self-loathing and cowardice." Although he expressed interest in acting, and following his performance in Sling Blade received offers to appear in many more films, Yoakam maintained his dedication to music, and in 1997, he released Under the Covers, an album on which he offered listeners creative alternative versions of songs made popular by other artists. The album features such songs as "Train in Vain," by the punk rock band The Clash, reworked and presented in a style that often differs considerably from the original; The Clash's original pop rock style and vocals are replaced by what critic Graham Weekly, in his review broadcast on WVIA-FM and published on the internet, called "a style somewhere between bluegrass and Cajun." Critical response to the album was mixed, with some critics praising Yoakam's creativity, daring, and range, and other critics characterizing the work as overdone. People's Amy Linden, who while admitting that initially the new versions are interesting and enjoyable to listen to, remarked that "eventually the production razzle-dazzle and sudden leaps of genre get tiresome." Entertainment Weekly's Jeremy Helligar, however, was enthusiastic about Under the Covers, and concluded that Yoakam's performance on the album was "{i}nspired as hell and absolutely out of control." This critic's opinion seems to be shared by a great many others, judging from the media attention placed on Yoakam, who has continued to provide the public with fresh, innovative performances as an actor, singer, and songwriter.

by Lynn M. Spampinato

Dwight Yoakam's Career

Singer and songwriter, 1974--. Performer in West Coast night clubs and bars, c. 1970-78; worked as a truck driver, beginning in 1978; recording artist with Reprise, 1986--; has appeared as an actor in films, including Red Rock West, 1992, The Little Death, 1995, Painted Hero, 1996, Sling Blade, 1996, and The Newton Boys, 1998; actor in television programs, including the movies Roswell, 1994, and Don't Look Back, 1996, and as a guest star on the series Ellen, 1997; has appeared as an actor on stage, in Southern Rapture, MET Theatre, Los Angeles, 1993; has toured with The Babylonian Cowboys (a backup band), and has appeared with singer and musician Buck Owens.

Dwight Yoakam's Awards

American Academy of Country Music Award, best new male vocalist, 1987; Grammy Award, best country vocal performance, male, 1993, for "Ain't That Lonely Yet"; Premiere Performance Award (for outstanding breakthrough performances in film), 1996, for portrayal of Doyle Hargraves in Sling Blade; has received numerous Grammy Award nominations.

Famous Works

Recent Updates

December 14, 2005: Yoakam starred in The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, which was released by Sony Pictures Classics. Source: New York Times, http://movies2.nytimes.com/gst/movies/movie.html?v_id=327357, December 31, 2005.

Further Reading

Periodicals

Visitor Comments Add a comment…

about 9 years ago

Excellent songwriter,muscian and singer I Love,Love dwight yoakam. I went to a concert her in San Diego @ Humphery's by the Bay. I have been a fan ever sence.....