Dwight Yoakam

Dwight Yoakam by Don McLeese Read Free Book Online

Book: Dwight Yoakam by Don McLeese Read Free Book Online
Authors: Don McLeese
my family, was country. So at the moment that country rock was starting to inundate AM radio, I could play the Eagles, I could sing it. That was me.”
    Yet it was his writing that would allow Yoakam to discover who he really was, or at least develop a persona that would prove compelling to the indie, roots-rocking punk crowd even before he plunged into the country mainstream. Even his Li’l Abner-ish name seemed to exude authenticity, making him sound a little like the bumpkin he never was or would be. You couldn’t capitalize on a name like that by continuing to sing Eagles covers.
    â€œWith writing, I controlled my own destiny,” Dwight says. “ ‘I’ll Be Gone’ made me realize I could do it in my own way. And ‘It Won’t Hurt’ was written about the same time.”
    â€œIt won’t hurt when I fall down from this bar stool,” sings Yoakam, strumming his acoustic guitar, as we sit in his office. “And it won’t hurt when I stumble in the street. It won’t hurt ’cause this whiskey eases misery, but even whiskey cannot ease your hurting me.”
    This was the second cut on the demo tape, following “This Drinkin’ Will Kill Me.” Another highlight from the demo that would wait until his third album for release, “I Sang Dixie,” recounts the story of a man from the South who had died “on this damned old L.A. street,” after “the bottle had robbed him of all his rebel pride.”
    In those early L.A. days, he was billing his band as Dwight Yoakam and Kentucky Bourbon. Yet, as Dwight would subsequently tell any interviewer who bothered to ask, he had never touched a drop of alcohol and likely never would. First, because his fundamentalist religion prohibited it. Second, he had seen what it could do, during years of playing at bars for drunks and in close relationships with those who suffered from the disease of alcoholism.
    â€œI wasn’t raised on it and had never witnessed alcoholism at close range until I knew a guy named Richard Christopher,” says Dwight. “He was quite a piece of work, a Runyonesque character. He was six-foot-six, and he was originally from Cleveland, Ohio. He developed coupon books to sell to people. He had a master’s degree from Ohio State and ended up being drafted into the Korean War.
    â€œHe was just this carny guy. I would listen to him tell these war stories. And he was also a severe alcoholic. But functional. He managed this apartment complex and was also wheeling and dealing with trading furniture, stuff like that. He walked with a cane and looked like Ichabod Crane. His drink of choice was vodka with prune juice or anything else. I’d stop by and listen to Dick Christopher ramble on a little bit. And I wrote ‘It Won’t Hurt’ about him.”
    So, the teetotaler began to specialize in drinking songs, a venerable tradition of honky-tonk music, but one that had fallen from fashion in the sanitized country music of the late 1970s and early 1980s. The airwaves were no longer filled with the likes of neo-honky-tonker Gary Stewart, who lived the life of which he sang, and who had enjoyed considerable country success early in the 1970s with breakthrough hits including “Drinkin’ Thing” and “She’s Acting Single (I’m Drinkin’ Doubles).” As country was starting to veer toward soft rock, there wasn’t as much emphasis on hard liquor.
    Yoakam’s subject matter and sound distinguished him as a honky-tonk throwback, and he had no problem reconciling such material and the bars where he performed it with the religion in which he was raised.
    â€œI didn’t feel that my salvation or destiny was imperiled by that,” he says. “But I’d also witnessed enough drinking and drugging in the early ’70s, which led to the debauchery of the late ’70s, Studio 54 and all that, where there couldn’t

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