When he started, Dwight Yoakam was considered a modern version of traditional country, all at a time when country was going pop. Now, with country once again in the pop spotlight, Yoakam is touring an album where he goes even further back from pop country — all the way to traditional bluegrass music.
Yoakam’s latest album is his first for famed folk/blues label Sugar Hill Records. “Swimmin’ Pools, Movie Stars,” released in 2016, is a bluegrass album with several of his best known songs recast in that style. He plays a show on Nov. 24 at Silver Legacy.
One of the more intriguing songs on “Pools,” and that received a fair amount of radio airplay, is a bluegrass retooling of the late Prince’s “Purple Rain.” On his official website, Yoakam gave the origins of this cover version.
“We had finished two days of recording the tracks, and I woke up at the hotel in Nashville and heard the news (that Prince died). I was thinking about him and thinking about how uniquely he impacted the culture,” Yoakam said. “So, when I got to the studio and everybody was talking about the shock of it, I said ‘I feel like I want to sing ‘Purple Rain,’ because I’ve always felt that was one of the more beautiful melodies.
“We cut it, and I didn’t think about it again, because I thought the emotion of it just got everybody wanting to express something. I didn’t think it was going to be on the record. But months later, I put it on and realized how those guys really played with their hearts that day. And Lenny Waronker, who signed Prince, came over and said ‘You’ve got to.’”
The connection to famous record executive and producer Waronker points out the dual nature of Yoakam’s career. Despite the Kentucky upbringing, and that his first big hits were while he was a Los Angeles resident, Yoakam’s first stirrings of his musical heart were clearly in Bakersfield, California, where the ’60s-styled country music he started with first took shape. He also started not in honky tonks but playing to L.A.’s punk audiences, who were notoriously fine with varied genres.
His major-label debut, a reissue of his “Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc.” indie release, came out in 1986 to critical acclaim and success both in and out of country circles. His three albums in the 1980s, “Guitars…”; “Hillbilly Deluxe”; and “Buenas Noches from a Lonely Room,” all hit No. 1 on the country charts and went at least platinum.
And, Yoakam has sustained that success. All but one of his albums has hit the top 10 on the country charts, including “Pools,” which peaked at No. 6. With some periodic breaks here and there, Yoakam has consistently toured and released albums for three-plus decades. His best known songs include “Honky Tonk Man,” “I Sang Dixie,” “It Only Hurts When I Cry,” “Ain’t That Lonely Yet” and “What Do You Know About Love.”