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Blame The Vain

If I could choose one God-given gift it would be a good singing voice. I can strum a few chords and butcher my way through an original tune while relying upon questionable wit and song parody. But to really sing in a manner that makes one pause from her drink to look up and find out where that sound is coming from .. that’s something else. Then there’s Dwight Yoakam. The man could sing the English instructions for a selfie stick and bring any house down. He’s strut the line between stardom and obscurity but never wanted for attention. Johnny Cash called him his favorite singer. He dated Bridget Fonda and Sharon Stone but flies just below the radar. His acting career dates back to 92’s “Red Rock West” and he played Doyle Hargraves, Billy Bob Thornton’s trigger-tempered nemesis in “Slingblade.” Standard film persona is the bad guy or criminal with a sad but menacing edge. Minus the ten-gallon Stetson, boots and painted-on jeans, he’s an oddly decked character actor; a 70’s Central Valley gas station jockey or Tom Petty’s distant brother minus the hair work. But in the get-up with a strapped D-28 he becomes D-wight with a capital “D.” The vibe is difficult to nail down .. Ohio by way of Kentucky but pure Hollywood, all sequins and sex. The voice drawls, twangs, cuts, rocks, soothes and simmers. It crosses genres and sneaks up with potent appeal — angelic reminder that overlooking flyover states can be an egregious error.

Dwight played Saratoga Mountain Winery last Sunday night, the last leg of a day I spent driving down from the Sierras with a re-charge San Francisco nap sandwiched between. It’s a small, impressive venue nestled into the south bay hills and accessed by a winding, narrow two-lane road. The older gentleman and season-pass holder sitting next to me explained that “it was purchased by the guy who invented the Internet.” Temperatures hovered around 90 globally-warmed, dryly heated degrees and the venue fit the show. San Jose babes flaunting porn star cowgirl regalia with skimpy cutoffs and western boots abounded. Yoakam has played Sunset Strip punk clubs and big stadiums alike, but he shines at local yokel spots like county fairs and Saratoga. The Blasters opened and go back with Dwight to the early 80’s L.A. cowpunk scene. The “eclectic” label has followed him, accurate though insufficient, and he came up with Los Lobos, X, Rank & File and The Knitters. He was called too punk for country and too country for punk but the talent was there and undeniable. You can come to Dwight by way of movies, biscuits, Buck Owens, Sid Vicious or Elvis, but you stick around for the voice. It fits all genres and he opened Sunday with Chuck Berry’s “Little Queenie” leaving plenty of room for honky tonk pause at the “meanwhile, I’ze still thinkin‘ ..” break. The punk influence has sustained and he still cranks the amps, playing loud but precise notes and rarely pausing for applause between songs. He’s always surrounded himself with excellent musicians and his current, youthful guitarist Eugene Edwards not only fills the early 80’s Dwight heart-throb role, he plays iconic Pete Anderson solos note for note. (Pete being Dwight’s trend-setting axe man between ’84 and ’02.) Then Dwight will shift gears and croon out a straight-up doo-wop original like “If There Was A Way” and just own the place in the process.

I’ve been thinking lately about how music fills a somewhat safe role between politics and religion. Where I’ll rarely offer an honest opinion on Trump or God with any except those who know me best, I’ll generally speak up if someone spews an untempered or critical take on Dwight Yoakam. It isn’t that I don’t have my own thoughts on the other stuff but there’s always a nagging undercurrent of doubt and lack of conviction regardless of which side I take. But tell me that you “don’t like that country shit” or you’re “not into twang” and I’ll engage forcefully. Or I’ll just turn it on low in the background and let him sneak up on you. Many roads lead to Dwight Yoakam and none of them have been paved by Taylor Swift or Kenny Chesney. It just takes a while for most people to figure this out.

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3 Comments

  1. cookie rojas wrote:

    Nice…My personal favorite may be Buenos Noches From a Lonely Room. The way he ends each line by drawing out the last word?

    Saturday, September 2, 2017 at 5:45 pm | Permalink
  2. admin wrote:

    “the pain and the anger destroyed my weak mind / she wore red dresses .. and left the wounded behind”

    Saturday, September 2, 2017 at 9:21 pm | Permalink
  3. admin wrote:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HIAFvFheJNM

    Sunday, September 3, 2017 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

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