In April of this year, Dwight Yoakam and his band spent four days in a recording studio, working up 13 tracks for Swimmin' Pools, Movie Stars…, his upcoming album featuring bluegrass renderings of some of the Kentucky native's best-known tunes. But on the third day, the album took an unexpected turn as Yoakam – and the rest of the world – learned of the death of music icon Prince. In a spontaneous expression of grief, Yoakam and his fellow musicians cut a grassy, upbeat version of "Purple Rain," replacing the blazing guitar work with fiddle, mandolin but retaining the same youthful spirit with which Prince had imbued the original. [Hear Dwight Yoakam's "Purple Rain" cover below.]
"There's such a beauty to that melody," Yoakam tells Rolling Stone Country. "I remember the night I heard that for the first time on the radio here in Hollywood. I was driving around in my old beat-up El Camino. It came on and it kind of just stopped me where I was. I was not very far from Capitol Records, the pizza place by there I used to stop at. I stopped the car at the light and just saw that and listened to it. Like, 'Wow. What a concept, what a song.'"
Initially reluctant to even listen to what he and the band had recorded, thinking of it afterward as "just an ill-advised moment of emotional expression," Yoakam played the cut for former Warner Bros. Records president Lenny Waronker, who convinced him to include it on the album, where it now appears as the closing track.
"The melody can haunt you," Yoakam says of the song which anchored Prince and the Revolution's 1984 LP and film of the same name. "There's such a purity and innocence to it. I don't think that maybe it's a musical approach he would have taken [laughs] but it works for us."
Yoakam's is not the first take on "Purple Rain" to be recorded by a country artist. That distinction belongs to LeAnn Rimes, who included a more pop-oriented version as the final track on her 1998 LP, Sittin' on Top of the World. In the days and weeks following Prince's death, tributes to the artist were performed live by country's Chris Stapleton and Little Big Town, among many others.
Swimmin' Pools, Movie Stars… will be released September 23rd.