Long before Renaissance man Dwight Yoakam was selling over 25 million records and making an impression on movie audiences in films like Sling Blade, Panic Room and South of Heaven, West of Hell (which he also co-wrote, directed and scored), the genre-blurring Buck Owens devotee was just another young upstart excited to finally be releasing his first record. His debut album, Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc. – which garnered three country Top 40 singles and earned Yoakam his first of three consecutive Number One Billboard Country albums – was originally released August 19th, 1986, exactly 30 years ago today.
Living in Los Angeles at the time, Yoakam was writing and performing songs that he referred to as “honky-tonk hillbilly” music, as they were more in line with the rock-inspired Bakersfield Sound of Buck Owens and Merle Haggard than the polished crossover country from Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton, Alabama and others that was dominating mid-Eighties radio. Yoakam was also routinely sharing the bill with local L.A. punk and rockabilly acts, including the Blasters, X and Lone Justice. As such, he often found himself in the too-country-for-rock, too-rock-for-country trap set by traditionalist critics and fans alike. However, while he didn’t exactly find an exclusive home in either genre, it was clear enough to see whose couch he would be crashing on the most.
Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc. opens strongly with the neon-buzzed bounce of “Honky Tonk Man,” Yoakam’s take on the Johnny Horton mid-Fifties rockabilly classic. Also released as his debut single, “Honky Tonk Man” spent 24 weeks on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart, making it all the way to Number Three. Along with being his first hit, Yoakam’s “Honky Tonk Man” has the unique bragging rights of being the very first country-music video ever played on MTV.
Soon after the success of the single, Yoakam released “Guitars, Cadillacs” as its follow-up. While the twangy, barroom shuffle landed the singer another Top Five hit, the album’s third single, “It Won’t Hurt,” peaked just shy of the Top 30. All three singles were Top 10 hits in Canada as well, cementing Yoakam’s status as a bonafide rising star. Yoakam was even nominated for two Grammy awards in association with Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc. and he won Top New Male Vocalist at the 1986 Academy of Country Music Awards.
While there were many critics on the fence about his country credentials in the mid-Eighties, Yoakam’s inclusion of the June Carter/Merle Kilgore classic “Ring of Fire” and Harlan Howard’s “Heartaches by the Number’ went a long way to establish Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc. as a must-hear mile-marker on the rootsy outskirts of country and rock. The twangy Telecaster that drives “Ring of Fire” and the fiddle-and-pedal-steel interplay that sparks “Heartaches By the Number” both highlight Yoakam’s ability to wed mid-Fifties classic country elements with a defiant nonconformist streak that was emboldened by his punk peers.
Thirty years later, the place that Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc. inhabits in the country music canon – as well as in Yoakam’s overall discography – continues to grow, as it gains new fans and a growing appreciation for the ripples of its impact. Not only was it the first in a long string of albums Yoakam has worked on with producer-guitarist Pete Anderson, but the return to rockabilly form heard on his last few albums – like 3 Pears and Second Hand Heart – has shown that he still has a lot to say in his self-described “Bill Monroe meets the Ramones” sonic approach.
Yoakam is set to release his 20th studio album Swimmin’ Pools, Movie Stars… on September 23th, which reinvents gems from his catalog as bluegrass songs.