Twenty-four years ago today on December 14th, 1991, singer Dwight Yoakam made his acting debut on the short-lived TV series P.S. I Luv U. Since that time, he has gone on to act in a number of TV shows and feature films, including the 1996 Oscar winner, Sling Blade. But in the decade before that infamous role, the California-based Yoakam was at the forefront of the neo-traditionalist movement in country music, his hit singles and albums earning raves for their electrifying mix of styles emulating, among them, Gram Parsons, the Byrds and Buck Owens.
It was the latter artist who, with Yoakam’s help, would return to the Number One spot on the country chart for the first time since 1972, when their Homer Joy-penned duet “Streets of Bakersfield” reached the top in 1988. The song, recorded in Hollywood with a music video shot literally on the streets of Bakersfield, became one of the year’s biggest hits and helped Yoakam score a trio of Grammy nominations.
The iconic car featured in the music video was an old Pontiac, one of several custom-designed by legendary tailor to the stars Nudie Cohn. Cohn had outfitted dozens of entertainers, including Elvis Presley, the Flying Burrito Brothers and Owens, in his trademark “Nudie suits” and the cars he custom-built were famous for such accoutrements as door handles made out of pistols and dashboards embedded with dozens of silver dollars. The car he designed for Webb Pierce is on display at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum and the one from the “Streets” video (also seen the above clip) was installed over the bar at Owens’ Crystal Palace, his famed Bakersfield nightclub.
Owens and Yoakam had become good friends since their duet and often appeared together on TV, even co-hosting a 1989 awards show on the Nashville Network (TNN). They also performed together during this TNN special where their performance of Johnny Cash’s classic “Folsom Prison Blues” was preceded by a comedy bit that involved Owens’ “Nudie mobile” and a traffic stop. In the clip, Owens and Yoakam are first seen in the car driving under the famed “Bakersfield” sign. While Owens, riding shotgun, gives Yoakam directions, they begin to argue and are promptly stopped by a police officer. “I ain’t goin’ to jail,” Owens says, to which Yoakam replies, “As soon as I can get this thing in park and jump over there (to the passenger seat), you’re goin’ to jail. You’re the one that was driving.” The officer points out the “illegal” guns and the copious amount of silver dollars that “could pay your fine very easily.” “How many guns are in here, officer? I’m too drunk to count ’em,” Yoakam jokes, before they’re let off without getting a citation and are escorted to the Crystal Palace.
Back on stage at the club, Owens — armed with one of his signature red, white and blue-striped guitars — talks about his and Yoakam’s high regard for Cash and notes that Cash “hasn’t been feeling well lately, for several months.” Although it’s unclear exactly when this performance was taped, Cash had undergone double-bypass surgery in December 1988. That operation took place just one week after Cash visited Waylon Jennings in the hospital while Jennings was recuperating from his own heart procedure and suggested Johnny get checked out.
At the close of the rousing performance, Owens point down to the front of the stage and says, “A moment ago, I heard someone right down in this section say, “Dwight, will you marry me.” “You don’t want me, darlin’,” Yoakam replies, adding, “I’m a whole bucketful of trouble.”
And in spite of apparently sticking to that opinion (he has yet to be married), Yoakam did manage to make some memorable music in 2015. His Second Hand Heart album was among the year’s best country releases.