In March 1986, during the 11th season of the venerable PBS music series Austin City Limits, country’s future king, George Strait, was making his second appearance on the show in a episode that featured one of country music’s most buzzed-about acts, an up-and-coming Kentucky-born performer who had moved to California to chase his musical aspirations: Dwight Yoakam.
Yoakam’s full-length debut LP, Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc., was released that same month to glowing reviews. He had already achieved his first Top Five hit with a high-octane remake of Johnny Horton’s “Honky-Tonk Man” and would follow that with the equally energetic single “Guitars, Cadillacs,” the type of tune that gave rise to the L.A.-based subgenre known as “cowpunk.”
Written by the musician and produced — as all of his next dozen LPs would be — by Pete Anderson, “Guitars, Cadillacs” would peak at Number Four in October. Country music, meanwhile, was in a state of flux as the tune shared Top 10 real estate with middle-of-the-road songs by Janie Fricke, Crystal Gayle and the Forester Sisters. The tide was turning for other “neo-traditional” artists, as Steve Earle was at Number Seven with the title cut from his Guitar Town album, also released that same March.
Sporting the fashion trademarks that have remained with him three decades later — cowboy hat, custom-tailored jacket and those impossibly snug jeans — Yoakam already had his swivel and swagger down to an art, but perhaps because of the high-profile gig and the added pressures of television, he’s uncharacteristically sedentary on stage. He didn’t have that same issue just a couple of months later, when he played a more fiery version of the same tune at Nashville’s Volunteer Jam XII, where he was introduced by host Charlie Daniels.
Even though it would be another couple of years before Yoakam had a Number One single as a solo act (1989’s “I Sang Dixie,” which followed the chart-topping “Streets of Bakersfield,” performed with his hero, Buck Owens), his first three LPs all went straight to Number One. To date, Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc., has sold more than two million copies. It was reissued with several demo and live tracks in 2006.
On September 23rd, Yoakam revisits his Kentucky roots with Swimmin’ Pools, Movie Stars…, an LP of some of his best-known hits reinterpreted with bluegrass arrangements and instrumentation. Produced by Gary Paczosa, who has helmed projects for Alison Krauss and Dolly Parton, among others, and award-winning producer-songwriter Jon Randall, the album features an all-star backing band including Adam Steffey (mandolin), Barry Bales (bass), Bryan Sutton (guitar), Scott Vestal (banjo) and Stuart Duncan (fiddle, banjo). Swimmin’ Pools, Movie Stars… will be released on the roots-oriented Sugar Hill label.