Dwight Yoakam: A Thousand Miles From Nowhere by Don McLeese
~post by Bosco
Up in Northeast Texas, outside of Dallas, is a little town you never heard of called Commerce. I was raised there, a small college town with nothing much to it but reasons to leave. Just east of Commerce is Sulphur Springs. Our family’s ancestral trailer rests there. East Texas is filled with the beauty and baggage of the rest of the South, yet it is rarely acknowledged as authentically Southern. When people say Texas isn’t the South, they are saying cousins ain’t kinfolk.
Connecting Commerce and Sulphur Springs is a two lane road. Often we rode Highway 11 to my grandparent’s, the radio tuned to WBAP, which was the first station to play Country west of the Mississippi. My folks loved the “Outlaw Country” sound. We owned records by Willie, Waylon, Jerry Jeff and them folks. Asleep At the Wheel was my first live music. I heard so much “Outlaw” growing up that it’s marrow. Thanks to my Uncle David, who was kind of a running buddy and mentor, I got to know back country roads and bars in the middle of nowhere. Country music was center of that relationship. We saw Hank Jr. play live regularly. I grew up on country and no other music was as influential to my raising. In that respect, I feel like my folks brought me up right with deep blue collar southern roots. Dairy farms, gas stations and rural roads are an integral part of my equation.
In high school I was a true punk rock rebel, funny clothes and colored hair, the only one. I was thrift store when thrift store wasn’t cool. You would have never expected that punk rock loner was a serious country music head. Many friends from those days still have no idea. I recently posted a picture of me wearing a cowboy hat on Facebook. The first quote from one of my old punker friends was the single word “poseur.”
In 1985, I worked on a punk rock show called the Pajama Party on KNON in Dallas. They also had a great set of country shows playing stuff way off the Nashville radar. The Pajama Party crew listened to the country shows. We were hyper-aware of the Country Punk crossover movement as well, bands that applied the anything-goes punk attitude to the pure emotional honesty of classic country. This musical hybrid was an epiphany, an authentic and legitimate mix of my favorite sounds.
Through KNON I began hearing about an L.A. guy who played “hardcore honky-tonk.” He was playing country joints like the Palomino. He was also hitting the punk clubs with real honest to God honky-tonk. Dwight Yoakam’s first record lauded classic Bakersfield without simply mimicking it. His voice was his own from the git-go. Today it stands as tall as it did then, a grander accomplishment than selling millions of records. A million seller can be made in the absence of musical talent. Making a record that holds up for decades, is artistic mastery most musicians will never achieve. Out of the gate, Dwight was the real deal. I was a fan from note one.
In his book, A Thousand Miles From Nowhere, Don McLeese covers Dwight’s recorded career from Guitars Cadillacs to present day. He does a good job of covering an amazing body of work. He also touches unflinchingly on the part of Dwight’s career that seems to come into question the most, authenticity. I suspect it’s because Dwight worked outside the Nashville system on purpose. He didn’t use Nashville producers. He didn’t use Nashville musicians. He made records like rock bands did.
The book addresses these differences and how they affect industry perception about Dwight. In the end, my guess is he made great records without Nashville and they just didn’t dig that. I suppose of all the reasons I love Dwight Yoakam the music is first and his outsider approach is second but I don’t know that they can be separated.
After reading A Thousand Miles From Nowhere, I look back on nearly thirty years of Dwight fandom with a clearer picture of why he’s my country go-to artist. Seemingly out of nowhere he was on the top of the charts reminding folks how country should sound, but his back story was missing. Before the internet, back stories weren’t so easily found. So he took a lot of shots to his credibility and authenticity because he approached music on his terms, in his way from the outside. Without question, Dwight is as real as it gets. Contrary to what old friends or acquaintances might say, my personal history is real country, just like Dwight. A Thousand Miles From Nowhere is a great way to get to know the story of the music of the best country voice of his generation. After you finish, take a country drive with the windows down and a Dwight record in the music player. I don’t think you’ll be wondering about his authenticity at all. I think you’ll just be toe tapping, head bobbing and singing along to some of the greatest country ever recorded.
Copies of A Thousand Miles From Nowhere are available via bookpeople.com.