Videos by American Songwriter
Dwight Yoakam has come full circle with his satisfying new album 3 Pears.
For example, he finally got around to finishing an old song titled “Take Hold Of My Hand,” which he started writing nearly two decades ago. Hanging out with Kid Rock in Hollywood one day, they shook out the cobwebs in just a few hours. Now the dynamic track sounds almost like an outtake from Yoakam’s triple-platinum 1993 album, This Time.
“That song had been languishing in an unfinished state for 19 years. I’d begun it in another part of my life, in another house of my life,” Yoakam says during an interview in Nashville. Although the pair had talked about co-writing something from scratch for a long time, Yoakam played him the scraps of the old song. “I had the melody and the opening stanza … and he said, ‘Let’s finish it. Let’s do that.”
The electrifying result leads 3 Pears, Yoakam’s first new album of original material in seven years and arguably his finest since This Time. So, what did Kid Rock bring to that writing session that made the song feel complete?
“Directional energy,” Yoakam quickly replies. For a few minutes, he explains that his own energy rotates in a circular motion, while Kid Rock’s is more of a back-and-forth energy, reflected through relentless pacing during the co-writing session. And despite 19 years in the archives, there’s suddenly a sense of determination in “Take Hold Of My Hand,” both in the persistent melody and the confident lyrics. Although he rarely co-writes, Yoakam calls that day “a terrific experience.”
“I think he was in that ‘pushing it to fruition’ [mode], driving if you will,” Yoakam adds, “and I was balancing it.”
Yoakam has done exceptionally well at balancing in his career. Along with acting in major films like Sling Blade and Four Christmases, he still keeps his boots planted in classic country music – without ever losing that cool factor.
But if there’s a unifying theme of 3 Pears, Yoakam says it may be this: “I think all the songs, or at least a lot of them, have an expression of joy and happiness. That’s what’s communicated more than anything.”
The flirtatious “Waterfall” was inspired by foraging through his guitar collection with his girlfriend and rediscovering a playful three-quarter acoustic model he hadn’t strummed in several years. He put a capo on it, which changed the resonance a little bit, and began fooling around with ridiculous and sweet lyrics. In the three-minute tune, he offers his beloved not only a waterfall but also a jellyfish, a giraffe, a rocket ship, etc., etc.
“The tone of that guitar in that moment guided me into wandering off into that magic garden,” he says.
Meanwhile, on “Trying,” he attaches just a few words to a simple melody to invoke the spirit of Frank Sinatra, Sam Cooke and Elvis Presley. Any of those three men would have sounded right at home on such a number. Listen closely and you’ll hear that it’s a scratch vocal with the acoustic guitar slightly bleeding through the vocal mic. Yoakam opted to keep it that way instead of, well, trying to perfect it.
“Just because it’s better doesn’t mean it’s as good,” he insists.
If there was a way that 3 Pears brings Yoakam full circle beyond his musical vision, it’s because he’s now back on Warner Bros., where he launched nationally in 1986.
Yoakam was born on Oct. 23, 1956, in Pikeville, Kentucky, and raised in Ohio. As a young man, he absorbed the music of Merle Haggard and Buck Owens as well as The Byrds and The Beatles. In his early 20s, he heeded the call of California.
“In L.A. in ’77, there was a lot going on,” Yoakam says. “It hadn’t quite congealed into what it would become in the early ’80s, which allowed me the foothold and the platform necessary for me to deliver my music out to the rest of the world. But even in the late ’70s there was such a great live music scene in L.A., which Nashville didn’t really have in the ’70s.”