Dwight Yoakam became a star when MTV played “Honky-Tonk Man” (click link to watch videos) as its first-ever country video, announcing the arrival of an artist with one boot planted firmly in country tradition and the other stepping right over it. His broken-hearted songs and earnest vocals confirmed he was the real deal musically; his 10-gallon-shrouded, soulful blue eyes, pouty lips and hyper-sexualized, Elvis-meets-Chuck-Berry moves suggested he was a lady-killer, a notion his videos often reinforced.
Yoakam scored his two No. 1 singles back to back in 1988: the honky-tonk-and-Tejano “Streets Of Bakersfield,” the Homer Joy tune on which he duets with Buck Owens, and his own “I Sang Dixie,” a gorgeous, moving ballad. He goes solo in this live clip; no poses, just his rich, fluid voice and powerful words.
Yoakam earned three consecutive Grammy nods for Album of the Year — for the albums after the one considered his best: 1993’s This Time. That album did produce three consecutive No. 2 singles, however, including his first Grammy-winner, “Ain’t That Lonely Yet.” The video might be his only one without stage moves, vehicles, women or even an instrument; just Yoakam, exuding melancholy as he scuffles around an abandoned building.
“A Thousand Miles From Nowhere” was equally Grammy-worthy, a perfectly crafted hit with a sweet melody and Pete Anderson’s tremoloed guitar notes cascading around the dips and rises in Yoakam’s oh-so-hurtin’ voice as he sings, “I’ve got bruises on my memory/ I’ve got tear stains on my hands/ In the mirror there’s a vision/ of what used to be a man.” Wearing how-does-he-breathe-in-those leather pants while riding atop a moving train, he fingers a Telecaster while doing those knee-swingin’, hip-swayin’, butt-shakin’ groove moves that make women’s knees weak. FYI, that creek-wader eying him in the clip is indeed Kelly Willis. Yoakam co-directed both videos with Carolyn Mayer Beug, who also helmed the video for “Fast As You.” Beug passed away in the first plane to hit the World Trade Center on Sept. 11.
Actor Vince Vaughn also appears in a Yoakam video; he and then-girlfriend Joey Lauren Adams are the bickering couple in 1998’s “These Arms” — in which Yoakam plays both a cabbie and a singing passenger. Ralph Stanley, Jim Lauderdale and Bonnie Bramlett Sheridan contribute vocals on the recording, a mix of Bakersfield honky-tonk and Nashville strings. Yoakam did a bluegrass version for his latest album, Swimmin’ Pools, Movie Stars … .
But for a real change of pace, there’s Yoakam’s version of Gregg Lee Henry’s “The Back Of Your Hand.” Musically entering Nebraska territory with this 2003 heartbreaker, he dons a nearly shapeless brown suit, the better to lose himself in this starkly stunning ballad. It’s one more affirmation of his unerring ability to shoot songs straight to the heart — with or without firing from the hips.