Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc. 25 Years Later
This year marks 25 since Dwight Yoakam expanded an EP into an LP and called it Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc., thereby rocking the country world, old school. I was still listening to some country radio back in those days, and when I heard the single Honky Tonk Man the first time, I caught just a bit of the song without getting the name of the artist. Next time I heard the artist’s name as “Yo-kum” but had no idea who that was. This was back in the stone ages, back before Google, YouTube, the Internet, even Al Gore . . . well, I think we had Al Gore. And we may have had the internet, but it only hooked up two computers in the Pentagon or something and was certainly no help for the music lover. We certainly didn’t have iPhones with that Shazam app that listens to songs and tells you what the song and artist is. We didn’t have Amazon, either, so even if you could figure out who the artist might be, you might still be out of luck if you lived in a small town without a record store. Which is why I found myself in the Wal-Mart in Ripley, Mississippi, at some point in 1986 looking for some new artist named “Yokum”. As amazing as it may sound, I found Guitars, Cadillacs there and brought it home.
I remember being taken by Yoakam’s voice those first times I heard him sing. I also remember thinking that the guitar work and production seemed custom made for his sound. (Pete Anderson deserves a blog post all his own, and I’ll get to that at some point.) If you go back and look at the country charts during that time period (or now, for that matter) there was no one on the radio singing like that. I’d like to say that I nailed what was going on and said something like this as I listened to the CD the first time or two: “Oh, Yoakam and Anderson are going for a neo-traditionalist sound rooted in Yoakam’s own version of Buck Owen’s Bakersfield. Hear Yoakam’s Kentucky roots modified by a mainstream, city upbringing?” Nope. At that point in my musical journey, if you had said, “Buck Owens” I would have said “Hee Haw” or maybe “Roy Clark.” I hope I realized that Honky Tonk Man was an old Johnny Horton tune, but since Horton released that back in the mid-50’s, I’m not sure I knew that either. What I did know is that this was a hillbilly sound writ large in a very modern way, and I was all over it.
At some point I saw this video. Watching it 25 years later, after all we’ve seen, it’s hard to imagine how ground-breaking this look and sound were in the middle of the 80’s. No idea where I saw the video the first time, but it may have been on MTV (they played videos back then, but generally not country videos). Yoakam was Nashville reject West Coast cool before I discovered him, playing clubs for people who may have mistakenly seen him as a tongue-in-cheek throwback, on the same bill with the Violent Femmes, The Blasters and Los Lobos. The video seems to announce that he’s there with the whole package – hillbilly and cool – so get used to it.
If you don’t know Guitars, Cadillacs, or if you just want to revisit the CD, check out Gillian Turnbull’s recent blog post. Good stuff. The album made it to Number 1 on Billboard’s Country Album Charts in 1986 and stayed on the Chart for 142 weeks. Yoakam followed that album with Hillbilly Deluxe the next year and then Buenas Noches From A Lonely Room the year after that. Quite a three-year run, and it opened many, like me, to the idea of roots as a starting and ending point. This was all capped with Yoakam’s duet with the ol’ red-white-and-blue guitar man himself, netting a number one single with Streets of Bakersfield in 1988.
Some where along the way I moved on to music that was even more rootsy as my standard fare, but I still have to get my Dwight Yoakam fix from time to time. Yoakam is still one of the best and certainly deserves credit for showing many of us that real music doesn’t go in and out of fashion. Happy Silver Anniversary, Dwight.