(Country Music Hall of Fame members Earl Scruggs and Buck Owens met ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons and actor Vince Vaughn when Dwight Yoakam’s star was unveiled on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.)
HOLLYWOOD — “It’s a long way from Pikeville, Ky., huh?”
Dwight Yoakam addressed his mother, Ruth Ann, with an understated smile Thursday (June 5) as he received a much-anticipated star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Some 26 years after moving to California, Yoakam became one of about 50 country stars who have had such an honor. Two of them were on hand for the occasion — Buck Owens, with whom Yoakam sang “Streets of Bakersfield,” and Earl Scruggs, whose four-month-old star rests next to Yoakam’s at 7021 Hollywood Blvd.
“Nobody,” Scruggs suggested after the ceremony, “is any more important than Dwight Yoakam.”
Indeed, Yoakam has left a mark on both Hollywood and on country music. Diligently playing the Los Angeles club scene after he moved to the West Coast from Ohio in 1977, he established a sound that pulled in a heavy rock ‘n’ roll influence while retaining a core honky-tonk position. Some nine years later, he emerged nationally with “Honky Tonk Man,” around the same time that Randy Travis was experiencing his first hit. The two became leading forces in the New Traditionalist movement, fueling a return to authentic country already being championed at the time by George Strait, Ricky Skaggs and Reba McEntire.
“I didn’t know until ‘Streets Of Bakersfield’ [in 1988] that there was a Dwight Yoakam,” noted John McEuen, of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. “When I heard that on the radio, not knowing his age — he is younger than us — it was great to be able to say, ‘Finally, one of the new guys is doin’ it right.’ Not just that Buck was in there, but just that sound.”
As he accepted his star — the 2,227th embedded in the Walk of Fame — Yoakam made a point of honoring the people whose influence helped forge that sound: Owens, the Dirt Band, Linda Ronstadt, Gram Parsons, Merle Haggard, Tommy Collins, the Byrds, Clarence White & The Kentucky Colonels and the country-rock efforts by the Monkees. He thanked his longtime record producer, Pete Anderson, and his band, and he specifically singled out Emmylou Harris, who “in an immediate sense drew me … to the West Coast.”
Interestingly, many of the songs associated with Yoakam are covers of tunes originally made by artists already present in the Walk of Fame. “Little Sister” and “Suspicious Minds,” which he contributed to the Honeymoon in Vegas soundtrack, were first done by Elvis Presley. “Always Late With Your Kisses” first belonged to Lefty Frizzell. His 1997 release, “Claudette,” was first a hit for the Everly Brothers, who own a star across the street from Yoakam’s new turf. And “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” originated with Queen, which received a Walk of Fame induction just eight months ago.
Yoakam was certainly familiar with the Walk of Fame. He recorded portions of his first six albums at the Capitol Recording Studios, at Hollywood & Vine, a historic studio that’s yielded classics for Owens, Haggard, Campbell, Frank Sinatra, the Beach Boys and Bobbie Gentry. Just outside the front door are the stars of such figures as Joan Crawford, Bob Seger, Tina Turner and Anne Murray.
But work in the recording studio is not the only talent that brought Yoakam to the Walk of Fame’s attention. He’s noted for roles in such pictures as Sling Blade, Panic Room and The Newton Boys. His latest film, Hollywood Homicide, opens Friday, June 13, featuring Yoakam as an ex-cop working for the shady owner of a rap label. Yoakam even took part in a chase scene staged on the Walk of Fame, literally one block away from his new star.
“I’ve done a lot of good guys,” he said, acknowledging his success in bad-guy roles. “It’s just that the films that are most well-known to this point, I’ve played nefarious characters.”
Yoakam was anything but nefarious, however, in his acceptance of his star. He made a point of signing autographs for a few fans (one of which, oddly enough, was an Elvis impersonator), joked about a couple of shirtless men watching the ceremony from a second-floor window across the street and was adamant about recognizing the role of the mentors in his life. In fact, he had his high school theater teacher, Charles Lewis, attend the ceremony, all the way from Columbus, Ohio.
“He has never,” Lewis emphasized, “forgotten his roots.”
“I’ve been really fortunate,” Yoakam reflected. “Even to have had the opportunity to have a record deal was something monumental, and obviously to have finally been signed to a recording contract by a major label, and then to actually have records become hits and sell millions and millions of records, that in and of itself is enough success to hold me for the rest of my life.”
Not that anyone expects Yoakam to stop here. He’s about to release Population Me, the first album he’s recorded for his own Electrodisc label, and he spoke after his Walk of Fame induction about his desire to work again in film, either as an actor or a director.
“Slowly but surely,” Owens suggested, “he’s been taking us some places we’ve never been before.”