Each week, another honoree is revealed on CMT Hot 20 Countdown .
One of country music’s true Renaissance men, Yoakam found fame in the late ’80s as a trend-bucking singer-songwriter and would later branch out as an acclaimed actor and director.
Initially unsuccessful in Nashville, Yoakam found kindred spirits in the California country scene, pioneering a sound that came to be known as cowpunk. He often shared billing with rock bands such as the Blasters, Los Lobos and X who had country influences.
A unique mix of hillbilly and intellectual, Yoakam’s style — in music and fashion — tended to feel retro. During the height of his popularity, that was in striking contrast to the mainstream.
“He is so brilliant,” Sara Evans explained to CMT. “His songwriting is so cool and just everything he did with his image — the tight jeans, the cowboy boots, the hat, the hair. Living in L.A., you always saw him as like this cool untouchable. That’s what I love. I love people that are relatable yet untouchable.”
With 15 studio albums to his credit, Yoakam’s latest offering, 3 Pears, was released in 2012.
Citing hits like “Honky Tonk Man,” “A Thousand Miles From Nowhere,” “It Only Hurts When I Cry” and “Fast as You,” Ashley Monroe, the Eli Young Band and Evans all listed Yoakam as one of the CMT All-Time Top 40.
“Dwight Yoakam has been one of my favorites for as long as I can remember,” Monroe said. “The songs that he sings and the songs that he writes … anything he sings, I believe it. Whether it’s funny or whether it’s super sad, nobody has a voice like him. I know him personally now. I’ve written with him, and there’s nobody else like him. I think he will stand true as one of the best singer-songwriters ever.”
Evans agrees that Yoakam’s voice and musical approach are one of a kind.
“I’m attracted to a certain type of voice/artist,” she said. “I am not necessarily attracted to the big, huge voice like the Whitney Houston’s — even though I love her voice, no question — or Celine Dion. … Dwight Yoakam is similar to Dolly (Parton) or Reba (McEntire) or Patsy (Cline) in the sense that his voice is so distinct and you always know it’s Dwight Yoakam. I have always said he will go down in history as one of the best male country voices of all time.”
And for the Eli Young Band, Yoakam was and still is a true original.
“I think about the stories that I heard about Dwight when he came to Nashville in the beginning,” drummer Chris Thompson said. “Nobody could tell him what to do. He had his set thing that he wanted to do, and he knew how to do it. He did it really well, and he stuck to it and really made his own niche in country music. For us, I know that’s one thing we’d love to be able to accomplish, too.
“It takes a lot of personal strength to kind of fight the machine or, you know, go against the waves in the music business. It’s real easy to just roll over and kind of sell out in a way. But to really be able to define yourself and stick with it is a huge accomplishment, and Dwight’s done it for decades now.”
Check out the rest of the CMT All-Time Top 40: Artists Choice list, and find out who will be announced each Saturday at 11 a.m. ET/PT on CMT Hot 20 Countdown.