(Dwight Yoakam will be joined by two of his friends -- bluegrass pioneer Earl Scruggs and actor Dennis Hopper -- Thursday (June 5) when his star is unveiled on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Yoakam will also be profiled in a new episode of CMT Inside Fame debuting Saturday (May 31) at 9 p.m. ET/PT.)
Dwight Yoakam is relaxing on his impeccably clean tour
bus while he waits for sound check at one of Nashville's most famous clubs, the Exit/In. It's the last concert of his Almost
Alone tour, an aptly named series of shows considering that Yoakam used no opening acts and traveled with only one sideman
to accompany him.
"I'm a having a ball with it," he says from beneath the hat worn in his low, signature style. His
boots, jeans and western shirt complete the ensemble. The rest of his summer tour will include a slightly larger version of
this same intimate show. "We're going to take the concept idea 'Almost Alone'... but with a band. So it'll kind of be a throwback
to my first touring unit. 'Almost Alone and Then Some.'"
Yoakam has been touring with this scaled-down production
since February. And the dates have allowed him to showcase the 10 new songs from his upcoming album, Population Me.
The new disc, his first release in two years, will be in stores June 24.
Smiling as he describes the CD's first track,
Yoakam says, "'The Late Great Golden State' was a title so compelling that I couldn't not chase the song down. That title
alone is worth recording." The song, written by Mike Stinson, has harmony vocals reminiscent of the Eagles and an underlying
"It really encapsulates the whole California music experience and cultural experience. You go all the
way back to the Dust Bowl migration of the '30s. ... Buck Owens' family moved from north central Texas to Arizona and him
on to Bakersfield and Merle [Haggard's] family from Oklahoma. So that whole kind of American experience is caught in this
song in a lot of ways."
Yoakam can personally identify with the song. He made the same cross-country trek 25 years
ago. "That whole 'go west' kind of feeling was there [in the song], but it also collides with contemporary reality, sadly,
with the state of things economically in California. The kind of late great golden state is the feeling at times, but it always
tends to rebound."
Nestled in the album's middle is the only cover tune. Written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David,
"Trains and Boats and Planes" was a 1966 hit for Dionne Warwick.
"We came up with a traditional mountain kind of approach
to it," he says. "And that song in particular took on added poignancy." Yoakam began performing the song in February as the
country was preparing for war with Iraq. Set against such an emotional backdrop, the song took on a more contemporary meaning.
was unnerving enough if you were just an American citizen watching this," Yoakam notes, referring to the relentless media
coverage from Operation Iraqi Freedom. "I can only imagine how stressful it must have been for the families. So the song,
the last verse especially, just took on such ... an almost direct plea. 'Trains and boats and planes/Took you away/And every
time I see them, I pray/And if my prayers can cross the sea/The trains and the boats and the planes will bring you back to
"I thought that, for me, in that moment, politics having nothing to do with anything, just the human experience
of that was what the song addressed so thoroughly. And I was very moved by it."
Willie Nelson lends his vocals on Yoakam's
self-penned ballad "If Teardrops Were Diamonds." And the result is a psuedo-duet of sorts.
"We don't sing at the same
time, so it's interesting in that way," he says. But Yoakam was reluctant to approach the legendary Nelson.
huge, huge, huge Willie Nelson fan. He had a profound impact on my life. I was in college when that Red Headed Stranger
album hit. So with that kind of respect, I'm not wanting to be the one knocking on doors on the bus." Laughing, he adds, "Everybody
goes knocking on Willie's door."
And he's right. In the past three years alone, Nelson has recorded with Lee Ann Womack,
Toby Keith, Trick Pony and Porter Wagoner, among others. But Yoakam's longtime producer Pete Anderson was convinced the song
needed Nelson. "I got a message that they were finding him on the road. And I said, 'Whoa! I don't want to impose on Willie
when he's on the road.'" But the joke was on Yoakam. Anderson had found Nelson in San Francisco, and they cut the track as
"Willie and I had talked over the years about recording," Yoakam says. "I've toured with him. He's always
been really gracious to me. [He's] a gentleman and a king."
"The Back of Your Hand" is Yoakam's first single off the
new disc (and his current video on CMT). Written by fellow actor Gregg Lee Henry, Yoakam found the ballad infectious.
a song that the more I heard it, the more I wanted to hear it. Because I think it really possesses a true melancholy as opposed
to succumbing to any kind of trite sentimentality." He can't resist reciting a few lines to illustrate his point. "'You think
you're lost/Without any place to go/like you need one of those kisses, long and slow/I know at first glance it's not what
it seems/Like you take two sugars with a splash of cream/You take a guess.' There's an elegance to how he folded that bridge
back into that chorus that I'll envy forever, as a songwriter. I just wish, 'Wow! Why didn't I think of that song?'"
Me is Yoakam's first album on his own label, Electrodisc Records, which will be distributed by Koch International and
Nashville-based Audium Records. After 17 years with Warner Bros./Reprise, he was at a virtual crossroads. "We talked to several
major labels and there were a couple of offers made and pending," he says. "And at the end of the day, we just kind of chose
on the side of having the flexibility that this might afford us in terms of marketing ideas." As a result, the music veteran
found himself in 21st century terrain: E-commerce programs via the Internet and satellite radio. "There are just a lot of
opportunities that weren't there in 1985 or '86."
While he's excited about reaching his audience in new ways, Yoakam
is candid about the label's future. "It remains to be seen if I expand on Electrodisc as a label for artists other than myself.
Or if it is just the label I use to release my own material. But it's what I'm doing on this album and it's been a good experience
so far. We're just taking baby steps with it now."