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Dwight Yoakam revitalized my love of country music

I grew up listening to country music, I mean real, traditional country music. The music of Charlie Pride, Sonny James, Merle Haggard and Buck Owens. The country music of the 1960s and 70s. But when country music turned more pop in the late 70s and early 80s, my interest in it faded. That is until 1986 when I heard a new country music artist.

He had a twang and a unique sound with a telecaster guitar that was a mixture of rock-a-billy and that traditional country music I remembered in my younger days.

I first heard Dwight Yoakam, who will be in concert Sunday at The Lyric, on the radio when my family and I went to California on vacation to visit relatives. The Bakersfield-based Yoakam was taking the radio waves by storm out there during the month we were in California.

So while my buddies were listening to Van “Hagar” and Bon Jovi, I had returned to my country music roots and wore out Yoakam’s debut cassette, “Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc.” I would play it over and over as I cruised down the road in my ’65 Mustang convertible.

During that time frame in country music, Yoakam was leading the charge back to traditional country, along with newcomers Keith Whitley, George Strait, Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson and Marty Stuart. It remained that way for a few years into the 90s with Yoakam and bands like “The Mavericks” playing their version of traditional country music. But it was more than just the music that drew me back to the roots of the country music I knew and loved. It was the lyrics.

Yoakam wrote a song called “I Sang Dixie” that went to No. 1 on the charts after his debut single. That song spoke to me in a way not many country songs had in a long while. Thinking back, the last time a song had that affect on me was a tune my country music idol Don Williams sang, called “Good Old Boys Like Me.” Both had lyrics about the South that spoke deeply to me then and still do today.

From then on I was hooked on Yoakam’s music. While “King George,” Garth and Jackson all rose to stardom with their music, it was Yoakam who continued to produce hit records while at the same time branching out into other genres in an acting career that has garnered critical acclaim. His role as Doyle Hargraves in “Slingblade” is still one of my favorite characters to this day.

Now, 30 years removed from his debut album, Yoakam, who has always recognized and honored the music of his idols like Buck Owens, finds himself in the role of an icon who is looked up to by those he has influenced musically. He’s now the elder statesman of traditional country music. And quite honestly, I think guys like Haggard, George Jones, Porter Wagoner and Owens are proud to leave their legacy in the hands of someone like Yoakam to carry on traditional country music.

And I thank him for drawing me back into the music I grew up listening to and have grown to love.

Rob Sigler is managing editor of The Oxford EAGLE. Contact him at rob.sigler@oxfordeagle.com.