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NIGHT LIFE THE CLUB SCENE

Hard-Core Country : Dwight Yoakam's performance at the Ventura Theatre tonight is sold out, but will be aired later as a pay-per-view program.

December 26, 1991|BILL LOCEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

This year, we have a late Christmas present for the pointy-shoe crowd. You know, those for whom The Meaning of Life can be summed up with a heartfelt "Wahoo," for whom the Dallas Cowboys really are "America's Team" and for whom Bakersfield is the capital of California.

Country heartthrob Dwight Yoakam is playing Ventura Theatre tonight for a sold-out show.

However, there may be hope for those muttering "dang" and "humbug." The gig will be filmed and then shown later as a pay-per-view program.

Actually, because three of Yoakam's albums have sold more than 3 million copies each, he could probably afford to buy the whole dang World Federation of Wrasslin', give them diction lessons, then relocate Nashville where it belongs--in Bakersfield.

Yoakam's got the crossover fans, the hits and that movie-star mug. In fact, his bio calls him country's answer to Gary Cooper.

In a recent interview, as Yoakam cruised around L.A. talking on his car phone, he had plenty more to say than "yup" and "nope."

So, Dwight, you haven't been playing much lately. What have you been doing?

We haven't toured for the last couple of years, but for 1992, we've got 130 dates set, then a tour of Europe. Since 1990, I've done some television work, both acting and writing, plus I've been catching up on all those old "Mayberry" episodes. I just took some time off to think and act normal.

On your bio sheet, you say that "success becomes a trap ... and you end up becoming an act."

Exactly. A lot of performers are subjected to perpetual touring, and you can burn yourself out. I don't want to become a shtick and stop being an act. I always need spontaneity. This can never become a job. We need that enthusiasm that is generated by the audience and the band.

You describe your music as "hard country." What's that?

It's just a mixture of things. My music has a barroom and roadhouse feel to it. For example, the guys on the records perform with me live. They have a certain energy that studio musicians don't have.

Country music seems to always be about drinkin', drivin' and cryin.' You guys seem as bummed out as those blues guys.

Well, country music is white blues. It's music that describes very basic emotions.

What happened to the radio? Back in the '60s you could hear Roger Miller, the Temptations and the Blues Magoos, all on the same AM radio station.

Radio wasn't so completely segregated then. You used to hear the Statler Brothers on AM radio, and Joe South. Man, he was great--he wrote "Hush." It had that great chorus "nah-nah-nah-nah-nah-nah-nah-nah-nah-nah" (which sounds a lot better than it reads). That was the first and last good Deep Purple song. Radio is so segregated and radically formatted today, but hopefully, it's cyclical and this stuff comes and goes.

How'd you get started in all this?

I've always had a guitar since I was a kid. I started to imitate people, then I began to emulate them.

What's the best and worst thing about your job?

The best thing is getting to play music and make a substantial living. I'm fortunate and blessed. The worst thing is the travel because I'm a homebody. I spent my first four years on the road--33 out of 48 months. That's why we backed off.

What was your strangest gig?

There's been a lot of strange ones. One time in Texas, we played at a rodeo, over a bull chute covered with plywood which was only one sheet think. There were big holes all over the stage, and it was all we could do to keep from falling in and get through the set. And the crowd was really wild.

Do you get rock 'n' rollers at your show?

Oh, yeah, we get a diverse crowd. . . .When I was doing the club scene in L.A., I played with the Blasters, Los Lobos, the Meat Puppets--all those guys.

Do you guys play longer than the Grateful Dead?

Naw, the Grateful Dead, when (Bob) Weir and (Jerry) Garcia get it going, have this supernatural ability to achieve this sort of musical Zen. Anyway, we play for an hour and a half or two hours.

What do you do besides music?

Well, I've got a lot of horses on my ranch in Ventura County. I'd rather not say where exactly. I've got racehorses. I have a trainer that's taking care of things for me. We're starting to breed.

How come country musicians dress better than rock musicians, but nobody dresses better than blues musicians?

I think country and rock guys dress about the same, but blues musicians dress with a good deal of street etiquette and eloquence.

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