After the April release of Dwight Yoakam’s “Second Hand Heart,” a splendid album-length dose of his country-rock-pop music, he and his band stayed steady on the road.
Last week, Yoakam found spending a few rare days at home more challenging than anything he usually encounters during his travels.
“Which is why I get ambushed by everything that’s been waiting for me for the past six months,” the Kentucky native said from southern California, home since the late 1970s. “Your life catches up to you and starts beating you with a baseball bat.”
But Yoakam and his boys are right back on the road this week. Their fall itinerary includes two weekends at the Austin City Limits Music Festival and this Saturday night at the newly reopened Orpheum Theater in New Orleans.
“We were on the Gulf Coast the night before Katrina hit,” Yoakam said. “Driving out of Biloxi, I remember looking at those beautiful antebellum mansions along the main street.”
Also that night, when Yoakam and his band flew out to do a show in Tunica, they watched the windows at Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport being boarded up.
“It’s great to be a small part of something now, so many years removed from that moment, with the Orpheum’s reopening,” he said.
Playing songs from this year’s “Second Hand Heart” album has been fun, Yoakam said. Some nights he’ll do as many of five or six songs, other nights just two or three. That’s because Yoakam always tries to cover the breadth and width of his career. Those 31 years of recordings have sold more than 25 million copies worldwide.
“When I go see The Rolling Stones, I want to hear ‘Satisfaction,’ ” he said. “I want to hear ‘Let It Bleed.’ When Johnny Cash came to town, I wanted to hear ‘Walk the Line.’ ”
Like others who grew up to make music a profession, Yoakam was first a fan. Early on he heard his father’s Cash recordings for Sun Records in Memphis. And then he heard Buck Owens, a leader of West Coast country, on the radio.
“Buck was on the radio singing ‘I’ve — got — a — tiger by the tail.’ That and ‘Together Again.’ Those things were crossover hits playing on AM car radio. And by the time I was 8, I had a transistor radio. I heard Buck, Roger Miller. My transistor had a little earpiece. A single earpiece. It was mono. I’d lay there at night, listening, when I was supposed to be asleep.”
Owens and Cash later became Yoakam’s friends.
“Buck and I were very close, from ’86 through 2006, when he passed,” Yoakam said. “John was complimentary about what I did. He understood it. I felt an affinity to Johnny in that way, perhaps even more so than to Buck. Because I was straddling that fence like Johnny Cash. He wasn’t rock ’n’ roll or rockabilly, exclusively. He wasn’t country, exclusively. He had his own space.”
For 30 years, Yoakam, too, has his own place in music. Cash, Owens, Roy Orbison, Roger Miller and others who didn’t toe the Nashville Sound line would approve.