Yoakam pays tribute to influences


Yoakam pays tribute to influences

Dwight Yoakam. 8 p.m. Sept. 11. Symphony Hall, 1280 Peachtree St. N.E., Atlanta. 404-733-4900, www.ticketmaster.com.

Dwight Yoakam has never made any bones about Buck Owens having a major impact on his music.

In fact, Yoakam got Owens to collaborate with him on his chart-topping 1988 single “Streets of Bakersfield,” and then paid full-on tribute to Owens with a 2007 album of songs by his musical hero and mentor.

But one artist that Yoakam feels doesn’t get nearly enough credit, not only for his influence on Yoakam’s own career, but in paving the way for country music to appeal to a younger audience, is Chris Hillman.

Hillman was a member of the Byrds when that group had its string of pop hits (“Turn, Turn, Turn,” “Mr. Tambourine Man”) in the 1960s with their chiming pop-rock sound. Then, he shepherded the Byrds through major changes in members (the departure of David Crosby and the arrival of Gram Parsons and, later, Clarence White) and a shift from pop to country-rock on the band’s groundbreaking 1968 album “Sweetheart of the Rodeo.”

Yoakam, who has been enjoying his own musical resurgence thanks to his highly acclaimed 2012 album, “3 Pears,” can draw a straight line from the Byrds to the rock-injected music that fills mainstream country radio playlists today. He feels his career might have taken a very different path without the Byrds.

“Without Chris Hillman and the Byrds doing the ‘Sweetheart of the Rodeo’ album and then he and Gram Parsons doing the Flying Burrito Brothers, you probably wouldn’t have had Linda Ronstadt, certainly not Emmylou Harris, in the incarnations that we know them, and then the Eagles and Poco,” Yoakam said.

“And there’s no me then coming to the West Coast, instead of Nashville, because of that movement,” Yoakam said. He dropped out of Ohio State in 1977 to head to Los Angeles, where he started to create his own distinctive blend of rock and California-inspired country.

As Yoakam sees it, Hillman and the “Sweetheart” era Byrds were the root from which country music has grown and reinvented itself several times since — finding a younger audience with each new movement in the process.

“The current generation, whether it’s bro-country, alt-country, outlaw country, whatever, there certainly is a healthy dose of re-imagined youthful expression of, you know, the genre,” Yoakam said.

Yoakam had the biggest commercial impact of any of the envelope-pushing artists that invaded country in the late 1980s. While Steve Earle, Lyle Lovett and k.d. lang — to name three of Yoakam’s contemporaries — have enjoyed long, highly acclaimed careers, Yoakam also became a bona fide country hitmaker.

His catalog includes 22 Top 20 country singles and nine platinum albums, including “This Time” (which topped 3 million copies sold). His total album sales stand at 25 million.

In April, he will release a new album, “Second Hand Heart.”

Yoakam knows his days of having country hits are probably over. Country radio favors young stars and new talent, and, at age 58, Yoakam is of a different era — even though his music has as much of a rock ’n’ roll kick as just about any of today’s generation of country stars.

But, he’s found a very supportive new home for his music — the Americana genre. “3 Pears” spent eight weeks atop the Americana chart and earned Yoakam a prime honor from the Americana Music Association, the artist of the year award.

“It meant a lot to me that that new format embraced it so thoroughly, and it was given its full hearing,” Yoakam said.

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