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Feature: Yoakam reaches the mountaintop

By CRYSTAL CAVINESS, United Press International   |   June 19, 2003 at 5:23 PM   |   Comments

NASHVILLE, June 19 (UPI) -- Dwight Yoakam refuses to take credit for the synergy surrounding the various events in his life right now.

During the month of June, the Grammy-winning entertainer has reached a career mountaintop by receiving a star on the legendary Hollywood Walk of Fame; starring in his most recent film, "Hollywood Homicide" with Harrison Ford; preparing for the release Tuesday of his new album, "Population Me;" promoting his new single "The Back of Your Hand" to country radio and resuming his extensive concert tour.

"True synergy probably just happens on its own moment of vortex," Yoakam said recently from his Los Angeles home. "Certainly my life wasn't planned well enough for this to happen."

Extensive planning or not, the fact remains that Yoakam has got the tiger by the tail, as the song made famous by his buddy Buck Owens says.

In fact, Owens was one of several famous friends standing by Yoakam's side June 5 when the 2,227th star was placed at 7021 Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles. Banjo player Earl Scruggs, actor Vince Vaughn and Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top attended the ceremony, along with Yoakum's mother.

"I was very lucky to have shared that moment with my mother," he said. "For me that was a moment of reflection that was sublimely surreal .... It was the same sidewalk I had crossed 25 years before carrying freight for Airborne Express," he said, discussing his pre-fame days of when he first came to Los Angeles as a struggling musician.

And while Yoakam's life may have come full circle to a strip of sidewalk in the heart of Hollywood, the past quarter of a century has taken him far from his days of delivering packages. These days, Yoakam delivers hit songs.

"Ain't That Lonely Yet," "Thousand Miles From Nowhere," "Little Sister" and "Guitars, Cadillacs" are among the 17 Top 10 singles that have helped Yoakam sell 22 million records and become a respected performer on several levels.

He made his movie debut in 1993 with Nicolas Cage in "Red Rock West," to begin a string of film and TV acting credits that include "Sling Blade," "The Minus Man" and "Panic Room." In 2000, he wrote, starred in and directed "South of Heaven, West of Hell."

In "Hollywood Homicide," Yoakam plays an ex-LAPD detective who, along with actor Isaiah Washington, goes up against characters played by Ford and Josh Hartnett.

At the same time that film is on the big screen, Yoakam will begin a role in an independent film, "Three Way Split," directed by Scott Ziehl.

"It's very austere," Yoakam said. "I'm real excited about being part of that."

Lest some think that Yoakam's acting interferes with his music, he actually found his current single "The Back of Your Hand" while working on the set of "Hollywood Homicide."

While waiting in the makeup trailer one day, Yoakam heard the song, which had been recorded by another actor, Bruce Greenwood. Yoakam immediately wanted to hear it again. After listening to it several more times, Yoakam asked if he could record the song, which had been written by Greg Lee Henry.

"We cut it, not intending for it to be a single or the first single," Yoakam said. "Once we started mixing the record, it manifested itself into being the first single. I envied (Greg's) ability and the execution in writing that song. I thought it was elegantly written and how it dealt with the complexity of relationships. I noticed in just playing that track for both men and women, women knew on first listen that there was something profound about that song. They just had an instinct about it ... I noticed when men started listening to it they wanted to hear it more. Hopefully, it works for an audience on a larger scale .... There's a simplicity to it that's so profound that it's elegant in how eloquently simplistic it is."

Yoakum acknowledges that he's lucky to have found the hauntingly romantic single.

"That was a sidebar perk to being in the film," he said.

"The Back of My Hand" is one of only three songs on the new project written by other songwriters. Yoakam contributed seven tunes.

In a record identifiably Yoakam, the songs are clever and intelligent, signature trademarks of the man credited with bringing back the Bakersfield sound reminiscent of the 1960s. Standout songs -- in addition to the first single -- include "Trains & Boats & Planes," written by the legendary duo of Burt Bacharach and Hal David, and Yoakam's songs, "Fair To Midland," "I'd Avoid Me Too," "If Teardrops Were Diamonds" (a duet with Willie Nelson) and the title track, "Population Me."

"It's when my emotions have generated any kind of response to my world, I feel compelled to go in and express myself," Yoakum said of his recording schedule. "It's been almost three years since my last album. I'm as excited about this as anything I've ever done in my career."

© 2003 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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