Years ago I sat on Dwight Yoakam‘s tour bus outside the legendary Ryman Auditorium – former home to the world famous Grand Ole Opry – in Nashville, TN. Yoakam, who was set to perform to a sold out crowd in the hallowed hall in less than an hour, was dressed in jeans and a western shirt. He wore a cowboy hat, but he was dressed way down (very casual compared to the suit he would don once he hit the stage later). His mood matched his attire.
What struck me the most about Yoakam was the attention he paid to the six or seven individuals who had invaded his luxurious ride. Whether you were a radio personality, a scribe like myself or a meet and greet winner, the singer was cordial to all. He asked everyone their name and made an effort to chat briefly with them. Yoakam’s tour manager at the time even made sure everyone got a photo with Dwight before departing the bus (they even supplied the Polaroid camera and film). Yoakam came across as a regular guy.
In his 2012 biography, Dwight Yoakam: A Thousand Miles From Nowhere, author Don McLeese essentially paints the same picture of Yoakam. McLeese exposes a deeply talented (but regular) guy who is deadly serious about his music, but doesn’t take himself too seriously. In his very first interview with Yoakam, conducted at the beginning of Dwight’s career, McLeese asked the singer to remove his hat and reveal what was behind the image. According to McLeese, Yoakam didn’t hesitate, he had no problem showing the journalist (and the world) he was thinning on top; that he wasn’t airbrushed perfection like his album cover.
Clearly a fan of Yoakam’s music, McLeese’s account of seeing Yoakam live during the singer’s first major tour is priceless. You would think the guy had witnessed the birth of country music itself. (Of course, anyone who has seen Dwight live will completely understand the author’s excitement.) “Seeing Yoakam for the first time was like seeing my first Clash concert,” says McLeese. “I left the show drained, spent, soaked with sweat. But cleansed in a way. Baptized, initiated. Knowing that I would never again hear traditional country music the same way.”
McLeese traces Yoakam’s career from his early days banging on the drums in a school concert band, to fronting his own ’50s style rockabilly outfit (Dwight and the Greasers), to his time in the ragged punk rock clubs of Los Angeles; the author touches on the singer’s rise to the top of the charts (overnight success to some, but ten long years for Dwight), his career downturn, his detour into acting (something Yoakam did before he was a top flight singer-songwriter) and, briefly, Yoakam’s split with guitarist/producer Pete Anderson, credited as the architect of Yoakam’s turbo-tonk sound
A Thousand Miles From Nowhere is a well-crafted book, a fine read. It skips past the unimportant stuff and concentrates on the meat and potatoes – the songs and the albums. McLeese wastes little time getting the ball rolling and never lets up until the final word. Culled from interviews with Yoakam and those closest to him, as well as Pete Anderson, the book is more of a tribute than a biography.
McLeese is a solid writer, his style engaging enough to keep you moving from page to page. The end of each chapter makes you want to immediately jump to the next without pause. From the outset McLeese makes it clear that Dwight Yoakam: A Thousand Miles From Nowhere is about Yoakam’s music career, not his personal life, childhood, etc. And except for one chapter, which focuses on Yoakam’s movie career, McLeese sticks to his word.