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Prophetic Pen

Dwight Yoakam creates tomorrow's sounds today

He has been making records for 14 years, but Dwight Yoakam's passion for the music is still gloriously in tune. "I'm really invigorated by the music," declares Dwight. "I'm as excited about this album as I was by my first, Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc."

Dwight's new album, Tomorrow's Sounds Today, is actually today's sounds yesterday. Confused? Here's an explanation from the man himself, who reveals that he began writing the album's material while on the set of his 1998 movie, The Newton Boys.

"I took a few hand-held tape recorders and placed them in a couple of locations on the set, and kept a couple of guitars in my trailer and hotel all the time," notes Dwight, as he relaxes on his bus parked in Nashville.

"I just grabbed every melodic thought that I had throughout the day. On the way up to the bedroom at night, if I had a musical thought I'd walk in and 'jot it down' by singing it into the tape recorder. I've done that for years with lyrics and album titles, but I've never really done that with melodies."

All throughout 1998 and 1999, Dwight kept using the "grab" method to snare his creativity. "It led to my amassing an album's worth of material," he recalls. "So, as the title of the album suggests, I was creating 'tomorrow's sounds' in those days."

Dwight followed up his new way of writing Tomorrow's Sounds Today by experimenting with another first onstage during his tour last summer.

"I'd never introduced new material to a live audience before it was out on a record," he explains. "The first single, 'What Do You Know About Love,' was one of five songs from this album that we performed every night on tour. It was a test of the material.

"An audience is often not as receptive to songs they've never heard before because they lack familiarity," continues Dwight. "But we opened the show every night with 'What Do You Know About Love.' It got such a great response that we left it as the opener for the entire tour." Tomorrow's Sounds Today features an unlikely cover song, 1979's Top 10 "I Want You To Want Me" by the rock group Cheap Trick. "I'd always loved the melody of that song," confesses Dwight. "I used to sing it around the house. When we were in the planning stages for this album, I said, 'I think we should cut it. Let's come up with an arrangement that works in a hillbilly fashion.' " The song definitely lent itself to a rockin' hillbilly fashion. "Not unlike 'Train In Vain,' The Clash song I covered three years ago in a very bluegrass style," he adds. "I don't know if the guys in Cheap Trick have heard this yet, so I hope they're pleased with it."

Dwight confides he's ecstatic about the three tracks featuring his longtime buddy, Buck Owens. The twangy twosome first paired on Dwight's 1988 No. 1, "The Streets Of Bakersfield." On this album, Buck harmonizes with Dwight on "Alright, I'm Wrong," "I Was There" and "The Sad Side Of Town," which the twosome co-wrote.

"I'm as proud of that song as anything I've ever written," notes Dwight with a smile, "primarily because I wrote it with Buck Owens.

"I played at the Crystal Palace last year at New Year's, and Buck and I were lamenting the fact that we'd never written a song together. I said, 'You know, I would be very proud to write with you. I've wanted to for a long time.'

"Suddenly, he had a melodic idea and started to play something on the guitar. As he started to play, I said, 'Hold it - that's it. This is the song I want to write with you.'

"The song reminds me so much of Buck, circa 1966. My greatest hope for the song is for it to be a fitting tribute to his musical legacy."

Dwight has been creating his own musical legacy since he first moved to California over 20 years ago. That he didn't make his home in Nashville caused some Music Row types to brand him as an outsider.

"I don't think of myself as an outsider to country music," declares Dwight. "I wasn't ready to record when I first came to Nashville. I wasn't ready as an artist, as a writer, or as a performer. I really needed to grow the 'sea legs' that were necessary to take the helm of my artistic ship and set a course with it. I was 20 years old, and I needed to move to California to discover my personal voice.

"And, also, I was drawn to the West Coast because it allowed for a hybrid evolution to occur in me. The musical freedom there allowed me to take the hillbilly and bluegrass/mountain music I'd heard from the time I was born - and the pop music I grew up with in Ohio from the early '60s to the early '70s - and synthesize it all into my own musical statement.

"Anybody who strives to become a performing artist must find their own unique course for their journey through their life. The West Coast helped me discover my course."

During Dwight's journey, he has walked down many creative paths, gaining almost as much attention for his acting as for his music. In 1996 he had a role in the Academy Award-winning film Sling Blade, and his movie South Of Heaven, West Of Hell - which he wrote, directed and stars in - will soon make its screen debut. "It's an offbeat, Gothic western," he says. "We're hoping it'll be out either late this year or early next year. I'm very proud of the film."

As Dwight's "What Do You Know About Love" climbs the charts, he contemplates his dual career. Soon he'll be filming the thriller Panic Room, scheduled for release next year.

"I hope to be able to have the opportunity to continue to act and direct," he notes. "But I don't see myself ever not performing as a musical artist, not writing songs and not singing," he says. "It's innately a part of me."