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Review of Dwight Yoakam: A Thousand Miles from Nowhere

March 10, 2012

If you take your country music seriously, you need to put Dwight Yoakam:  A Thousand Miles from Nowhere, at the top of your To-Be-Read stack.  Music critic Don McLeese has written the definitive and, surprisingly, the first book about the country music phenom who has sold more than 25 million albums worldwide including 12 gold albums, 9 platinum or multi-platinum, and the triple platinum “This Time.”

McLeese has left no stone unturned when it comes to researching Yoakam’s musical oeuvre, and each chapter is filled with the kind of minutia that clearly took years of research.  It’s not a biography, so you won’t find much about his inner demons or who he’s dated, but McLeese does touch on Yoakam’s formative years spent in Columbus, Ohio.  Apparently, Yoakam was quite a fan of the Monkees, believe it or not, and McLeese explains why this makes perfect sense. He also digs deep to explain why the Los Angeles’ punk-music scene was important to Yoakam’s early success. Throughout the book, he rebukes critics who question Yoakam’s authentic country artist status citing, among other reasons, his slick performances and skin-tight jeans.

The book is full of insider info gleaned through hours and hours of interviewing Yoakam and his compatriots. One of the more surprising things I learned is that, although Yoakam sings about hitting the bottle, he has never let a drop of alcohol pass over his lips. Nor drugs. His religious upbringing instilled in him his teetotaling ways and also informed his music writing. Yoakam says, “My family read the Bible constantly, and it gave me the ear for rhyming schemes.”

You’ll really enjoy McLeese’s particular bent on the music scene, such as when he describes blues purists as “self-appointed Caucasian arbiters of what qualifies as authentic black expression.” Talk about hitting the nail on the head and not mincing words! His breadth of music knowledge is across the board and especially evident in his observations of various Yoakam songs such as when he says, “…the melody suggests something out of the Lovin’ Spoonful.  And the Chet Atkins-style picking of “These Arms” recalls that goodtime band’s Nashville Cats,” which of course was homage to an era of country classicism…The opening steel run of “Same Fool” evokes the “Rainy Day Woman” of Waylon Jennings, the following “The Curse” proceeds at a Johnny Cash lope.”  And on and on.  McLeese is a music devotee and it shows over and over again across the pages of this exhaustive compendium of a book.

If, per chance, you haven’t experimented with country music yet, this book might convince you to at least give a listen to Yoakam whose music has been described as a combination of many musical genres including rock and roll, rockabilly, jazz, and grassroots. According to McLeese, his concerts have always attracted fans who “never listened to contemporary country radio and rarely went to other country concerts.” Everyone from indie-rockers to hardcore country lovers, agree that Dwight Yoakam is The Man and after reading McLeese’s book, you’ll understand why.

Although McLeese is obviously a fan of Yoakam’s, this book, which he refers to as a “labor of love,” is a serious piece of musical criticism. You will come away with a clear understanding of Yoakam’s “artistry, impact, aura, and legacy.”

University of Texas Press, 2012

Don McLeese was formerly the pop music critic for the Chicago Sun-Times and the Austin American-Stateman, as well as country music columnist and frequent contributor to Rolling Stone and a senior editor for No Depression. He lives in West Des Moines, Iowa, and currently teaches journalism at the University of Iowa.

DISCLOSURE:  My musical education began more than 40 years ago under the tutelage of Don and Richard McLeese to whom I owe a huge debt of gratitude. Together we attended and enjoyed more concerts than I can count or remember, for that matter. It began what has turned into a life-long love of music that has enhanced my life more than words can express.

  1. What a surprising, genre-busting review. As much as I like it, however, I suspect you buried your lead. Dwight Yokum Liked The Monkees?!? Can’t wait for more!

  2. Courtney Graham Hipp permalink

    I’m a fan of his music, and if I don’t manage to read this book in the next few months I’ll gladly eat a dirt sandwich… ; ) I have long wished Yoakam would do more acting; I found his performance in “Sling Blade” quite chilling. He seems to have limited himself to just two or three small projects per year. But apparently he is portraying Gen. George Meade in a new TV miniseries about Appomattox, due out next year. Thanks for the review!

  3. In Grade 11, I skipped morning class to be first in line to buy “This Time.” That enthusiasm for anything newly released by Dwight has carried on since high school… all the way to my pre-ordered copy of 3 Pears in 2012.
    It’s surprising then that it took me so long to get my hands on “A Thousand Miles from Nowhere.” This outstanding Dwight music biography was a gift for my birthday last week, and I quickly read it (and hung on very word) from cover to cover. It’s interesting to read this book today (vs. at the time of its release) knowing, from a Dwight fan perspective, about the chapter that Don didn’t write. As predicted, 3 Pears album and tour is right up there with Hillbilly Deluxe and Gone… it’s the latest Dwight Yoakam masterpiece.
    Don’s book reinforces why, from an early age, Dwight became my major role model. I am inspired not only by his music but by his passion and tenacity, two key ingredients for any career — albeit in the music business or otherwise. (For the record, I can’t sing… I can barely play an air guitar).
    In many ways, I am a product of what Dwight always knew was right about his music. Young people deserve to have access to past music, styles and influences because they will always be relevant. I was only 11 years old when I heard Honky-Tonk Man come on the radio. I didn’t know Johnny Horton. I grew up watching Hee-Haw but didn’t know that the guy with the red, white and blue guitar was even a legend. Everything I know and appreciate about music (from many different genres) comes from Dwight Yoakam music.
    Don’s book is the ultimate encore for years of Dwight albums that will always remain timeless works of art. It was great to hear the back story behind these legendary recordings. Congratulations to Don McLeese. No one could write a book that serves Dwight’s music and career stamina more thoroughly and respectfully than “A Thousand Miles from Nowhere.”


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