Lonesome Onry and Mean: How Two Houstonians Helped Make Dwight Yoakam a Star
Other than his adopted Los Angeles, Houston may be the most important city in country singer Dwight Yoakam's career. Yoakam's music finally found a rabid country audience in Houston when KIKK disc jockey and music director Joe Ladd began to spin Yoakam's cover of East Texan Johnny Horton's "Honky Tonk Man" in 1986. Houston went wild for "Honky Tonk Man," which gave Yoakam the national breakout he was looking for. It also didn't hurt that late Houston Post music critic Bob Claypool was an early supporter of Yoakam's. Claypool, the consummate hard-drinking country-music writer, knew the real deal when he heard it. In his book Fifty Years Down a Country Road, legendary Nashville disc jockey Ralph Emery dedicated several pages to a remembrance of Claypool, even relating that Claypool used to ride around in an old Lincoln with Dwight Yoakam before Yoakam had made it: "I love the idea of Bob rocketing round Texas with Dwight Yoakam playing Buck Owens tapes."
Ladd, who now manages Beaumont country star Mark Chesnutt, credits Claypool with bringing Yoakam to his attention. "Bob and I used to stand at the bar at Gilley's a lot of nights, and I recall him telling me about a young guy he'd seen at a showcase somewhere," he says. "He told me to be on the lookout for some guy named Dwight Yoakam. "It wasn't long after that I got a call from a fellow I knew at Warner Brothers in Nashville," continues Ladd. "They'd just signed a new act and he wanted me to hear it. Turned out it was this guy Claypool had told me about. So they flew down the next day and we met in a hotel room near Hobby. I heard 'Honky Tonk Man' and told Dwight, 'You've got a hit on your hands.'"
Ladd took the cassette tape to KIKK studios and dubbed a copy immediately. "I started playing it the next morning and our phones just lit up," he says. It was all just beginning to really happen with Yoakam's career when he played Rockefeller's Oct. 10, 1986. If you've got the Wolfgang's Vault app on your phone, a recording from that show is available today. Dwight Yoakam plays with Elizabeth Cook, 8 p.m. Saturday, November 21, at the Arena Theater, 7326 Southwest Fwy., 713-772-5900 or www.arenahouston.com.
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