Critics have dubbed Dwight Yoakam a music sponge for transcending the country genre and absorbing different musical styles, making his brand of hip, honky-tonk music accepted among rock audiences. His latest album -- his first original recording in seven years -- is a testament to that.
In “3 Pears,” which has more of a country-rock sound to it, Yoakam collaborated with Kid Rock and indie rocker Beck. The Beatles inspired the title of the record.
Yoakam said he was watching Martin Scorsese’s documentary about George Harrison -- “Living in a Material World” -- when he saw a scene of John Lennon playing around with three pairs of 1960s-style sunglasses. He said watching the young Lennon being silly inspired him.
“It became thematic of a certain kind of innocent joy about this record,” said Yoakam.
In a play with words, the three pairs of glasses became “3 Pears,” also the title of one of the album tracks, an uplifting, rock-inspired sing-along and probably the catchiest one.
Yoakam started another song on the album, “Take Hold of My Hand,” 20 years ago. He said the melody popped up in his mind randomly when he was on his way to meet with Kid Rock. Yoakam knew the song by heart and played the opening chorus to the rocker.
The two finished it in three hours, he said.
“(Kid Rock) jumped up and said, ‘You gotta finish this.’ “ Yoakam said. “With his enthusiasm, his lit cigar and pacing back and forth between typing madly at the computer and my continuing to play the song, we finished that song.”
Yoakam has 500 songs he didn’t finish or didn’t include on any of his albums, including “3 Pears.” He stores them in digital files and on his iPhone. Some of the songs, he said, have been recorded using a Sony stereo microphone and are on cassette tapes he keeps in his attic.
“I started allowing myself to letting things marinate several years ago, not forcing a song to be finished before it’s ready to be finished,” he said. “It allows me in some ways to feel like I’m co-writing with myself.”
Yoakam has recorded 12 gold albums and nine platinum or multiplatinum albums, and his top hits include “Honky Tonk Man” and “It Only Hurts When I Cry.” He also is an actor and director, appearing in “Panic Room,” where he played a psychopathic killer opposite Jodie Foster.
Born in Pikeville, Ky., Yoakam has spent most of his life in Los Angeles. He began his career on the West Coast, moving away from Nashville because at the time, he said, the emphasis in the country-music mecca was on studio recording and not live music. He also was attracted by the music being made by West Coast bands like The Byrds and country-rock group The Flying Burrito Brothers.
In Los Angeles, Yoakam performed at rock and punk-rock nightclubs and worked driving a truck and moving furniture until his breakthrough in the 1980s.
Although today he doesn’t receive a lot of airplay on commercial radio, in his heyday, Yoakam charted 30 singles. Johnny Cash once said he was one of his favorite singers.
Their distant but warm relationship, Yoakam said, started when Cash and June Carter Cash introduced him during his appearance on the country variety show “Hee Haw” in the 1980s.
“(Cash) was always there to tease me and encourage me,” he said. “He got the music I was doing and understood why I did it.”
IF YOU GO
Dwight Yoakam in concert. 8 p.m. Saturday, April 20. Talking Stick Resort, 9800 E. Indian Bend Road, Scottsdale. $50-$120. ticketmaster.com.