DWIGHT YOAKAM IS NEAT. THOUGH HE has been country music’s long-legged loner-with-an-attitude for almost a decade, a quick tour through this Hollywood hillbilly’s Spanish-style home shows that his mama taught him a few things about housekeeping. From his spotless white kitchen, with nonfat canned soups in the tidy pantry, to his bedroom—where a snow-white down comforter hovers cloud like on his custom-made four-poster bed—there’s nary a stray cup, towel or even a hair from his two hounds in sight. “I like order,” Yoakam, 36, says in his Appalachian twang. A smile sweeps away his patented pout. “”It allows me to have chaos in my head.”
Right now there’s enough clutter in Yoakam’s life to drive some folks round the bend. He has just released his sixth album, the hot-selling This Time, which a Los Angeles Times critic hailed as a “tour de force of country styles.” In May he embarks on a four-month, 80-city concert tour. Meantime he’s producing and starring in Southern Rapture, a limited-run play in Los Angeles directed by fellow Harley-David-son enthusiast Peter Fonda, as a tune-up (or roles in two upcoming movies. And he’s still dodging questions about his ill-fated attraction to Sharon Stone.
Things got uncharacteristically messy last month when Stone dissed the 6′ hillbilly deluxe, whom she’d met during a photo shoot for Ebel watches and stepped out with at last year’s Academy Awards. Said Stone of their fling: “A dirt sandwich is better than Dwight Yoakam.” Yoakam would just as soon sweep it all under the carpel. “I’m cynical enough of the media to doubt she actually said that, he says. “Beyond that, I think that the gross sensationalism generated by our four-week relationship is a tragic: commentary on society’s infatuation with any form of celebrity.”
Though he hails from rural Pike Floyd Holler, Ky., Yoakam is clearly no yokel. As a child he hid in the library and read encyclopedias. Today he describes his introspective lifestyle as “vacillatingly solitary” and his sartorial style as “interpretive collage.” He’ll unleash an opinionated earful on everything from his libertarian politics to one of his heroes, Elvis. (“This is just a while-trash theory, but I think if he’d married Ann-Margret, he’d still be alive today.”)
Which makes his current stage role something of a natural: He plays the ruminative inmate of a mental institution. Onstage, stripped of his trademark Stetson, Yoakam reveals a receding hairline. He also shows, says Fonda, surprising acting ability. “He knows instinctively what’s right and wrong. He’s a rare talent,” says Fonda, who’s enough of a fan to have given Yoakam the lead in his next movie, Ginger Snaps (which the singer describes as “kind of [low-rent] film noir, right up my taste”).
Growing up in Columbus, Ohio, where his father, David, owned a gas station and his mother, Ruth, was a keypunch operator, Yoakam first picked up his daddy’s guitar at age 2, then taught himself to play by strumming along to Hank Williams records. By the time he was 8, Yoakam, the oldest of three, had composed his first song. “But I didn’t try anything again for years,” he says. “I didn’t think I was doing it right, because it came so easily.”
The career part didn’t come easy at all. After two years at Ohio State, during which he moonlighted on the honky-tonk circuit, Yoakam headed for Nashville—and struck out. Landing in Los Angeles in 1978, he drove a truck, worked on a loading dock and delivered packages while trying to sell his uncompromisingly rootsy sound at a time when country-pop was king. After years of playing juke joints, he and his hard-driving band finally scored. “People weren’t sure what country was,”” says Dave Alvin, formerly of the Blasters, for whom Yoakam opened on the 1985 tour that won him a record contract. “And he said, I’ll tell ya. It’s hillbillies playing real loud.’ ”
Yoakam made a lot of noise with his 1986 debut album, Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc., which topped the country charts and won admirers from Buck Owens to Keith Richards. The newcomer added extra spice to the package with his steamy stare, skintight, strategically ripped Levi’s and a big ol’ hat. During the next four years he made four more albums and sold over 6 million. But don’t ask him why. “Music’s the one thing I try not to analyze,” Yoakam says. “I don’t want to destroy the magic that has always been there for me.”
As dogs Annie, a blue tick hound, and Jack, a weimaraner, bark outside, Yoakam continues the tour of his Hollywood home. (His 11 horses roam his 24-acre ranch in the mountains in nearby Ventura.) He points out two canvases by renowned Southwestern painter C.J. Wells—and a tower of books beside the toilet. “The only place I have free time,” he laughs. His closet contains 40 pairs of Levi’s 517 jeans with 28-inch waists, which he’s able to squeeze into by watching his diet. “I live out of cans a lot,” he says. “But I try to indulge only in healthy canned food.
Yoakam broke up with his most recent long-term girlfriend, a model he won’t name, last year, but insists settling down is part of his plan. However, it could be a tall order. “Shell have to understand that I’m in my own head more than enough,” Yoakam says. “It makes me difficult to live with. Difficult to understand. Often not easy to feel close to.”
But, hey, at least she won’t have to do housework.
TODD GOLD in Los Angeles