Dwight Yoakam Looks To The Past — And Prince Yoakam's latest album, Swimmin' Pools, Movie Stars..., is composed almost entirely of songs from his catalog. The only exception? A cover of "Purple Rain."
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Dwight Yoakam Looks To The Past — And Prince

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Dwight Yoakam Looks To The Past — And Prince

Dwight Yoakam Looks To The Past — And Prince

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Dwight Yoakam definitely doesn't need to pad his resume. He's recorded more than 22 albums, sold over 25 million and received 21 Grammy nominations. He's worked with everyone from Johnny Cash and Buck Owens to Kid Rock and Jack White. He's even done some acting, starred in films like "Sling Blade" and "Panic Room," and he's written and directed as well.

For his new album, which is out later this week, Dwight Yoakam has turned his ear back to bluegrass, the music he first heard as a kid in Kentucky and Ohio. The collection is called "Swimmin' Pools, Movie Stars."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THESE ARMS (2016)")

DWIGHT YOAKAM: (Singing) Oh, these arms that hang here by side - yeah, these arms, that ache to open wide - oh, useless arms with nothing left to do since these arms stopped holding you.

MARTIN: And Dwight Yoakam joins us now from our studios at NPR West.

Thank you so much for being with us. Welcome to the program.

YOAKAM: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: Well, I have to ask, as I'm sure people do, I assume the title of the album has a lot to do with "The Beverly Hillbillies." Is that true?

YOAKAM: Well, a tongue-in-cheek reference to culture - it was just something infectious about what we were doing that made us all smile about, you know, that cultural reference to - California is the place you ought to be and they packed up and moved to Beverly Hills. And that great announcer's voice said...

MARTIN AND YOAKAM: Swimming pools, movie stars.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: So let's dig into this album a little bit. You collaborated with a bunch of Grammy-winning musicians to go back and reinterpret songs from your catalog. How come?

YOAKAM: How come is the two producers that were co-producing this with me. And they said, hesitantly, if you're not opposed to it, we would like to look at your catalog a little deeper. And I said, well, you know, you're insulting me with flattery. So...

MARTIN: (Laughter).

YOAKAM: ...It's OK. So that's what led to it. And I said OK to each of the titles they brought up.

MARTIN: Let's do a little compare and contrast then. Let's listen to one of your bigger hits. This is "Guitars, Cadillacs," your original from 1986? Let's take a listen to this.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GUITARS, CADILLACS (1986)")

YOAKAM: (Singing) Girl, you taught me how to hurt real bad and cry myself to sleep and showed me how this town can shatter dreams. Another less about a naive fool who came to Babylon and found out that the pie don't taste so sweet.

MARTIN: Let's listen to the new version of "Guitars, Cadillacs."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GUITARS, CADILLACS (2016)")

YOAKAM: (Singing) Now it's guitars, Cadillacs and hillbilly music - lonely, lonely streets that I call home. Yeah, my guitars, Cadillacs and hillbilly music - it's the only thing that keeps me hanging on.

MARTIN: It's funny. That two-beat really changes the whole personality and feeling of the song.

YOAKAM: Yeah, I think it does. Well, it certainly changes the phrasing of how I sang it, and - though I've always pointed out it's, like - I'm never far removed from where I - what - the culture I was born into in terms of the melodic writing that I do. And, you know, as I listen to that just now, it's clear to hear. I didn't have to try and adjust it. I just had to sing it...

MARTIN: It was always there.

YOAKAM: ...In that meter...

MARTIN: Yeah.

YOAKAM: ...And the melody fell to bluegrass. And those four days of tracking are some of the greatest experiences that I've had in my entire career.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GUITARS, CADILLACS (2016)")

YOAKAM: (Singing) Great lord, it's the only thing that keeps me hanging on.

MARTIN: I want to ask you about one cover on this album.

YOAKAM: Yeah.

MARTIN: The final cut is a rendition of "Purple Rain" by Prince. Why did you want to put your stamp on that song?

YOAKAM: That happened on the third day of tracking. We tracked 13 cuts in four days. And on the morning of the third day, before I headed to the studio, I was at the hotel getting ready. And I walked out and saw TV playing with CNN on a breaking news banner, and it slowly kind of started to come into focus that it was Prince. I was stunned. I didn't really know Prince other than in passing, hallway, kind of a nod, a handshake, you know, over the years. And when we got - I got to the studio, of course, you know, we were all talk - that's - everybody kind of walked into one another. And I looked and said, why don't we sing "Purple Rain"?

And they went in and cut it. And then about two hours in, I thought, well, why am I - I shouldn't - this is - I dismissed it as an emotional release. And I didn't listen to it for three weeks. I was not planning on doing anything with the song. And I was at the studio one night, and two of my touring band members were there with me. And I was working on something else with them. And they saw on the Pro Tools screen "Purple Rain" and the track sheet - the track list.

They said, you guys did "Purple Rain"? I said, well, it was the day he died. I said, so we were all kind of just - we were just all disheartened, you know. They said, could we listen? I said, yeah, I don't know what - I haven't listened to it since we left the studio. And we put it on. And they looked at me and said, this is on the record, right? And I said, you know, I hadn't thought about until just now. I think, maybe, yeah it should be because it was so much a part of - in the midst of the other tracks, this happened. And it stopped us. And I'll tell you what, when I listened back that night in the studio with my band, I realized how much of their hearts those players had given to that moment.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PURPLE RAIN")

YOAKAM: (Singing) I never meant to cause you any sorrow. I never meant to cause you any pain. I only wanted one time to see you laughing - I only wanted to see you laughing in the purple rain. Purple rain, purple rain...

MARTIN: Dwight Yoakam's new album is called "Swimmin' Pools, Movie Stars." He joined us from our studios at NPR West.

Dwight Yoakam, thank you so much for talking with us.

YOAKAM: Oh, thank you for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PURPLE RAIN")

YOAKAM: (Singing) Purple Rain, purple rain - I only want to see you bathing in the purple rain. I never wanted to be your wicked lover. I only wanted...

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