Label: Rhino Records
Twenty years ago, Mr. Dwight Yoakam blessed us with his debut album Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc. Some said then that he was too rock and roll for country radio. Looking back, ironically, he was probably too COUNTRY for country radio. The album was pure classic honky tonk, with blazing fiddles, and hard core 1950’s bar room soul. Starting with the hit cover of Johnny Horton’s immortal country anthem “Honky Tonk Man” through a cover of songwriting master Harlan Howard’s “Heartaches By the Number,” with plenty of country goodness in between, Yoakam immediately established that he was a force to be reckoned with… whether Nashville liked it or not.
That was 1986. In 2006, Rhino Records, in a partnership with Reprise, released the 20th anniversary edition of Yoakam’s classic debut. To hardcore Dwight fans, it would have been incredible just to have the album’s wonderful songs remastered and given the superior sound quality they deserved. Well, Rhino certainly delivered in that respect. However, to this reviewer’s delight, the label gave us so much more. Not only are we given a remastered Guitars, Cadillacs, but also Yoakam’s first ten demos recorded in 1981, and a live show recorded at the Roxy in 1986. The demos were previously released on the Reprise Please Baby: The Warner Bros. Years box set, but a vast majority of the live show has never seen an official release. It is an irresistible package, even for those who own the original issue of the album.
As one listens to Yoakam’s 1981 demos, one cannot help but wonder how in the hell did no one sign this guy? Among the demos are songs from Guitars, Cadillacs and, with the exception of the still unreleased “Please Daddy,” songs that would appear on Dwight’s future records, such as the classic weeper “I Sang Dixie.” It must be said that these are not your usual demos. Combined, the 1981 demos could have not only been one hell of a country record, but a greatest hits record for most artists. They are true treasures to experience, and make it very clear that Dwight Yoakam was a very special artist from the beginning, even if the country music industry failed to notice.
After the demos on Disc 1 end, the classic album begins to play. Guitars, Cadillacs has never sounded better, and it still sounds as fresh as it did in 1986. It’s proof that hard core honky tonk never goes out of style. In case some readers have never actually heard the album, it’s a ten song powerhouse of solid country gold. It’s all here. Along with Horton’s “Honky Tonk Man” and Howard’s “Heartaches By the Number,” Yoakam also provides listeners with an outstanding honky tonk version of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire.” He penned the remaining seven songs himself, and they display his amazing country songwriting talent.
In addition to the songwriting brilliance and Dwight’s always-incredible vocals, the album has also become legendary due to its diversity. It’s one of the very few contestants for “the all-time perfect country album.” All of the elements of real country music are present. You have honky tonk numbers (the bar room rambler’s warning to women “I’ll Be Gone”). You have tales of broken hearts (the tear-commanding “It Won’t Hurt” and the lament “South of Cincinnati”). You even have references to the Great Beyond (the pledge of love for both the Lord and Kentucky “Bury Me” and the desperate plea “Miner’s Prayer”). Finally, you have the now-legendary title-track, which combines all of the previously mentioned elements into a celebration of country music. During his long and illustrious career, even though Yoakam has matched the quality of Guitars, Cadillacs on a couple of occasions, he has never outdone it. This is a testament to how truly wonderful the record is.
This, of course, all leads to the second disc… the live Roxy show. Most Dwight fans already know how good Guitars, Cadillacs is. Diehard fans may even already have the box set with the demos. However, the entire Roxy show, never before released in its entirety, provides a thrill for all fans. And it is indeed one hell of a thrill. A still young Yoakam completely takes over the stage of the famous rock and roll club with his brand of “old hillbilly stuff,” and the crowd is more than happy to go along for the ride. The sound quality of the live recording is incredible, and Yoakam is full of energy as he rips through a set list of outstanding covers and originals. Highlights include outstanding versions of “Honky Tonk Man,” “Guitars, Cadillacs,” two excellent Bill Monroe covers (“Can’t You Hear Me Calling” and “Rocky Road Blues”), and a flat-out rocking version of Hank Williams’ “My Bucket’s Got a Hole in It.” If the first two parts of the re-release weren’t enough to make one want to buy it, this live show is one damn strong final selling point. It completes the Guitars, Cadillacs experience.
It is a little strange that Rhino and Reprise decided to put both the demos and album on the same disc. In a perfect world, this set would be 3 discs, with each part being kept separate. However, it was probably released this way to save folks money, which is completely understandable. This one very minor complaint aside, the decision to buy the re-release is a no-brainer. Containing something for everyone, fans should only hope that the rest of Yoakam’s catalog is given similar treatment. The title of “Deluxe Edition” well-deserved, the 20th Anniversary issue of Guitars, Cadillacs is a winner in every respect.