Concert Highlights: Dwight Yoakam and Cactus Blossoms at Damrosch Park, 8/7/2016

(Photo: Jim Bessman)

I hadn’t seen Dwight Yoakam in concert in a long time, but at his Americanafest NYC show August 7 at Damrosch Park/Lincoln Center Out of Doors, he hadn’t changed much from when I first saw him here in the early 1980s. He looked to have on the same hat, and it’s not impossible he had the same jean jacket, jeans, shirt and guitar.

And he sounded the same, with that trademark hiccup at the end of his traditional country phrasing on classics like “Honky Tonk Man,” “Guitars, Cadillacs,” “Little Sister,” “Dim Lights, Thick Smoke (And Loud, Loud Music),” “Little Ways,” “Ain’t That Lonely Yet” and Buck Owens’ 1973 hit “Streets of Bakersfield,” which became Dwight’s first country chart-topper in 1988 after he cut it with Buck as a duet.

But as big an influence as Buck was on Dwight, Dwight’s current tour pays tribute to “someone who played Americana before there was the name”: the other Bakersfield great—also now deceased—Merle Haggard.

“I learned a lot about songwriting listening to Merle songs,” Dwight said, noting that this applied to his entire generation of songwriters—and “not just country” ones. Among the Hagg hits he performed were “Silver Wings,” “Mama Tried,” “Swinging Doors,” and “Okie from Muskogee,” which he followed with the other side of “the same coin”: Little Feat’s “Willin’.”

Dwight encored with a couple other tributes to recently departed greats in Glenn Frey (The Eagles’ “Peaceful Easy Feeling”) and George Martin (The Beatles’ “I Feel Fine,” complete with a Beatles bow by Dwight and the band at the end).

Opening band Cactus Blossoms need be noted for an excellent set, kind of a cross between Everly Brothers and cowboy songs. And Dwight, by the way, has a bluegrass album coming out Sept. 23 on Sugar Hill Records, Swimmin’ Pools, Movie Stars, featuring bluegrass takes on choice compositions from his catalog.

Glenn Frey: An appreciation

Recording Academy president/CEO Neil Portnow’s statement summarized it succinctly: “As a founding member of The Eagles, Glenn Frey was an integral part of one of the most storied bands in pop history.”

He added, “Glenn’s untimely passing is a huge loss for the music community.”

Frey died Monday at 67, leaving prominent fans profoundly moved.

“Glenn Frey and the music he created alone and with The Eagles have been such an inspiration to me,” said country star Travis Tritt in a statement. “We first met at the video shoot for my version of [Eagles hit] ‘Take It Easy’ in 1993. He always went out of his way to acknowledge and encourage me ever since. I’m a better person, better musician and a better songwriter having met him.”

Tritt’s release of “Take It Easy” led to an Eagles reunion for the music video. Having broken up bitterly in 1980, the Eagles reconciled and fully reunited for their 1994 Hell Freezes Over tour.

On the other end of the musical spectrum, Paul Stanley of Kiss tweeted, “SHOCKED to report the death of GLENN FREY. Eagle & brilliant songwriter. We shared some memories at RRHOF [Rock and Roll Hall of Fame]. Shocked.”

Russ Titelman recalls a fortuitous meeting with Frey when he was producing Randy Newman’s 1974 Good Old Boys album.

“Glenn pulled me aside at the Troubadour and said, ‘Hey, man. If you ever need any background singing on Randy’s record let us know,” recalls Titelman. “Glenn, [fellow Eagles] Don Henley and Bernie Leadon sang on three songs—‘Rednecks,’ ‘Naked Man’ and ‘Back On My Feet Again.’ Three years later he worked–with Don, [Eagles] Tim Schmit, JD Souther and [Eagles] Joe Walsh) on [Newman’s album] Little Criminals: He sang on ‘Short People’ and ‘Baltimore’ and played fantastic guitar parts on ‘Little Criminals’ and ‘Baltimore.’ But the most notable and most fun thing they did was on a song called ‘Rider In The Rain,’ Randy’s funny fake cowboy song. Glenn, Don and JD Souther sang beautifully. It sounded like Randy singing lead on an Eagles record. Humorous and great.”

Frey, said Titelman, “was certainly one of the best songwriter-singer-musicians that ever graced our stage. He’ll be sorely missed.”

Frey was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame [SHOF] in 2000.

“Glenn did our Songwriters Hall of Fame Master/NYU Session a couple of years ago and it was the first time I got to talk to him since the very old days when the Eagles signed with Asylum and I was at Atlantic, both Warner Communication companies,” says SHOF president/CEO Linda Moran. “His daughter, Taylor, was attending NYU and was in the audience, so Dad’s interview and his responses and active participation were even more spectacular than we could ever anticipate. He spoke masterfully and passionately about songwriting that night and it was obvious the important role it played in his life and in his career. At the small dinner party afterwards, we chatted about the good old days. Being as he now had short hair, was clean-shaven and wearing a suit, he looked and acted very differently than the young kid I met decades ago. He really had his act together and you could tell he was enjoying and appreciating life. He laughed when I told him that he had ‘grown up very nicely!’”

New York classic rock Q1043 station DJ Maria Milito represents so many in taking Frey’s loss hard.

“I gasped, then cried when I heard the news of Glenn Frey’s passing,” says Milito. “Whether you grew up in the ‘70s or you’re a millennial, The Eagles have been a thread in the fabric of your life in America. The writing team of Henley-Frey were America’s Lennon-McCartney. But because The Eagles were from the next generation of bands, it’s difficult to wrap my head around this. I just thought he’d always be around and The Eagles would continue to tour.”

Concludes Milito, “Glenn Frey was a part of our youth, and now another piece of growing up is gone.”