Dwight Yoakam definitely doesn't need to pad his resume. He's recorded more than 22 albums — and sold over 25 million. He's received 21 Grammy nominations. He's worked with everyone from Johnny Cash and Buck Owens to Kid Rock and Jack White. He's starred in films like Sling Blade and Panic Room. And he's written and directed as well. For his new album, Swimmin' Pools, Movie Stars..., 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 album is composed almost entirely of songs from Yoakam's catalog, which he reinterpreted in collaboration with some of bluegrass's finest musicians. The idea, he says, came from his co-producers, Gary Paczosa and Jon Randall.
"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 it's okay,'" Yoakam says. "So that's what led to it, and I said OK to each of the titles they brought up."
The lone cover on Swimmin' Pools, Movie Stars is an homage to Prince, who passed away while Yoakam and his band were recording the album. Yoakam was stunned by the news, and when he arrived at the studio that day, he suggested that the band play "Purple Rain." They recorded the song, but Yoakam didn't plan on releasing it or including it in the album.
"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," Yoakam says. Until, he says, he was in the studio with some of his touring band members and they saw Purple Rain on a track sheet. Yoakam told them they could listen.
"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," he says. "They 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 it until just now. I think maybe, yeah, it should be.'"
Yoakam shared those and other stories with NPR's Rachel Martin; hear the full interview at the audio link.