The story of Dwight Yoakam and Keith Gattis is a classic tale of “You can take the man out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the man.” Both artists uprooted their lives from the notoriously large country haven of Nashville, TN after failed attempts to make it big, and headed west to California to earn a name for themselves. Though the two wouldn’t meet for years, they both went down their own pathways to success and landed right where they were destined to meet, a small club in L.A. called the King King.
Keith remembers the rocky start well, “I’m from Texas, but I went to Nashville when I was 22 to play country music. I toured with country legend Johnny Paycheck. After I lost my record deal on RCA in Nashville and got burned on the business in general, I started playing more rock and roll. Or at least rock and roll that I could relate to. More roots, rock I’d say. I got more into Tom Petty, The Wallflowers, The Rolling Stones. I moved out to L.A. to do that, and next thing I knew I found a bunch of people that could play country music. Soon after that they found out that I could play county guitar, so I started playing country music again. But I had to move to L.A. to do it.”
Regarding how he and Dwight actually met, Keith goes on to share, “California definitely has a different vibe. It’s just more free there, and the scene is cool. The country scene in L.A. is more, country rock. And, of course, that’s where I met Dwight. I was playing in a bar, and he came to see my band at the time, which was called East Bound and Down (it’s an old Jerry Reed song). We did a country night once a month at a club called the King King. It was packed with people for four hours straight. All old ‘60s and ‘70s country music, and Dwight came out a couple of times. He actually sat in with us, and that’s pretty much where I met him and how he and I got hooked up.”
From there the relationship just grew naturally. “I was playing with East Bound and Down in the summer of 2002, and Dwight and I did our first show together around December of 2002,” Keith recalls. “Dwight called and said he had a couple of things to do. There was a Christmas benefit where there were a bunch of different artists on the show. Each band got up and did five or six songs. There were two of those shows that were supposed to be acoustic, and Dwight wanted some accompaniment. So he asked me to come out and do them. And doing two shows accompanying him for fun turned into playing with him for good!” exclaimed Keith.
Getting back to the very beginning, Keith candidly shares how he first picked up the guitar. “Well, I was playing when I was maybe in junior high. I had a bunch of friends that played. We all got together and jammed on the weekends in the garage. We all did everything together, that’s how I got started, peer pressure!” He goes on, “Ya know what, those guys played and they showed me a few chords, but I basically taught myself how to play. I went and got a guitar and an amp for 25 bucks, or whatever it was, cheap, cheap, cheap, and just started going at it. Every once and a while I had a friend who would come by and show me some lick or some chord that I didn’t know. But for the most part I was self-taught. I really didn’t know then, but once I got into it, playing guitar consumed me. That’s all I did, all the time.” Later, Keith attended South Plains College where he took theory and guitar lessons to further hone his chops. At the same time, he tried his had at several other instruments.
A man of multiple talents, he plays banjo, mandolin, dobro, pedal steel and piano as well as guitar. Keith Gattis knows what he likes when it comes to amps. He didn’t look any further than his trusty VOX AC30! “Well, my main choice of guitar is a Fender Telecaster, and I’ve heard some people over the past few years play their Telecaster through an AC30, and I just loved it. In fact, this amazing singer/guitar player named Brad Paisley, who is the first person I ever heard play this hybrid, chicken pickin’ style through VOX amps, gets the greatest tones. Actually, Dwight has an AC30 of his own, too, which I used in rehearsals for his new record, and I loved it. That led to me getting my own, and it’s pretty much the only thing I use on the entire record!”
In love with the VOX sound, Keith adds, “Right now I plug into the brilliant channel. When you hear the lead guitar on Dwight Yoakam’s new record, it’s pretty much me playing on my AC30. As far as solos, I only use one other amp on one song, but my VOX became the constant, the thread of the album! What I love about the AC30 is that it lets me get a great low end sound. I love having a lot of body on the bottom strings of my Telecaster. The Telecaster, by design, is a bright sounding guitar, so when I play on the back pickup, the AC30 lets me smooth that brittle sound out on the low end. And the high end is perfect for playing solos with the Telecaster. It’s not too thin; it’s a well rounded sound.”
As mentioned earlier, Dwight Yoakam is in the midst of wrapping up his new album (at press time it was in its final stages of production), so be sure to watch out for that soon, followed by a tour to support it. In the past, his sound has been tagged as “a stripped down approach to traditional honky tonk and Bakersfield country,” which obviously was the right path for this native Kentucky resident. Dwight’s perseverance to create the music that he believed in garnered him two Grammy Awards as well as 21 nominations in the course of his career. Additionally, Dwight earned the praise of Rolling Stone Magazine, who said, “He has no contemporary peer.”
In addition to performing in concert and selling over 23 million albums worldwide, Dwight also wields his talents on the silver screen. The busy, award-winning, singer/guitar player has appeared in the Oscar-winning film Sling Blade, and had a co-starring role in Panic Room with Jodie Foster. Upcoming, be sure to watch out for Dwight’s latest role in a movie directed by Tommy Lee Jones called, The 3 Burials of Melquiades Estrada, and also he is currently filming a movie in Mexico called Banditas starring Selma Hayak and Penelope Cruz.
While Dwight is keeping his plate full o’ projects, Keith Gattis is doing the same. He produced and wrote all but one song on his own album, Big City Blues. Writer Chris Morris of Billboard Magazine had this to say about that effort, “Keith Gattis is a triple-threat performer. He can write, sing, produce and play with the best of ‘em. His album Big City Blues isn’t just one of the best albums to emanate from the currently fertile L.A. country scene. It’s one of the best country albums you’re likely to hear this year. Period.”
Keith is currently doing stints in Nashville recording a project with country producer Blake Chancey. Keith explains, “He produced tons of country artists including the Dixie Chicks. He’s extremely successful and a good friend of mine, and we got together and started recording. We’re about half way through an album right now.” Keith has written a variety of songs that have been recorded by artists like George Jones and Sara Evans. Plus he currently has a Charlie Robison single and video on CMT entitled, “El Cerrito Place.” This year he also produced an album for Waylon Payne for Universal Records. And, tapping into the movie world isn’t only a job for Dwight! Keith has a song on the upcoming soundtrack for 2005 release, The Jacket, featuring Adrien Brody and Keira Knightley.
By Jennifer Plonski
Photo by John Harrell