25 Years Ago: Dwight Yoakam Debuts Doyle Hargraves in ‘Sling Blade’
We already knew that Dwight Yoakam was the King of Country Cool when he came out of Kentucky and landed in Southern California, shaking his hips like Elvis, and revitalizing the Bakersfield Sound like Buck. He was exactly what 80’s country needed to shake things up—a neotraditionalist that young people could still find cool.
But it was 25 years ago today, on November 27th, 1996, when we first discovered that Dwight Yoakam was truly a multi purpose entertainer. It was the day that the Billy Bob Thornton-directed film Sling Blade debuted, with Thornton in the lead role as the intellectually disabled Karl Childers, and Dwight Yoakam playing his adversary, the volatile Doyle Hargraves.
Billy Bob Thornton ended up being nominated for an Academy Award for the role, and winning for writing the screenplay for the film. Dwight Yoakam got nothing. But talk to anyone here 25 years later after time has had the opportunity to poke holes in the performance, and people will still proclaim that Dwight Yoakam turned in a tour de force as the abusive boyfriend, and bad bandleader.
Music wasn’t a significant component to Sling Blade, but it did play a role. In the film is a really bad back porch band, led by Yoakam. As fans of the cult classic film can tell you, the character Terrence was played by real life songwriter Vic Chesnutt who was wheelchair bound, and passed away in 2009. In the film’s pivotal scene where Doyle Hargraves loses it, he runs the Vic Chesnutt character into a closed door. Though everyone insisted Chenutt use a stunt double, Chesnutt refused.
In fact most of the actors in the Doyle Hargraves band were actual musicians. Col. Bruce Hampton is an Atlanta music legend, and plays the poetically-minded lyricist Morris in the film. And the bearded Mikey Jones was a founding member of The First Edition with Kenny Rogers, and also played drums for Bob Dylan and others before focusing more on character acting later in his career.
Another cast member, John Ritter, was the son of country star and co-founder of the CMA and Country Music Hall of Fame, Tex Ritter. Billy Bob Thorton has also been known to play some music, but likes to keep those two disciplines separate.
What’s even more astonishing is that Doyle Hargraves was Dwight Yoakam’s first major role in a film. He did play some other roles in other films before, but this was Yoakam’s first time really stepping out, and he nailed it.
In an interview about his role in the film, Dwight Yoakam said, “After being on set a couple of days and shooting a couple of my scenes, I remember calling my manager on the phone and saying, ‘You know what, I think I’m in a real one here, something that will really have an impact. I think Billy [Bob Thornton] is doing something unique and lasting as a director and writer.’ I was really proud to be a part of it, and I still am.”
Yoakam’s performance in Sling Blade meant he was immediately taken more seriously as an actor, and in some ways, more seriously as a musician as well.
“I know that the craft of acting is not something that happens by accident,” Yoakam says. “It has to do with the rhythm of truth and how you say what you say as an actor. The old expression, ‘Does something have the ring of truth to it?’ To put it another way, ‘Does it have the rhythm of truth to it? It’s a performance of a scripted scenario of life. That fictional scripting, as with songwriting, is really addressing larger collective universal truths. Sling Blade is one of the seminal moments of my life as an artist of expressing myself artistically.”
Sir Adam the Great
November 27, 2021 @ 3:42 pm
I heard Dwight recounting for Jay Leno that his mother, upon seeing Doyle’s death at the end said, “We’ll, I’m glad he killed ya”.
That’s some fine acting there.
November 27, 2021 @ 4:21 pm
We ain’t got no goddamn band Randy!!!
November 28, 2021 @ 7:59 am
We don’t need to practice either. You tuning motherfucker
November 29, 2021 @ 1:20 am
what a disturbing impact to the person observing this scene, as the chaos unfolds. So much truth In human behavior. A movie to watch over and over again only to find that doyle isn’t going to change! A movie where everyone can feel compassion, shock, and wonderment. A+
November 27, 2021 @ 4:45 pm
I play cards with the chief of police
Katrina J Schmidt
November 28, 2021 @ 5:39 pm
Quit cursing God !!!!
November 27, 2021 @ 5:33 pm
Anyone else think Tex Ritter would have been appalled at what the CMA has become?
November 27, 2021 @ 6:06 pm
I think so, Di, but I’m in danger of agreeing with everything you say.
Dwight’s acting cannot obscure the fact that he was the most athletic and agile singer of his generation. That includes Whitley and Travis.
What kept Dwight back a bit was his refusal to sing bullshit boyfriend country lyrics. He dated Sharon Stone, who scorned him afterwards. That became public. So Dwight has a mean streak.
I like it, though. The hurt makes him human, which is more than you can say for most people.
Acting, meh. Dwight was as great a singer as Lefty Frizzell. He’d never say it, so I will.
18 Dales and a dozen comments
November 28, 2021 @ 5:53 am
most athletic of his generation? how do you figure? Toby Keith was all state linebacker all 4 years in high school and had a full ride to OU but turned it down to you know pursue a career in the country music were talkin Barry Switzer and OU here Corncaster
November 29, 2021 @ 6:25 am
Athletic singing, Dale, stay with me here. Nick Saban’s latest rant is epic, much respect.
November 27, 2021 @ 6:56 pm
I believe Austin-bred guitar slinger/songwriter Ian Moore also had a role in Doyle’s band. Epic portrayal of deluded loser by Dwight. We chuckled about his absurd behavior at that late night backyard “jam” for years.
November 27, 2021 @ 7:00 pm
Comcaster comments are interesting. I’ve wondered why there’s so little out there about DY, other than one book from 8-10 years ago. He seems amazingly low-profile, considering how long he s been around and everything he’s done
November 27, 2021 @ 7:37 pm
I liked that movie when it came out and Dwight added a lot to it, I reckon.
November 28, 2021 @ 11:14 am
Either it or Fargo should have won Best Picture in 1997.
November 28, 2021 @ 11:25 am
November 28, 2021 @ 12:37 pm
Concur, since it’s a top-10 all timer for me. Both were better than The English Patient.
November 27, 2021 @ 9:33 pm
Elizabeth, Dwight knew who he was and did his own thing. He’s like the sire of Tyler Childers, except that Childers had the good fortune to settle down with a Senora May. That was not Yoakam’s fate. In Yoakam’s songs, Senora Mays either tend to wind up a thousand miles away or dead, and sometimes they deserved it. That’s why he was ogled and respected but not beloved.
But we know his type down here at the barn. They own large businesses, are a little eccentric, and keep their cards close to their vests.
November 28, 2021 @ 4:02 am
The band in the backyard scene inspired me so much, that I did a version of my song, “Done Did a Dang” called “Backyard Doyle version.” That was my tribute, lol.
November 28, 2021 @ 12:12 pm
I can’t so much as drink a damn glass of water around a midget or a piece of antique furniture.
November 28, 2021 @ 2:12 pm
Rick Dial, who played Bill Cox, always wanted to be in a band when he was younger.. His older brother had some success at it, but Bill Cox wasn’t able to go very fir with it.
I guess he wasn’t good enough to be in Doyle’s band. The lord works in mysterious ways.
November 28, 2021 @ 4:20 pm
His performance was incredible. It was so real in terms of how someone like that thinks, and I unfortunately can say I know from experience.
The thought process of the main character in that movie at the end haunted me for days. He knew he would go to hell from killing Doyle and he did it anyways to save a boy and his mother. So impactful on so many levels!
Katrina J Schmidt
November 28, 2021 @ 5:42 pm
Quit cursing God !!!! Randy
November 28, 2021 @ 10:44 pm
Also, for as much as Doyle was my favorite character in the movie, I think the real star in terms of performance was truly, no surprise, BBT. In a MILLION, billion years would I ever be able to identify him as his real life persona. Similar to like, Charlize Theron in that serial killer movie she did. Just amazing, amazing talent from Thornton in this one.
November 29, 2021 @ 5:41 am
Don’t forget that Dwight was also part of the Buzzin’ Cousins with John Mellencamp in his Falling from Grace movie
December 1, 2021 @ 9:02 am
Some folks call it country music, me I call it country n western, mhmm.
December 3, 2021 @ 4:25 pm
How do you figure one get a hold of the po-lice?
December 6, 2021 @ 5:24 pm
Dwight, ya dun good. Now pass em French fries taters.
October 18, 2022 @ 8:34 pm
I grew up with a real life Doyle Hargraves. He terrified me for years. By watching Sling Blade, as an older adult, I finally realized why I was such a “different” and broken child throughout my youth, Many thanks and much love to Dwight Yoakam and Billy Bob Thornton. I no longer blame myself for other people’s insanity.