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On the road with Dwight Yoakam
Last March, Eugene “Gene” Jaramillo had just arrived to his Los Angeles-area home from serving jury duty when his phone rang. The caller told him that Dwight Yoakam wanted to meet with him.
Being in the music and acting industry, the Yuma-bred guitarist had met the country star but only in passing.
At this meeting, “we sat down and talked about music, songs and guitars,” Jaramillo recalled.
Then Yoakam asked him, “Are you familiar with my older stuff?”
Are you kidding? I've been a fan since I was a teenager. I grew up listening to his records, thought Jaramillo.
His first band in Yuma covered a lot of Yoakam's songs. Jaramillo was very familiar with his music.
Yoakam then invited him to join his band as the lead guitarist, and his life has been a whirlwind since then.
“My schedule took an abrupt turn,” Jaramillo said.
You might even have caught sight of his face on television. Jaramillo recently accompanied Yoakam as he made the talk show rounds, appearing on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” “The Late Show with David Letterman,” “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and “The View.”
The first night Jaramillo, 39, performed on stage with Yoakam was surreal. They started to play “Guitars, Cadillacs,” a song Jaramillo had played endless times, “but never with the real singer.” In the middle of the song, he looked over at Yoakam, and thought, “That's the guy!”
Jaramillo was already familiar with the singer's music and only had to learn the new album, “3 Pears,” which was released in September.
Yoakam and his band have been flying around the nation and Canada and are currently touring in Australia. They are booked until next spring.
“I go by whatever is on Dwight's calendar,” Jaramillo said.
The time away from home makes Jaramillo appreciate his time with wife Kristin and 4-year-old daughter.
“We're lucky to be able to come home after three shows (when touring in the U.S). We come home a few days, and then we go back out,” he said.
Although Jaramillo has played with some pretty high-profile acts, this gig is the biggest so far. The evidence is in the size of the audiences and the manner of travel — “very comfortable,” on jets and tour bus.
“And the accommodations are very, very nice,” he said.
And they also have a full crew that takes care of the equipment. No hauling around his own guitars.
Playing with Yoakam has its perks. “All of sudden we're treated like a pretty girl all the time. We walk into a room and they will ask, ‘Can I get you anything?' No one asked that yesterday,” Jaramillo said.
But Yoakam makes sure the rock ‘n' roll lifestyle doesn't go to their heads. “Dwight makes sure we don't behave like a pretty girl. He helps us keep it in perspective.”
Playing for Yoakam comes with a certain responsibility, he noted.
Yoakam's fans are very loyal and they treat him with a certain reverence. Some fans have been waiting for years to see him in concert. The country star doesn't want to let them down.
“He's always very prepared for a show and he's very exacting. But he also knows how to inject fun and humor and not sweat the small details,” Jaramillo said.
“He's one of the funniest people I've met. And he's extremely bright. He's got a great vibe. It's exciting to see him.”
Jaramillo considers himself fortunate to be able to make a living doing what he loves.
“It's great, but on the other side, for so many years, we barely scraped by, we barely made it.”
He feels the many years of hard work led up to this opportunity. Jaramillo graduated from Yuma High School, where he performed with the Choralairs, and attended Berklee College of Music in Boston.
After college, he gigged in a series of bands before forming his own group, the Eugene Edwards Band (Edward is his middle name).
He also performed with legendary band Sha Na Na and has appeared on several television shows, like AMC's “Mad Men,” and has provided the voice for a morning cartoon character. He also worked in radio as a crew member of a popular morning show in LA.
In addition, Jaramillo performs with Elvis impersonator Scot Bruce and together they perform in an annual benefit show for the CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) program in Yuma.
On the road or on the stage, Jaramillo occasionally stops to take it all in.
“It's very ridiculous, but on the other hand, this is very natural because I love the music.”
Mara Knaub can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (928) 539-6856. Find her on Facebook at Facebook.com/YSMaraKnaub or on Twitter at @YSMaraKnaub.