Keep on rollin’: An interview with Wayne “The Train” Hancock

By Lindsay Hilton

As the Texas motto goes, “don’t mess with” Wayne “The Train” Hancock. The Western swing star from south Texas has a voice that is deep, gravely, and pockmarked by one too many cigarettes or one too many heartbreaks. Everything he says—even the humdrum—sounds like it could be a line in one of his songs. His music has been categorized as rockabilly, juke joint swing, old country, roadhouse blues, honky tonk… Call it what you want but the man has soul.Wayne Hancock WEB

Hancock, who lives in a tiny trailer park outside of Denton, Texas, (“just like the song says”), has been writing songs since he was 12, and at 18 he won the Wrangler Country Showdown, a prestigious talent show. But life had a different path to fame for him. First he served four years with the Marine Corps, a period of his life that has influenced his music ever since.

“After going through all that, there’s really not anything that can be thrown at me out here that I can’t deal with,” he said of his time serving overseas.

His music has been compared to Hank Williams, a claim that is supported by no one more fervently than Williams’ grandson himself, Hank III, who has played and collaborated with Hancock over the years. “Wayne Hancock has more Hank Sr. in him than either I or Hank Williams, Jr. He is the real deal,” Hank III is quoted as saying.

Hancock’s eighth album (and fifth with Bloodshot Records), Ride, was released last year and this one is all over the place in a good way. The album has more rock ‘n’ roll than Hancock’s previous records and it also strikes a more personal note with him that resonates strongly with his recent divorce.

The eponymous track and the first opens with “Well me and my baby, we’re splitting up. And I’m feeling really bad inside.”

“The album is an organic reaction to life’s challenges… these are not sad songs,” Hancock has said of Ride. However one cannot help but note the sadness in the first few tracks (“It’s better to be alone than in love,” “I’ve got the blues.”). The tracks progress as one’s emotions might naturally progress after a heart-wrenching breakup.

And after the despair comes anger. “Deal Gone Wrong” opens with Hancock’s sinister promise, “No good sonofabitch. F#@kin’ my wife? You ain’t gettin’ away with that!”

But not all of the songs are sad or angry. As the tracks progress the mood lightens and many of the songs harken back to old school blues and jazz. “Gal From Kitchen’s Field” summons the raspy, soulful wail of Louis Armstrong’s trumpet.

Ride was produced in collaboration with Hancock’s friend and collaborator Lloyd Maines (Wilco, Dixie Chicks). Hancock first met Maines while working in the musical theater production Chippy, a play about “a west Texas hooker.” Hancock played alongside Joe Ely, Robert Earl Keen, and Terry Allen throughout the performance. “It was the kind of play that I wouldn’t have wanted my folks to see me in,” he said.

Hancock’s three-piece band, composed of Zach Sweeney on lead guitar and Jim Karrow on standup bass, is playing Oct. 24 at the Green Frog. Hancock usually plays 2 1/2 hour sets. “We just play ‘til pretty much they close,” he said. You might want to buy him a drink after such a lengthy performance, but he’s not much of a drinker. “I can’t grow a beard or mustache and I can’t drink,” he said. That should be a line in one of his songs.

This will be Hancock’s first time back to Bellingham since his motorcycle accident on April 26 in which he suffered a broken elbow, collapsed lung and other injuries. He spent nearly a week in the ICU and another couple of months recovering, but began hitting the road again in August with a short tour of Australia. T

he accident caused him to cancel his May show at the Green Frog. While the accident was less than six months ago, Hancock is feeling good and most of the effects of his accident are behind him. “I’m fully recovered,” he stated.
“I had some short-term memory loss but that too is on the mend and the only thing different is I want to tour with more pieces in the band now that I’m able to. And that waiting to do so is no longer an option.”

See Wayne Hancock on Oct. 24 at the Green Frog. For more information, see waynehancock.com.

Published in the October 2014 issue of What’s Up! Magazine