Road warrior Hancock takes a less-traveled path
By Chrissie Dickinson
Special to the Tribune
Published November 10, 2006
Texas-based honky-tonker Wayne "The Train" Hancock is as gritty and
down-to-earth as his sweaty live shows. For the 41-year-old ex-Marine,
a music career has never been about flash, glitz or big tour buses.
"I never want to be so soft that I can't stay in a regular Motel 6,"
Hancock says with a gravel-filled laugh in a recent phone interview.
Hancock has paid his dues. The cover of his current release
"Tulsa"--with its retro postcard pastiche of buildings, winding road
and a Route 66 sign--isn't just for show. Touring 200 days a year,
Hancock has a long-haul trucker's relationship with the highways and
byways of America.
"There are days I curse the road, but mostly that's only the road on
the East Coast," Hancock jokes. "It really beats me up, and it beats
my car up. Construction. All that starting and stopping. There's not
one part of Cambridge, [Mass.], that has a straight line in the whole
But navigating Boston's streets is just a minor complaint for the
inveterate road warrior. For a guy with thousands of miles under his
wheels, Hancock is mostly rhapsodic about the touring life. On
"Tulsa," the endless miles he's logged serve as a primary inspiration.
Produced by Lloyd Maines (father of Dixie Chick Natalie Maines) and
released on Chicago-based Bloodshot Records, "Tulsa" features 14
tracks, all penned by Hancock. "The road is my wife" he sings to the
strains of melancholy steel guitar on "Highway Bound." On the swinging
"Shootin' Star from Texas," he observes that even though he's blazing
out of the Lone Star state, "the interstate's my home."
On the twangy kiss-off "I Don't Care Anymore," the jilted narrator
mends his broken heart by gassing up his car and hitting the road.
"I'm gonna surf the interstate until my heartache disappears," he
sings. In other words, this is a guy who prefers to get behind the
wheel rather than a computer keyboard.
"I don't have the Internet. I'm not afraid of it; I just don't want
it," Hancock says. "I have a Web page and all that. But I refuse to
mess with it. . . . When I get depressed, I like to get behind the
wheel and just drive a thousand miles or two and get it out. It just
seems to help."
He's also a guy who doesn't waste time in the studio. While other
artists might spend weeks or months in the recording booth, Hancock
cut the entirety of "Tulsa" live in the studio in a lightning-quick
two and a half days. But to hear him tell it, even that schedule was
something of a leisurely pace by his previous standards.
"Usually it takes about two days. This one took almost three. I just
felt like doing it right," he says. "We go in there and do a job. . .
. There aren't any studio tricks. That keeps it spontaneous and
His artistic touchstones have always been musicians from past
generations, from country icons Hank Williams Sr. and Ernest Tubb to
western swing king Bob Wills. Although his sound is a throwback to the
dance halls and dives of the 1940s and '50s, his music isn't a stiff
retro redux of the past. With his sound rooted in another era, his
grit and drive are freshly minted.
Hancock made his recording debut in 1995; "Tulsa" is his third for
Chicago insurgent country label Bloodshot Records.
"He's bringing real country music forward," says Bloodshot co-owner
Nan Warshaw, explaining what attracted the label to the artist. "He is
not trying to be a revivalist. What he's doing comes from the heart,
and it's not some academic experiment. The music that he creates is
Warshaw points out Hancock is influenced as much by classic big-band
swing as he is by old-school hard country. "He has no qualms about
bringing swing into it, and there's some elements of rockabilly," she
says. "But he is not a purist, and certainly not intentionally when it
happens that way."
Hancock has no truck with contemporary Nashville and today's
mainstream country music. He lived briefly in Music City in 1988, but
the experience left him cold. "It reminded me of a great big hole and
one ladder, and everybody's fightin' everybody to get on that ladder
and get out of that hole," he says. "[In] Nashville, the people I ran
into basically told me that this had already been done and they
weren't interested. And so that broke my heart. I left and never went
Instead of bending his music to fit a contemporary, commercial mold,
Hancock has stayed true to his roots. He makes the music he wants to
make and plays for a far-flung, grassroots audience.
He doesn't see himself ever pulling off those highways.
"People ask me, `Don't you want to retire?' Hell no. Retirement is for
people who enjoy it. To me the greatest thing a person can do is to do
what they love to do. I would much rather die on the road, man, than
in any hospital bed in the world."