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Clip: Road warrior Hancock takes a less-traveled path

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  • Carl Z.
    Road warrior Hancock takes a less-traveled path
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 10, 2006
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      <http://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/music/chi-0611100240nov10,1,569139.story?coll=chi-ent_music-hed>

      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
      damn town."

      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
      alive."

      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
      organic."

      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
      back."

      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."
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