There’s a good amount of music similar to Wayne Hancock’s, but there aren’t many musicians like him. He works in the traditional song structures of country music (the good kind), and you don’t need your wits about you to understand the imagery and substance of his lyrics; however, for all of its simplicity, the music of Wayne “The Train” Hancock transcends sheer expediency. The tone of his voice ranks with (and some say surpasses) Hank Williams’. The dynamics are unique and tasteful. His approach to touring and taking care of his musicians is selfless, humble and impressive. He’s respected by many in the industry, and next Tuesday right here in Chico, you’ll have a chance to find out why.
Recently, The Train took some time out of his tour to chew the fat with Synthesis. He divulged some personal and musical tidbits that reveal why he’s been a special icon in the country/juke-joint-swing scene for several decades. By the way, try to hear his words in a voice that’s akin to the manager’s from the Major League movies.
Just got a new bass player, and I’m back to having a four-piece band again.
What’s the result of the change?
The result is that I sound more like my old self. The guitar players are really good, and the bass player and I have been friends for damn near 30 years.
You said you were tired of Austin and its cliques; what’s your opinion of the California lifestyle, since you’re gonna be coming to see us pretty soon?
Well, California’s got its cliques, too. But it’s always a joy coming out to California. After you’ve been on the road for over 20 years, you pretty much have family and friends everywhere you go.
I’m not gonna grill you on sobriety too much, but what’s the road life been like since you curbed your drinking? Is it the same seeing your friends on the road? Is there any void that needs to be filled?
When I first started drinking, I drank because it made me happy. And when I was depressed, I would drink trying to be happy. And as you know, that doesn’t work out too well. So I’ve been doing my best to stay sober, and I had some players in my band who had some drinking problems, and I got rid of all those guys. The audience seems to really like it.
As far as the songwriting goes, do you feel like there’s any clouds lifted, so to speak, as far as your ability to put together a song?
No, not really. I write the lyrics and the chords together at the same time no different than I always have. When I write songs, I’m purging my soul. [optimistic sigh] You’ve got to be consistent with your songwriting; otherwise you’ll lose your audience. Your audience makes you who you are.
And as far as the performance, I like to play my songs like Bob Wills. He’d play sad songs and always be smiling and playing it upbeat. This gives the listener some kind of hope. It’s real live blues, man. Thank god for African-Americans; if we didn’t have those people, we’d have some real crappy music.
Now, you’ve got a good head on your shoulders as far as putting a record together. Have you considered self-producing a record?
The thing about having a good producer is that he can hear things that you can’t hear. You know, I’m known for recording albums in about a day and a half, and after twenty takes or so, I start getting worn out on different ideas. Lloyd [Maines] is one of those guys who brings out the best in me. Two heads are always better than one.
Your pockets have never been heavy. Tell me a little about the money aspect of your recent tours and your attitude about money in general. How important is it?
Well, I’m never gonna be a millionaire. I still struggle day to day. I live in a trailer park. I always pay my band better. But things are still going good for me. I believe that if I take care of my band, then God’ll take care of me.
What can the folks here in Chico expect at the show next week?
Every show is different. We play enough on the road that we don’t have to rehearse, so sometimes you’ll see a show one night, and the next night it might be the same set list but a completely different show. We like to keep things off the sleeve; keep the audience guessing. And I feel like I was put here for one reason only, and that’s to be an entertainer.
Gonna get a little morbid on you, but what song would be most appropriately played at your funeral?
[With absolutely no hesitation]: “In the Mood.” I want it to be a big celebration.
And which song do you wish you would’ve written?
I wish I wrote the “Lovesick Blues.” Whoever originally wrote that song was pretty badass.
Show is Tuesday, June 11th at the Blue Room. Tickets are $15