Jul 24, 2019
by Robert Feuer
On Aug. 22, as part of the KRSH free backyard series at their Santa Rosa station, Wayne “The Train” Hancock brings his band to play on their stage adjacent to a caboose, though an engine might be more appropriate. During our July phone interview, Hancock says he derived his nickname from his style of “goin’ and goin’ and goin’, strummin’ my guitar like an old steam train.”
Hancock, whose frequent, hearty laughter permeates our conversation, seems to have a lot to laugh about. Frequent performing keeps him on the road. “I love being on the road, I love motels, I love living out of my suitcase,” he says. Even a serious motorcycle accident in 2014, which left him with a fractured elbow and a collapsed lung, only sidelined him for several months.
Born in Dallas in 1965, by age 12 Hancock began writing songs. Through his teenage years he played music, often with much older musicians. “The music made me feel high, long before I knew what high was,” he says, laughing. “Most of us would do anything to do music.”
“My parents, who favored big band swing and jazz, still loved what I was doing, until I started drinking,” he says, laughing again.. His friends urged him to play rock ‘n’ roll, but Hancock preferred records by Hank Williams, Hank Crawford, Bob Wills, and Jimmie Rodgers, patterning himself after their styles. He’s been very successful at that, though he doesn’t consider his music retro. “I tried to sound like everybody I liked, but I write my own songs.”
At 18, in Texas, he won the prestigious Wrangler Country Showdown, the largest country music talent competition in America.
Hancock released his initial recording in 1995. He speaks highly of his current label, Bloodshot Records, which he’s been with since 2001. Bloodshot allows him, he says, to record his albums, including his latest, Slingin’ Rhythm live, in studio or on stage. “If you can’t play live what you do on the record, what good is it?”
Hancock calls his music “more Texas swing than anything else,” with elements of honky tonk, country, and rockabilly. He’ll be bringing his own band to Santa Rosa, consisting of himself on rhythm guitar and vocals, with others on lead guitar, steel guitar, and upright bass. He hasn’t used drums in a long time. “The beat’s in the other instrumentation. You hear the bass and rhythm guitar hitting at the same time.”
Hancock may not be retro, but his attitudes are old-school. “I don’t care for Top 40,” he says. He agrees with country music writer Peter Lewis, who considers Top 40 to consist of interchangeable party anthems and syrupy love songs.
“There’s no fun in it,” he says, “I turned my back on all that,” referring to it as formulaic and digitally-enhanced. “I wonder if half those people can sing.”
“Music comes and goes, but my audience is loyal and I’m loyal to my audience, and to my music.”
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