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Honky-tonk Express

[whitespace] Wayne 'The Train' Hancock
All Aboard: Honky-tonker Wayne 'The Train' Hancock plays music from deep in the heart of Texas.

Wayne 'The Train' Hancock takes a musical journey into clean and sober twang

By James Rocchi

WAYNE "THE TRAIN" HANCOCK's musical style is made of many parts, like a secret barbecue spice dry rub or good chili. Honky-tonk sounds mix with swing horns and country courtliness, good humor and rock & roll. It all gets taken for a spin on the floor by Hancock himself, whose twang delivery, "gee-tar" stylings and unapologetic enthusiasm are used to craft a sort of music that's specifically American and distinctively his.

Hancock's road to semistardom hasn't exactly been a direct one. After winning the Wrangler Country Showdown songwriting contest in 1984, he signed up for six years in Uncle Sam's Marine Corps. (Hancock's 1997 album, That's What Daddy Wants, starts with a convincing horn version of "Reveille" that deftly swings into the title track.) After that stint ended in 1990 he was, not to put too fine a point on it, drinking and idly gigging his way through his native Texas. In '93, though, Hancock quit drinking and landed in Austin determined to succeed, despite naysayers who told him his style of music would get him nowhere.

Hancock doesn't squeeze his boozy past for drops of poignancy, however--his 1995 album, Thunderstorms and Neon Signs, contains the 12-step two-step "Double a Daddy." Hancock explains to his baby that "You can dance all night till you fall on the floor/Knock yourself out till you can't stand it no more/I'm a double-A daddy, I'm sober all the time." The song's such a swinging good-time stomp that you only realize in retrospect that "Double A" is Alcoholics Anonymous.

Much of Hancock's work is firmly rooted in the American Western tradition of music that's sad but happy. That's What Daddy Wants contains a song called "Misery," but the track has such stylized lap steel guitar and hip-swinging Latin rhythm behind it that it makes you feel glad that Wayne feels like hell, if his sadness sounds this good.

Hancock probably feels pretty good lately; after Thunderstorm's independent release in 1995, he found a home at Ark 21, the new microlabel run by ex-Police manager Miles Copeland. The release of That's What Daddy Wants was so well received that Ark 21 promptly reissued Thunderstorms and Neon Signs this year.

Hancock has sweat beneath his swing and hard work under the honky-tonk; he tours constantly and, with the exception of the two covers that close each of his albums, writes all his material. (Gershwin's "Summertime" closes Neon Signs, and the Clash rave-up "Brand New Cadillac" rounds out Daddy. The fact that Hancock can embrace those extremes and celebrate them is a good starting point for understanding his style.)

Hancock's music evokes a time somewhere just after the invention of beer refrigeration and neon signs, where the highways aren't multilane interstates but still take you wherever you want to drive, all night long. Hancock himself is looking to the future, recently signing a deal with a Nashville publishing company and finishing an upcoming album. (Hancock's publicist explained that he was unavailable Dec. 16 for an interview as he was in the studio recording a few songs; 10 of them, in fact.)

If Hancock has a manifesto, it's in his note on the back cover of Daddy: "This album was recorded live for many reasons: A.) It's easier to sing with a band that's in the groove ... B.) Live music captures the emotion and high energy of the music ... C.) This album was recorded and finished in three days, and it cost very little to make. Let's see all you Music Industry cats beat that one."

It's pure Hancock: he loves music, he has a Texan's aptitude for boasts and dares, and it sounds like he's having a hell of a time.

Wayne "The Train" Hancock plays Tue (Jan. 5) at 8pm at Palookaville, 1134 Pacific Ave., SC. Tickets cost $11/$9. For info, call 454-0600.

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From the December 31-January 6, 1999 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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