Wayne the Train: "I Just Don't See a Tour Bus In My Future"
One goes into an interview with Wayne "The Train" Hancock expecting to confront the ghost of Hank Williams, because the singer has made a good living the past 17 years channeling Hank and other classic country acts. And, as expected, Hancock, who broke onto the roots music scene in 1995 after appearing in the Lubbock-situated musical Chippy, proved to be something of a throwback, complete with Luke the Drifter's Bama drawl.
Based in Austin, Hancock remains an in-demand touring machine. His van will be parked at the Armadillo Palace Saturday night. We caught up with him at home, unwinding from his latest long-haul road trip. He began the interview by telling me, "Hold it, let me light a cigarette, then we can do this."
RO: Your bio says you moved around a lot as a kid. I always thought your accent was like Central Oklahoma.
Photo courtesy of Wayne Hancock Wayne Hancock doesn't listen to new music.
WH: I actually spent a lot of time in East Texas growing up. That's probably it.
RO: You'd just won a talent contest when you enlisted in the Marines. What was your time in the military like?
WH: They sent me to sea school. A lot of Navy ships all have a squad of Marines on board. But you've got to be really tidy in sea school. Like they'll look inside your pants for a hanging thread, little stuff like that. And I'm not that tidy. I actually wanted to be in infantry, so they finally kicked me out of the sea school.
I ended up stationed in Hawaii and it was great experience. I met some guys there, spent a lot of time just playing music when I was off duty.
Rocks Off: You're known as a road dog. Does it ever get old?
Wayne Hancock: Hell, yeah, it gets old. I'm 47, and it has definitely taken a toll on me. I do a lot of driving and I've gotten to where sometimes I'll get bursitis in my hip. I've had some bouts of bursitis in my elbow and my shoulder.
RO: Is a tour bus out of the question?
WH: You know, I've always said I was going to keep it cheap. I want people to be able to come to my show and not feel like it just took something off the table, so doing it in a van is just a part of the business plan.
My friend Dale Watson finally got a bus and I'm really happy for him, because he's been out there on the road for years, night after night. But I just don't see a tour bus in my future.
RO: You're one of the few acts that has stayed away from drums even though you rockabilly it up pretty hard sometimes. What's your deal with drums?
WH: Our rhythm is such a tricky thing. It seems so simple and basic, but it's got to be right. It's basically about me on my acoustic and the upright bass. I've used drums at various times, but it has to be the right guy, someone who can lay back and not over-play.
Some guy jumped up the other night and he was doing alright for a minute, but then I just had to turn around and give him the "stop it" look. And he did.
RO: Does that piss you off, people who want to get up and just jump in with you?
WH: Oh, yeah. Guys who bring their drums or their harmonicas, whatever, and think they'll just ask you if they can play on your gig. You wonder what they're thinking. I mean, it's my job, I'm working here.
RO: People have called you a throwback, and you've been described as retro. Is that you, or is that just your act?
WH: If you're going to do what I do, which is all old-timey music, swing music, rockabilly music, country music, you have to immerse yourself. Or at least I have to.