When I read Wayne “the Train” Hancock called himself “the stab wound in the fabric of country music,” I knew that I had to talk to him. What is the problem with country music? In a word, Nashville. Hancock, via telephone from his east Texas home, agrees.
“I saw what it was all about,” he says, “and it’s not for me. Country is definitely about who’s got the most money and who’s got the biggest tour bus. And all the record companies are intent on having the last word.” The modern country of today is about bling and pop, and bad pop at that. As music, it looks better than it sounds. Hancock calls it “background noise.” He continues, “It embarrasses me. I don’t call myself country because of that.” Many think this mess started years ago when traditional country got shelved by the industry in favor of the kind of evangelized big-hair country that artists such as Conway Twitty were making serious coin with. “Country music’s been a fixed game since Hank Williams died,” says Hancock. “If you got good looks and a great ass, you’re in there.”
Wayne “the Train’s” thing is juke-joint swing, a phrase he says he coined himself. In his mid-40s, scrappy and with a thick drawl, Hancock’s music has more to do with Bob Wills or Hank Williams than any other traditional country flavor. He calls out for solos much as did Wills, but with less ham. Hancock fleshes out his studio sound with horns, but on the road the band is a lean four-piece. He works without a drummer. His rhythm guitar is percussive enough to allow him to get away with that. Average shows run two to three hours, sometimes longer. “If fans are gonna put their hard-earned money on that tabletop, they’re gonna get what they’re payin’ for,” he says. “We don’t take breaks.”
WAYNE HANCOCK, Ramona Mainstage, Sunday, December 21, 8 p.m. 760-789-7008.