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The Sound

The Train keeps a rolling


Wayne Hancock plays Gas Lamp on Saturday, April 5. Credit Sandy Carson

Wayne Hancock plays Gas Lamp on Saturday, April 5. Photo credit Sandy Carson

Wayne “The Train” Hancock is about as close to no-nonsense, blue-collar America as you can get.

“I don’t have a tour bus. I don’t have a fancy house,” said the man whose last album, “Ride,” peaked at No. 68 on the Billboard Country charts. “I live in a trailer park in north Texas, and I’m happy.”

Generally regarded as the king of juke joint swing — an alchemy of honky-tonk, Texas rockabilly and Western swing that’s easier said than done — Hancock tours relentlessly, lives hard and records each of his albums (11 and counting) the same way: fast and cheap.

“I hate doing arrangements,” he said. “By the time you get it arranged, I’m already bored with it. Every second that ticks by on the clock; that’s another dollar. It doesn’t take a lot to bankroll one of my albums. Two days and it’s in the can. I wanted to do albums faster and cheaper than anyone else, because I wanted to get out and play shows.”

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Hancock started playing music early, learning the guitar when he was 12, and in 1983 he competed in the Wrangler (now Texaco) Country Showdown, advancing to the second round. The experience taught Hancock two things: that he could definitely play, and that he didn’t care much for the machinations of the music industry.

“I won the first round with the song ‘Po’ Boy Blues,’ ” he recalled. “I lost the second round, but I always felt like that was my first indication of what I was up against. I lost because I didn’t pick the right music for the event.”

Shortly after the Showdown, Hancock joined the United State Marine Corps, serving his country for four years. Once he’d completed his duty, he returned to civilian life with an eye toward music again. He moved to Nashville, Tenn., and was once again turned off by the country machine.

“You go (to Nashville) with stars in your eyes, and you find out real quick that it’s bullshit,” he said. “Everybody’s attitude was like it was a big pit with a million people in it and one ladder out.

“I was walking down the street one day, and this guy sitting on a corner said, ‘Hey man, you want to play some music?’ So I sat down and jammed with him for a little bit, then he says, ‘That’ll be $20.’ ”

Hancock laughed, recalling the moment, “Are you kidding me?”

So Hancock moved to Austin, Texas, and started working with independent labels, getting his music out on his terms. The past three (and six of the last seven) albums have been released on the Bloodshot label. It’s a very simple working relationship that Hancock is pleased with.

“I told ‘em, ‘I won’t tell you how to sell albums if you don’t tell me how to make ‘em.’ ”

“Ride” (2013) has been Hancock’s most commercially successful album to date, but the trappings of record sales don’t mean much to him. He just wants to be out on the road, where he says business is always good.

“I’ve got some nice awards sittin’ in the house now,” he said of his recent successes. “I don’t know if people are finally getting hip to what we’re doing or what. But man, we have full houses regardless.”

And as long as those houses keep filling, Hancock’s going to keep playing. In another 20 years, he says, he’ll be 70. Maybe then he’ll think about taking a break. Or not.

“(I’ll) play till I die. I’m not trying to be a star; I’m just trying to do my job.” CV

Chad Taylor is an award-winning news journalist and music writer from Des Moines.

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