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Hank's second coming gets "wild, reckless & free"

By Robert Wooldridge, July 1999

Wayne Hancock, the man who may be the second coming of Hank Williams, further establishes himself as one of the premier performers of traditional country with "Wild, Reckless & Free." In today's climate that means he's "alternative."

Hancock has been steadily involved in music since his childhood days in Texas. While others his age listened to Kiss, Hancock says, "I sort of always liked everything. I was into Glenn Miller, Rodgers and Hammerstein and Hank Williams."

At 13, Hancock discovered Williams when his sister returned from a school trip to Nashville with a Williams record. "My life hasn't been the same since," he recalls. "I tried to do everything just like Hank did. Right down to the drinking." The latter has landed him in trouble on more than one occasion.

Based in Austin, Hancock has little use for Nashville these days, though he did give it a try there about 10 years ago, even cutting a couple of demos for Elektra Records.

"Some producers like to edit everything you do so it sounds perfectly normal. You try to get insanity to sound normal, and you take the life out of it."

"I don't much care about being a big star," says Hancock, 34. "I've got a friend of mine - he does real well and he owns his own bus. But you can't take a bus down back roads."

Hancock's love of life on the road is often reflected in his writing. "Most of my songs are autobiographical. My life is on the road," says Hancock. "The only time it seems like work is when I'm in Nashville."

Hancock says he has nothing good to say about Nashville. "Let's face it. Let's get with the year 2000. Nashville - they're out of here, man. They're finished."

Elsewhere on the road, Hancock finds that he is well received, thanks in part to exposure on Americana radio. "Every time a station plays us that makes those people out there aware that, 'hey, there's another guy you can dig.'"

"I haven't listened to (mainstream) radio since '83. I joined the Marines when I got out of high school, and I was gone for six years. When I got home, the music was different."

So different that today Hancock is labeled as alternative. "Alternative to what?" asks Hancock. "Getting screwed? People are getting screwed on the air. They (mainstream artists) must be alternative. They sure aren't genuine."

While Hancock accepts that his music is unlikely to attract much mainstream attention, he feels that fellow Texan Dale Watson has the contemporary sound that could make a major impact. "His voice and the way he plays is newer, it's more modern than what I play," he says of Watson, who recently signed a major label deal with Sire. "I think he can pull it off. He's just good. The guy's got it."

Hancock is pleased with his association with Ark 21 Records where he is the only country act. "I'm really happy with the fact that they don't mess with my music."

Hancock's path there was aided by former girlfriend and blues guitarist Sue Foley. She helped him musically and personally with Hancock cutting his drinking. He began playing around Texas in the early '90's. By 1994, he joined the cast of the stage production of "Chippy," replacing Jimmie Dale Gilmore. Hancock's "Thunderstorms and Neon Signs" was included on the show's soundtrack. That landed him a deal with the small Texas label Dejadisc, which released an album "Thunderstorms and Neon Signs."

Hancock started gaining acclaim for his mix of honky tonk country, Hawaiian sounds, jazz and swing, but the label eventually went belly-up. In 1997, he signed with Ark 21, releasing "That's What Daddy Wants."

The basic sessions for "Wild, Reckless & Free" were recorded in about 16 hours over two days. Musicians include Dave Ketchem on bass, Paul Skelton and Dave Biller on guitar, Jeremy Wakefield on steel guitar and drummer Lisa Pankratz.

One of the outstanding tracks on the album is "Tonight the Rain is Coming Down." The tune is reminiscent of Williams, written as Hancock was anticipating a visit from friend Hank Williams III. "I was writing this song about my girlfriend, and Hank was coming down," he recalls. "I guess it did influence me just a little bit. It's hard not to be influenced by Hank Williams when you're writing country."

"Drive On" is another Hancock original about life on the road. "You know when you get on those interstates, man. And how your car starts doing that bounce because you go up and down - that's what "Drive On" is."

Among the 15 songs are three impressive covers: Carl Perkins' "Blue Suede Shoes," Bill Mack's "It's Saturday Night" and Ernest Tubb's "Kansas City Blues."

Hancock's "hillbilly jazz" style is also in evidence on "That's Why I Ride," "Mornin' Noon and Night" and "You Don't Have to Cry." Hancock says that he doesn't really plan to do either a country or jazz record. "We just go in and play outlandish stuff and see if we can get away with it."

In addition to his new release on Ark 21, Hancock can also be heard on the latest Cornell Hurd Band album "At Large in South Austin, Texas" singing "California Blues." Hancock enjoys working with Austinite Hurd, whom he describes as having "the ability to tell a man to go to hell so he looks forward to the trip. Never go to his show and make fun of him. He'll really let you have it in the most pleasant way."

In an era when traditionalists are called alternative, it's not surprising that Hancock is sometimes confused himself about what to call his music. "I wish people would refer to me as a country artist. I feel like a man without a country."