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James Hand gets set free

By Jason MacNeil, May 2006

Page 2...

Since he's been 12 or 13, Hand has always put the pen to paper or whatever other material he could find to jot ideas and lyrics down on. He says that unlike some people who set aside time to write, Hand has ideas floating around nearly all the time.

"I can't write on command," he says. "For lack of a better word it offends me when I'll ask someone if they've been writing any songs and they say, 'Well I've just been too busy to write.' Well you might be too busy to write it down but if your brain ever stops thinking for you..."

"Even as we speak right now, I hear little voices in the back of my head, and someday I'll probably write it down," he continues. "If I'm in a conversation with someone, I don't have to get a lost look in my eyes and my head rolls around and say, 'Wait a minute, I have to stop. I just had a revelation.' I can't read music. So, a lot of times, I'll write something down, and I'll forget the tune. Now I just have the van with me and a guitar and this little bitty tape record, and I'll mumble off into it."

Perhaps the biggest compliment Hand often receives is his comparisons to Lefty Frizzell and Hank Williams. Aside from the personal connection to Frizzell as a baby, Hand says he's a product of the music he heard growing up.

"There ain't nobody that learns nothing on their own," he says when asked of his influences. "It's like a mockingbird. You put a mockingbird in a cage, and he's a baby, and he doesn't know how to sing. When you're a kid, you learn from what you're around. And if you're going to be compared to anybody, I would assume that Lefty Frizzell and Hank Williams are about the best ones you could be compared to."

"As for the Hank thing, there's no contrived effort on my part to be no Hank Williams," he adds. "I've never seen video of him, I've read little bits of it because I don't want to pick up any bits so that people would say, 'He's just trying to be this or that.' As a matter of fact, Dennis Quaid asked me one time if I wanted to go to New York and be in a play about him. I told him, 'No sir.' He told me that it paid a lot of money, but I said, 'How much do you think a soul is worth?'"

The musical gap between what you hear on Hand's album and what is deemed country in today's crossover world might never be bridged. And while Hand isn't perhaps about to break any sales records by Garth Brooks, he does see what some of today's artists have to offer.

"One comes to mind, and I'm not just flipping names around here, is Ms. Wilson, I think Gretchen is her first name," he says. "She had a song about a redneck girl and I just hated it. Then I see her on TV singing that song (breaks out into song) 'When I think about leaving...' I just busted out crying, what a wonderful song."

Hand, 54 in July, says he isn't entirely sure what 2006 holds for him, but he believes it will include a lot of touring behind the record. He also seems eager to see what the response will be outside of Tokio or Austin.

"I don't think naysaying myself is doing me any good but I don't think saying I'm the next big thing is going to do me any good anyway," he says. "I just want to get out there and work and meet the folks and do the right thing and let my music speak for itself. Maybe perhaps show that there is a place for three-chord songs and that opening the door for a lady, 'Yes sir, no sir, thank you, no ma'am' and all that stuff is not out of place."

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