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Hank rides again as Wayne Hancock

By Jeffrey B. Remz, October 1997

And you thought Jimmie Rodgers and Hank were long gone dead.

Well, they may have departed physically, but their spirit and music are alive and quite well thank you in the guise of Wayne Hancock.

The 30-year-old Texas vagabond just released one of this year's finest efforts, "Thunderstorms and Neon Signs," to critical acclaim.

And based on a spare sound - no drums are used at all - and the old time country feel of the songs both musically and lyrically, Hancock is quick to admit that the Singing Brakeman and Williams were indeed major influences. This is an album filled with tales of drinking, being down and out and love affairs gone south.

Hancock, who records for the small Dejadisc label, also has seemingly picked up the stormier elements of Hanks' life, although that may now be under control.

"Both of them are from hard times," Hancock said of Rodgers and Williams. "Hank himself obviously had a very hard time. He was not considered one of the brightest people. He had a drinking problem. "
Hancock said he was turned onto Williams upon hearing "Lovesick Blues." He did it such a beautiful way that when I heard it, a chill went up my spine. I thought, 'Jesus, this is great. This guy knows what he's talking about. Instantly, I became a big big fan of his music."

Hancock, born in Texas, said he first started listening at the ripe age of 13. That did not necessarily go down too well. "Everybody thought I was crazy," said Hancock. He said he was met by comments such as, "Hey what are you listening to that stuff?' My family didn't. My parents never tried to tell me what to listen to. I didn't listen to rock and roll. I never listened to it. There were certain songs that I liked, but the majority of it I just couldn't get into."

Hancock, no relation to his surname sake, Butch Hancock, acknowledged "Why Don't You Leave Me Alone?" from his disc bears a striking resemblance to Hank's "Mind Your Own Business." Hancock said "Long Gone Daddy" was a reference point as well.

"You can only write songs a certain way," he said. "Sometimes you can just write them, and sometimes you're bound to sound like (someone else). When I wrote the song, I was mad. It was based on a personal thing. It was an argument that we had." The dispute was with ex-girlfriend Sue Foley, a top-notch blues guitarist in her own right, who plays on Hancock's disc.

"It's almost hard to write songs these days without sounding like somebody else," Hancock said.

But in today's world of country music, Hancock is quite different. He melds jump blues (the lead-off track "Juke Joint Jumping"), a spare sound plus a Big Band feel. A few songs ("Ain't Nobody's Blues But My Own" and the "Porgy & Bess" song, "Summertime" feature trombone and clarinet.)

"I love big band music, and you don't always have to have 14 pieces to do one," Hancock said.Many of the songs were recorded in one or two takes. "To try to record (an album) that almost everybody likes, you almost have to do it spontaneously," he said. "Otherwise, the energy just goes out of the playing."

As for the no drums policy, Hancock has recorded with them on the past on some tapes he sold at gigs. "It was an okay sound, but it wasn't what I really wanted," he said. "I was looking for the jump blues, boogie thing, and it wasn't happening with what I had. I just reformed my band."

"I have nothing against drums," he said. "In country music today, or what they're producing out of Nashville, everybody knows the drums are the loudest thing on the album...I like drums, but I don't go listen to albums because of drums."

Personal experience led to many of the songs. "I've been in some fixes, man, let me tell you," he said. "Whether it was in jail, or having the blues or drinking." A reformed drinker - Hancock gave up the bottle about 2 1/2 years ago - he gets a bit humorous amidst social responsibility message of "Double A Daddy."

"Summertime" is different from much of the rest of the disc. It's the slowest song and features the soaring vocals of Rebecca Hancock Snow, Wayne's sister. "I grew up listening to Porgy & Bess and loved it," Hancock said. "I just thought it was a fitting song. .. It's easy to sing. Everybody's broke, and I understand how that is. I know how it is not to have any pride in yourself because you don't any job."

It's not that Hancock hasn't had a job. In reality, he's had lots of them. He just never seemed to find his niche.

He comes from an upper middle class background - his father was a contract engineer. The family moved around a lot, but by 12, Hancock lived in the Kilgore area in East Texas. Hancock said he thought the moving had an effect on him. "We moved around so much I was pretty much alienated from everybody else," he said.

His parents provided an early musical influence with his father buying Hancock a guitar at nine. He never got into music with the idea that he would make a career out of it. " It was strictly just for fun," he said. "Somehow it worked out for me that I was good at it."

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