t's Monday afternoon in Seattle, and Dallas Wayne is hanging out with Merle Haggard lead guitarist Redd Volkaert; drinking coffee, chain-smoking and swapping road stories.
Wayne and Volkaert make up one-half of the Twangbangers, a touring supergroup of sorts also including fellow HighTone artists Joe Goldmark on steel guitar and former Commander Cody guitarist Bill Kirchen, along with Kirchen's regular rhythm section. The group is set to make its debut the following night in Seattle, and they're waiting for Goldmark and Kirchen's band to show up for their first rehearsal.
"It was the brainchild of HighTone," says Wayne. "It's a good way to get the acts out; get us lazy bastards back to work."
In truth, the concept is a throwback of sorts to HighTone's mid-'90's Roadhouse Tour, which included Dale Watson, Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite Boys, Dave Alvin and Rev. Billy C. Wirtz.
And with all four Twangbangers having released new albums over the past few months, the time seemed ripe for the Oakland-based label to dust off the concept, with the possibility of a live album emerging next year as a result of the tour.
In Wayne's case, he's promoting "Here I Am In Dallas," his second album for HighTone, and eighth album overall, counting a half-dozen that he recorded for Finland's Texicali label in the late '90's, of which 1999's "The Invisible Man" is probably the best known in the U.S.
Though none of the albums Wayne released in Finland (where he and his wife lived for a time while she worked for the Nokia corporation's home office) have seen release or wide distribution in the U.S., Wayne was well-known in Scandinavia; as an expatriate American country singer living in Finland, he could hardly have failed to attract attention.
"Yeah, they did (well), in a sick, twisted sort of way. When you're the only guy doing it full-time for a living, you get most of the gigs that come down the pike. I had a lot of friends who'd say, 'Hey, can I come over there and make a living?' And I'd say, 'Well, probably not, but please come. It'd be nice to have somebody to talk to.'"
"The music business over there pays pretty well. I know a lot of songwriters over there who release an album a year, and they never tour."
"They don't have to. They make enough money off royalties and airplay."
Wayne and his wife returned to the U.S. about two years ago, settling in San Jose. Almost immediately Wayne hooked up with the HighTone label, which later released "Big Thinkin'," an album Wayne recorded a few months earlier with old friend Robbie Fulks, who co-produced and played on the recording, in addition to writing or co-writing all of its songs; Fulks as David Bowie to Wayne's Iggy Pop.
Something of an iconoclast, Fulks, 38, has been a phenom in alt.-country circles since the release of his critically acclaimed 1996 debut, "Country Love Songs."
Fulks and Wayne had played together in the Chicago-based bluegrass band Special Consensus in the late '80's and early '90's, striking up a songwriting partnership as a way to pass time on the road.
"Every record has at least one song of his on it and maybe two things we'd co-written. We'd started writing during the Special Consensus days and kept doing it, even when I was still living in Chicago, but doing nothing but touring overseas."
"After the fifth record, I just did a bitchfest with Robbie on the phone, saying, 'I don't really know what to do on this next record.' And he said, 'Why don't you make it back here? We'll co-write all the songs, I'll help produce, and we'll do it at Lou Whitney's in Springfield (Missouri).' Which was great because it's only about 20 minutes from my mom's house in Branson. It was pretty much Robbie's brainchild."
Wayne says the album did better in Scandinavia than in the U.S., but that having Fulks associated with the project certainly didn't hurt.
"It helped a lot, 'cause Robbie's worked that market a lot, and Robbie's heard me sing for a long time. He had a definite program in mind."
For "Here I Am in Dallas" Wayne co-produced the album with HighTone label head Bruce Bromberg, though Fulks' name does turn up once again with a co-writing credit on "I Hit the Road (And the Road Hit Back)."
The new 12-song album is a combination of original material and mostly obscure covers.
"Thank God for Bruce Bromberg because he's the biggest vinyl junkie I know. I would say, 'Well, what about so-and-so?' And he'd say, 'Yeah, that'd work. But listen to this. It's the same type of tune, but it was recorded by some guy in Texas in '61, and it sold 400 copies, but it's a dance hall favorite.' He's like an ency- ' clopedia. He turned me on to 'Happy Hour,' which was a song that Ted Hawkins actually did. And 'Cheatin' Traces' was one of those obscure Texas dance hall standards."
"'Shadows of My Mind' was one of my picks. I love Vernon Oxford. When he came out, I thought that was the coolest thing I'd ever heard. To listen to that stuff today it sounds better to me than it even did then."