n the road in Albuquerque, Dallas Wayne is trying to deal with a bus gone bad.
"Like my first two marriages, (buying) it seemed like a good idea at the time," he says. "This bus agony has lasted longer than my first marriage."
But despite broken-down buses and busted-up marriages and whatever else that made him wanted to kick out the footlights, Wayne has hung on for more than 25 years in the country music business. His label debut for HighTone Records, "Big Thinkin'," was released in early September.
The album was recorded in March in his hometown of Springfield, Mo., with The Skeletons serving as his backing band. Steel guitarist Tom Brumley, who has performed in the Bucks Owens band, also appears.
Co-produced and mostly co-written with Robbie Fulks, "Big Thinkin'" is hardcore honky tonk circa 2000 with a clear nod to Wayne's country music heroes of the '60's and '70's.
"We were just trying to make a record we'd like listening to. This is the only album I've made that when someone puts it on, I don't leave the room. I guess that's a good sign. Or maybe I'm just getting older."
Forty-four to be exact. Wayne moved to Nashville when he was 18, working as "hired gun" for several years, before moving to Philadelphia and then back to Nashville and then to Chicago in the late '80's, where he became friends with Fulks. The two played together for a few years in the always-touring bluegrass band Special Consensus.
"We just had a good friendship and enjoyed writing songs together," he says. "We'd monkey around with songs in the van."
Fulks and Wayne wrote two songs on "Big Thinkin'," "Rock Bottom, Pop. 1" and "She'll Go Down (In Honky Tonk History)," during those van days.
Whatever less than flattering perceptions some people may have of Fulks, Wayne calls him "one of the sweetest guys I know."
In fact, the album was Fulks' idea, Wayne says, and the author of "Fuck This Town" even helped to secure him secure a deal with HighTone.
Wayne's and Fulks' "If That's Country" on "Big Thinkin'" offers a similar "Fuck This Town" indictment of hot country.
Channeling the spirit of Dick Curless, with plenty of attitude and a deep baritone, Wayne warns Chris Gaines to "stay the hell off my lawn" and advises, "If that's country, you can kiss my Ozark ass."
Traditionalists who've bought those "CMA Ð Country My Ass" hats in Nashville's Lower Broadway gift shops now have a theme song. Last year's CMA awards, which Wayne says was "drowning in pop music," helped to inspire "If That's Country."
But a strong love of the country music he grew up on Ð Merle Haggard, Wynn Stewart and Mel Street ("Looking Out My Window Through the Pain" is a Wayne favorite) Ð is the true inspiration of the song.
"They just hit a certain chord with me," he says. For his next album, he's considering doing an album with that would partly pay tribute to his heroes.
"We have a couple of ideas," he says. "Half originals and half obscure covers. I really want to dig in there. Find some Merle Haggard or Buck Owens demos. If any one wants to give them to us. I doubt that's going to happen."
Wayne says once looked down on doing covers, but he soon found out it was a good way to bond with his audience.
"I used to have a big aversion to doing covers," he admits. "I was like, 'I'm a songwriter. I don't do covers. I write songs.'
"But I started doing them, and it's put a lot of fun in singing and performing."
As a member of Special Consensus, Wayne spent a good portion of this time traveling the roads of America and beyond. Really beyond. Finland beyond.
On one of Special Consensus' trips to Europe, Wayne came in contact with the managing director of Texicali Records in Finland. He was invited to come to Finland and record an album. Wayne ended up moving to Finland in 1996, and one album became six. A deal with Hepcat to get some of those albums released in the States was aborted. It's possible HighTone could re-release "Invisible Man," his 1999 album for Texicali.
Wayne found success in Scandinavia, landing several of his songs on Finland's country charts, including a two-month stay at number one for the single "Stone By Stone."
Bigger than Garth in Finland may be a good way to pick up women in bars (not that Wayne does, he's happily married), but Wayne's learned that outselling Brooks and Chris Gaines combined in a small Scandinavian country won't make you Daddy Warbucks.
"It's kind of like being the smartest guy in the fifth grade," Wayne explains. "When you're the only guy doing it, it's kind of easy."
Nevertheless, he enjoyed his four-year stay in Finland.
"It suits me," Wayne says. "It's a little more traditional, a little more raw. They love Dale Watson and Jerry Jeff Walker."
Wayne and his wife decided to move back to the United States when her company, NOKIA, gave her the opportunity to move to San Jose, Boston or Dallas. They decided they really didn't want to live in Boston, and Wayne didn't want to have to continually explain to the good folks of Big D that, "Yes, that's really my name."
So, California it was. San Jose has been "wonderful" so far, Wayne says. He's quickly adapted to the land of "drive-thru dry cleaning" again. However, upon his return, the general state of country music has caused a little more confusion.
"When I came back here, I honestly didn't know how much things had changed," Wayne says. "The stuff you've been doing your whole life is suddenly called alt. I'm slightly confused. But I'm easily befuddled."
"Big Thinkin'" has been received well by both fans and critics.
"We just wanted to make an album that sounded like an old '60's or '70's country record," Wayne says. "I hope we succeeded. I'm really tickled about the reviews and responses. It feels good to an old guy like me."
Look out for the old guy in the broken-down bus when he comes to your town.