“Wayne Hancock has more Hank Sr. in him than either I or Hank Jr. He’s the real deal,” declares frequent Hancock collaborator Hank Williams III. That’s the kind of no-nonsense assessment that makes Wayne “The Train” Hancock a legend to devotees of honky-tonk music.
Honky-tonk shares its southern Anglo-American country roots with related genres like bluegrass, hillbilly, and western swing, but, as its name suggests, honky-tonk tended to thrive in more disreputable watering holes than its musical cousins. Honky-tonk’s driving beats and early embrace of amplification, particularly the steel guitar, were what kept the music audible over the Saturday night festivities at roadside nightspots and urban bars alike, and its songs of love and loss spoke directly to working-class Americans following jobs from the country to the city in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. The genre’s hard-driving danceability and antiestablishment attitude have ensured its continuing relevance.
Wayne Hancock learned to play guitar from his dad, a mathematical engineer with a penchant for heartland troubadours like Woody Guthrie. At age 12, he started writing his own songs. “I used to try to talk to Hank Williams. You know, playing Hank Williams records at four in the morning in East Texas when I was 13 years old … and trying to communicate with him. ’Cause he was the only guy that I understood.” Hancock served four years in the Marine Corps and then spent a few years hoboing and odd-jobbing, living the hard-knocks life of an outlaw country song. Then a near-death illness awoke him to his spiritual and musical calling, from which he’s never looked back.
After a stint in the influential western swing band Asleep at the Wheel, Wayne went solo in 1995. He can still channel Bob Wills, but in the two decades since then, he has established himself as one of the fiercest defenders of an unvarnished approach to country music in defiance of today’s slick Top 40 country. But this rabble-rousing attitude goes hand-in-hand with a profoundly human connection he makes with his audience. “If you're not going to write a song that's going to help somebody,” Hancock asks, “then why write it? … Instead of writing songs about killing ourselves, let's write songs about living.”
Backed by his fine band comprised of Rose Sinclair on steel guitar, Bart Weilburg on guitar, and bassist Harvey Crowder, Wayne “The Train” Hancock thrills audiences in a style that No Depression magazine perfectly characterized as “righteous indignation backed by raw talent and sparkplug charisma.”