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Hank rides again as Wayne Hancock
By Jeffrey B. Remz
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."

But after high school, Hancock, not exactly the bookish type ("I hated school"), headed off for six years in the Marine Corps. He did stints in Hawaii and Japan with the former having an influence on his music.

A few songs display that sound. "The Hawaiian steel guitar," Hancock said. "(In) all the old hillbilly music, they used to use it in the '40's. I thought it was a forgotten thing. Then, when I was in the military in Hawaii, there were a lot of people there who played it."

Hancock continued playing music in the military, but was not cut out for military life. "Killing people is not really what I'm into...I don't like people telling me what to do every day of my life," he said.

He drifted "all over the place. I came back to Texas, and I drank a lot. So much that my parents didn't want me around any more. I did a lot of bad things. Stuff like pulling guns on people in parking lots, really stupid kids stuff. It was just a stupid thing to do. I was at a place (a bikers bar) I shouldn't have been at."

He did odd jobs such as being an iron worker in Florida, filling up yachts with fuel, landscaping, even a Merry Maid cleaner. "That was really funny," he said. "That was an experience I'll never forget."

Hancock ventured to Austin in 1991 and did a few more jobs while still playing music. His last job was tree trimming. The only problem was there was no pay day. "I figured this is ridiculous," he said. "I could make $150 a night singing. I just gave it all up and did music."

"That's when all my troubles began," he said jokingly.

He played clubs - "real dives, bars where people could care less about what you were doing." His first gig there was getting $10 to open for Rusty Weir.

Hancock also made some friends on the Austin scene, including Joe Ely, which led to a career surge. Ely was involved in the stage production of "Song For Chippy." Jimmie Dale Gilmore played Mr. Jukebox, but once he was nominated for a Grammy, he was out of the picture, apparently needing to devote more time to his music.

"They thought I would be a good guy for the part, and that's how I got it," Hancock said. "It couldn't have happened at a better time. I was really down and out at that point."

The show went to Philadelphia and Lincoln Center in New York. Hancock also gained notoriety for his contributions to the soundtrack, one of which was the title track of his debut.

Hancock received interest from several labels, including Warner and Elektra, for whom he did demos. "These guys wanted to develop me," he said. "You know what that means. It was just like being in the military."

At one point, he toured with Asleep at the Wheel, an experience which left him jaded due to low pay and poor work conditions.

How Hancock's career took an upward turn stemmed from a fight with Foley. She went to San Marcos to go to a movie and ran into people from Captive Audience, a music management company.

One thing led to another. "Everything began to fall into place," he said. "It's been almost kind of a fantasy for the last seven months. This is fantasy. It's supposed to be that people recognize your talent, and they're hip to the sound, and you get good press, rather than go into Nashville and them taking your ideas and making it their own and fitting into their category."

Hancock has toured mainly around Texas. He hit several major cities, such as Cleveland, the Boston area and New York in December and intends to hit the road again in the new year pursuing music, not odd jobs and the rough-and-tumble lifestyle of some of his musical heroes.

He admits to being surprised about the critical acclaim. "I'm very surprised," he said. "I knew the record would do good, but I didn't know it would do this good. That's how I thought it was supposed to be. I'm actually thrilled to pieces people actually like the record."

"My dream has come true," Hancock said. "My ship has come in. Hopefully, I won't trip on the pier and fall off."

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