When you get a nickname like “The Train,” slowing down, mellowing out, coasting, taking it easy — those are pretty much out of the question.
“I think it just got to do with the fact that I keep going and going,” said Wayne “The Train” Hancock. “Our band is a workhorse band.”
Hancock will roll through Pittsburgh on July 6 and Philadelphia on July 7.
Hancock is like a shot of single-malt whiskey in a country music world full of watered-down, berry-infused cocktails. He’s unrepentantly old-school, as indifferent to the bean-counters and truck-commercial soundtracks emanating from Nashville as they are to him. Instead, he stays on the road, playing every honky-tonk that will have him.
His sound begins with the three Hanks (Williams, Thompson, Snow), then saunters off in directions that commercial country music abandoned decades ago: barroom blues, rockabilly, honky-tonk boogie, the lonesome yodel of Jimmie Rodgers, Bob Wills’ West Texas big-band swing.
“I work mainly in blues and swing,” he said. “I really like swing. Western swing, but without fiddles and the usual trappings. It’s more boogie-woogie and a lot of blues and big band -— without the ‘big’ part. But we got that big Texas sound.”
Hancock grew up in a rambling, restless family, and he sings the gospel of the open road better than anybody. His best-known song, the oft-covered “Thunderstorms and Neon Signs,” is along these lines. Drinking, heartbreak, loneliness even murder also get the Hancock treatment — put to a stomping, irresistible honky-tonk rhythm.
“Mainstream country, like any other music, is always looking for a new angle,” Hancock said. “I don’t think it has to do with music, but it has to do with numbers. They want to appeal to everybody. Mainstream country is very mild-mannered. Not about drinking, falling in love and out of love. I’ve got songs about murder and messing up, but I try to put it to a happy beat.”
He has written what may be the best song about living through a recession, “Working at Working.” It’s a grim tale that one hopes wasn’t too autobiographical.
“No, no, I wrote that almost 20 years ago — different president, even,” Hancock said. “It just goes to show that no matter who’s in office, there are hard times.”
Still, it seems that no matter how bad things get — and things have gotten pretty low for Hancock — there’s always a chance to hit the road and move on.
“I’m pretty satisfied with what we’ve done,” he said. “I’m not a millionaire. I’ve got a house in every town, but it’s a Super 8. There’s certain times of the year that I’m broke just like anybody else.”
Wayne "The Train" Hancock will perform at 8 p.m.July 6 at Thunderbird Cafe, Pittsburgh; and at 8 p.m. July 7 at J.C. Dobbs, Philadelphia. Visit www.thunderbirdcafe.net or www.dobbsphilly.com for more information.