The Train Rolls On

When it comes to genuine country music, Wayne "The Train" Hancock is steaming full speed ahead.

Wayne "The Train" Hancock should be in the mood to celebrate. After all, he's earned critical acclaim and the undying gratitude of y'allternative listeners for his first two albums of rousing, staunchly traditional Texas swing, 1995's Thunderstorms and Neon Signs and the new That's What Daddy Wants. His personal life's in good shape as well: He recently began cohabiting with the woman he dreams of someday marrying. But in spite of this cornucopia of blessings, Hancock is an angry man--angry that the sounds coming out of Nashville, Tennessee, the alleged capital of country music, have so little country in them. And although he'd like nothing better than to see this situation change, he believes it's too late to correct it by peaceful means.

"We don't want to win it over," he insists. "We want to kick everybody out and take it over. You understand that? And this is not a threat; it's a fact. There are a lot of people who are tired of this. This is wrong, and I've had enough. It's like coming home after being gone for a while and finding some numbnut living in your house. And he's giving you his clothes and he's taking yours. Now you're the bum, and he's saying he's the person who really lives there. Well, that's how I feel about Nashville."

For these reasons and countless more, Hancock has declared a holy war on the C&W establishment--and he believes that he has the troops to emerge victorious. "Junior Brown, he's the machine gunner," he divulges. "We've got him on the right flank; he's out there blowing away all their little bitty top guns. On the left flank we've got Big Sandy, and we've got Ray Condo bringing up the rear back there, and he's blasting people. But you see, none of these guys can really get in people's faces. I mean, Junior does musically, but verbally, he wouldn't want to do that, because he's older and shouldn't try to risk anything. Big Sandy, he can't do it either, because he's a gentleman out of California. And Ray Condo, he's been around a long time, and he doesn't want to waste his time. But I'm young--32 years old--so I figure I'll just go for it."

Hancock's taste for military metaphors comes naturally; his father was a Navy man whose assignments caused the family to relocate on numerous occasions. The clan finally settled in East Texas when Wayne was an adolescent, but because of his northern accent (he was born in Dallas but raised in Idaho), he was branded a Yankee and made to feel like an outsider. "Man, I'm still affected by what happened to me in school," he acknowledges. "I wasn't a troublemaker or anything like that, but I was always the kid they made an example of. I was the kid who was always walking a fine line."

After graduating from high school in Kilgore, Texas, Hancock enlisted in the Marine Corps, as much to avoid further class time as to follow in his father's footsteps. But he ultimately came to the conclusion that he was not cut out to be a jarhead. After nearly four years in uniform, he left the service only to discover that most of the career options within his grasp left him cold. "I tried ironworking, and I wasn't any good at that. Then I tried working around a few metal shops, but I wasn't any good at that, either. I've just never been much for working. You put paperwork in front of me, and music fills my head and I just kind of drift off. It's weird, and I don't really understand it. It makes me feel like I'm dumb or something."

With his options running out, Hancock settled on a new vocation: alcoholic troubador. "I was pretty much just a guy looking to make enough money to get drunk," he allows. He began haunting bars and watering holes in Florida and other parts of the Deep South, playing vintage country tunes in order to finance a nightly swim in the bottle. He subsequently moved to Nashville in the hopes of scoring bigger paydays, but his time in Music City was hardly a glorious adventure.

"I went there like everybody else--trying to make it in the music business and not knowing a thing," he recalls. "If you're some bum walking around there with a guitar, they look down on you, and if you don't sound like anybody in their little clique, they don't want anything to do with you. Obviously, not everyone's like that, but it sure seems like the majority of them are. Especially the ones who aren't worth a damn." He describes the tales about nobodies hitting it big in Nashville as "a crock. Go there and lose everything you got; that's really what it is. Unless you just want to make money and be a star--because they'll tell you just how to stand, exactly how to sing, what to wear and how to wear it."

Out of luck and out of funds, Hancock returned to Texas, where his fortunes began to improve. In 1994, a year after he quit drinking, he landed a role in Chippy, a theatrical production in Austin that included contributions by such musical heavyweights as Joe Ely and Robert Earl Keen. Hancock's turn as Mr. Jukebox was impressive, but even better was "Thunderstorms and Neon Signs," a tune he performed during the show. The cut provided the name of his debut disc, which was lauded by the press in Texas and beyond.

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