Wayne "The Train" Hancock's songs are a confluence of jazz, country, Western swing and just about every American style that is pre-rock ‘n' roll.
The Texas native and former Marine has been making albums since the 1990s, including Thunderstorms and Neon Signs, Swing Time and, most recently, Slingin' Rhythm.
Hancock and his band perform Wednesday, April 3, at Wave.
The guitarist and singer recently spoke with KMUW from his home in Texas.
How did you first become acquainted with western swing and country music? Was it through your parents or the radio, or did you find it later?
My parents were both World War II-era people. My dad was born in 1922, my mom was born in 1926. We had a lot of cool Western swing stuff around the house. About 1979, I went to a record store, and I found a Texas Playboys album. It was the original Playboys but without Bob Wills. I bought it because it had a real cool record cover, man. [Laughs.]
That record made me go back and find older Bob Wills recordings. I really got into the stuff. I've read a ton of stuff on Bob Wills over the years, and I guess he rehearsed his band a lot. He did the call-and-response thing where he'd call his players [during a song for a solo]. He always told his guys to never take their eyes off him while they were on stage. I always liked that spontaneous type of bandleading. That's where I get my style from.
Western swing is good for the soul. What can I tell ya?
Were you listening to contemporary stuff too or was it really just the old-time stuff that fulfilled you?
That was around the time that Charlie Pride had the album There's A Little Bit Of Hank In Me. I remember listening to that and his remake of "Honky Tonk Blues." Around '77-78, my sister went to Nashville and came back with a Hank Williams record. That was a game-changer. He was actually yodeling the blues. After that I pretty much lost interest in what was on the radio! [Laughs.]
At what point did you start writing your own songs? Did you try it right away or was it something where you played for a number of years and said, "OK, I'm going to try this for myself?"
I was probably around 11 or 12 when I wrote my first songs. I wrote them because I got tired of the stuff that was on the radio. It was fairly easy. I think the first song I ever wrote was "Poor Boy Blues." That was before I knew about copyright. I put this yodel in it [because] I figured nobody else could yodel! [Laughs.] So they weren't going to try to steal the song!
You eventually hooked up with Lloyd Maines as your producer. He's such a legend in the music industry, having worked with Joe Ely, Dixie Chicks and Jerry Jeff Walker, among others. What is it about him as a producer that you like?
He thinks what I think and hears the same things that I hear. I started working with him around '94. A lot of producers will dictate what they want from an artist. Lloyd never did that. I've been in studios and watched other people make records, and I've seen that. Lloyd would never do that. Lloyd just enhances what I'm putting down. After five or six hours in the studio you can start really losing touch with things. Lloyd is there to help remedy that. I'll keep using him until one of us dies. [Laughs.]
With your live shows, do you feel like you can be spontaneous with the setlist and solos, you try to keep it fresh night-to-night?
I don't use a set list. Everything I call is from memory. I used to have setlists years ago and, of course, the audience will request songs so you wind up throwing away what you've got on your list. I've also noticed, in the age where everyone's got a smartphone, a lot of kids—I've heard about this happening with other bands, never with mine—will go up and take a picture of the setlist and post it [online]. They know that band plays those songs the same way every night. It's just like listening to a record. There's never a deviation. Everything is right down to the letter. In some cases, even right down to what they say in between songs. It'll be exactly the same.
I don't want that. I always want my shows to be fresh, and I have such a large repertoire of songs. I don't even know how many songs I can do; I'm sure it's close to 2, 300; probably 150 of my own and probably 150, 200 other songs. If you play them differently every night it keeps the show fresh. So if you come to see me play you never really know what you're going to hear.
You definitely keep the band on their toes as well, so that's always a good thing.
The band keeps me on my toes! [Laughs.] Those guys are really, really good players. They've been with me going on five years now. People are written into the songs now so, yeah, they've gotta be on their toes but I've gotta be on my toes. That keeps everybody out there dancing and keeps the show fresh, and I don't get tired of doing the same material every night.