Arts & Events » Music

2017 Folk Fest Pick: When It comes to Old-School Honky-Tonk, Wayne "The Train" Hancock Is the Real Deal



For all the folks who’ve ever been called space cadets in school, here’s a story with a happy ending.

Sometime in the late ’90s, the veteran honky-tonk and Western-swing musician Wayne “the Train” Hancock was playing in Houston when he met an audience member everybody called NASA Ed and his crew of friends in white jackets with “aeronautical space patches,” he says.

“He came up when I was onstage and presented me with a plaque,” recalls Hancock. “They had taken my song ‘That’s What Daddy Wants’ up into space. They used the bugle call I stole from ‘Bugle Call Rag’ at the front of it to wake the astronauts up every morning.”

Speaking from home in Denton, Texas, Hancock finds it funny now, considering how many people accused him of being out in space as a kid, before the days of the attention-deficit-disorder industry. “Whatever they were teaching in school would make my eyes cross,” he says. “And I would just look out the window and wonder whether it was gonna rain or not.”

A former Marine, Hancock is a man out of time. He’s not into the Internet, doesn’t use email and prefers a land line. The swinging music he writes and performs sounds like it’s from the golden era of country, while he sings in a nasally high voice that has been compared to the legendary Hank Williams by none other than Williams’ own grandson, Hank III.

Like Williams, he also lives his blue-collar songs. Hancock, 52, has been working the road hard since early ‘90s and says mostly what’s changed has been the rising cost of his Denny’s meals and the availability of legal marijuana.

He still has unusual encounters at his shows, like when he was playing the Rodeo Bar in New York and actor and fan Ryan Gosling bought a record.

“I foolishly watched ‘The Notebook’ with my ex-wife, such a sad movie and sad music. I told Gosling that it made me tear up and have to leave the room,” he remembers. “He says I’m probably one of the few guys who ever would admit that.”

Gosling then told him that it wasn’t a problem for him because “when we’re filming, you don’t hear that sad music,” Hancock says, laughing.

Or there was the time when Brian Setzer of Stray Cats fame showed up to a gig at the Viper Room and invited him to a Super Bowl party in the Hollywood Hills.

“We ended up driving up to this mansion in our broken-down van. It was crazy, all these actors that played murderers and thugs were there. It was an outdoor steak cookout but with chefs, fine china and strippers on every table. Man, Ed Begley Jr. was there. And we ended up being the half-time show,” he recalls.

Hancock says he does pretty well on song royalties and when his music gets into movies — such as when a snippet was used for a scene in “The Longest Yard.”

“Yeah, Chris Rock picks up the radio and says, ‘I don’t know how you can listen to this cracker shit’ and the radio explodes and kills him. I made $15,000 for that,” he says, laughing.

At the Richmond Folk Fest, Hancock will have a tight four-piece band with him that includes a lead guitarist, steel player and doghouse (stand-up bass). It’s the same group of guys who recorded his last album, “Slingin’ Rhythm,” with Hancock’s longtime producer, Lloyd Maines, father of Dixie Chick Natalie Maines.

“Lloyd hears what I’m thinking. My recording philosophy has always been anything more than two or three days, I’m wasting my time,” he explains, noting his preference for recording live with three to five takes of each song.

It’s clear the singer doesn’t think much of modern country music, which sounds overproduced and all the same to him. He’d prefer to listen to jump blues, rockabilly, or Western swing such as Big Sandy or Billy Mata and the Texas Tradition, plus some Gene Krupa and Duke Ellington.

“Be honest, I don’t listen to country, nothing since I been alive,” he says. “Country hasn’t been country music in a while. I feel like I don’t have anything in common with it. But friends do take me to shows, I ride in their pickup and hear country radio and man, it’s all I can do to not jump out a moving vehicle.”

He’d probably bounce up if he did bail out. In 2014, Hancock was in a bad motorcycle accident, leaving him with a collapsed lung, dislocated elbow and 10 broken ribs — yet he was back on the road playing three months later.

But age is slowing him a little. He quit drinking last May after “getting in a little trouble with the law,” he says. “I even put down the reefer, because it does affect my voice. It makes it where I can’t yodel as good as I can.”

Wayne Hancock performs from 2 to 2:45 p.m. at the Altria Stage on Saturday, Oct. 14, and from 5:15 to 6 p.m. on Sunday at the Community Foundation Stage.