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Interview: Music’s a big adventure with Wayne Hancock

Bloodshot Records

At a time when a lot of country music is criticized for not being real country music, Wayne Hancock is playing western swing – a style that was popular more than 60 years ago. Last October Hancock released his new album Slingin’ Rhythm (Bloodshot Records) to critical acclaim. He is known not only for playing a long-forgotten style, but also for his live performances, which he will bring to southern California this week. By phone he discussed the beginning of his songwriting career, touring almost constantly, and what he would be doing if he weren’t making music.

AXS: You started writing songs at an early age. Have you always written in this western-swing style?

Wayne Hancock: Yeah. Pretty much, man. My first song was "Poor Boy Blues" something around 12 or 13.

AXS: Was there anything in particular that drew you to this style?

WH: Just western swing and a big dose of Hank Williams.

AXS: I imagine you had a pretty unusual record collection for a 12- or 13-year-old.

WH: My parents were both from the World War II era so I had all the 40s and 50s stuff.

AXS: What was your favorite?

WH: I like Bob Wills, Jimmie Rodgers, Hank Williams obviously. I like all that stuff where people made music with guitars.

AXS: How is the new album different from previous albums?

WH: Pretty much the only difference is that the band that’s on tour is on the record. Last time I attempted this was with Viper Melody.

AXS: Do you find it works out better that way?

WH: Yeah because they can play the songs better.

AXS: They know what to expect and what to do at a certain time.

WH: Right. That and the people that buy the record know they’re seeing the players on the album. I give my players free rein to do whatever they want. They can play as much as they want and that’s OK with me.

AXS: That’s probably a good bonus for musicians.

WH: Yeah. I don’t think a lot of bandleaders give their band that much room to play with. A lot of people are very concerned about their sound. I’m concerned about my sound to, but if you want good lead players, you’ve got to let them play. You gotta let them run.

AXS: You’re on the road a lot. What advice would you give to other musicians about touring?

WH: Enjoy what you do because you’ll be doing it the rest of your life. If it’s a job, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it.

AXS: How is touring Europe different than touring the U.S.?

WH: You can pretty much drive across the whole U.K. in one day. Touring the U.S. takes several days of travel.

AXS: What are some of your favorite spots to play?

WH: I like the west coast a lot. I like the east coast quite a bit also. I love playing Chicago.

AXS: Have you played Don the Beachcomber before?

WH: Yeah. Fun place there. They make very good mixed drinks. It’s a true tiki club. There’s a few left, but that’s one left from the old days.

AXS: What would you be doing if you weren’t making music?

WH: I’d probably be breaking the law, man. (laughs) I don’t know why. Music’s a big adventure with a lot of energy involved. If it weren’t for music, I’d probably be in jail. I hate to say that, but it’s true. I don’t think I’d be good at anything else.

Wayne Hancock plays Bar 1650 in Corona on March 9 and Don the Beachcomber in Huntington Beach on March 10.

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