Splitup gets his motor running

Singer-songwriter Wayne Hancock, playing Thursday in Sellersville, says, "Now country is more like really bad '70s rock."
Singer-songwriter Wayne Hancock, playing Thursday in Sellersville, says, "Now country is more like really bad '70s rock." (SANDY CARSON)

Wayne Hancock's "Ride" is hillbilly jazz, rock, crooner pop.

Posted: February 16, 2013

He's long been known as "Wayne the Train" - a fitting nickname for such a throwback - but these days Wayne Hancock has a new passion when it comes to wheels - motorcycles.

"I've been riding for about five years now," the don't-call-him-country singer and songwriter says from his home in Denton, Texas. It's therapy, of sorts. He and his wife are separated, he says:

"It gives some balance to my life now, so when I get home [from touring] I'm busy," he explains. "It helps keep my head clear. I love riding almost as much as I love singing."

So it's no coincidence Hancock's new album is titled Ride. Because, as he puts it, "The record could have been called Boy, I Really Miss My Wife." The title track, a taut little rocker, begins the album and sets the theme right away: "Me and my baby are splitting up, and I'm feeling really bad inside." So off he goes on his bike.

It doesn't get more country than that, theme-wise. Hancock's barbed-wire nasal twang has drawn many comparisons to Hank Williams since his 1995 debut, Thunderstorms and Neon Signs. It's a comparison that grates on Hancock, since his music encompasses more than just hard-core honky-tonk. There's hillbilly jazz, '50s-style rock, and crooner pop. Ride is no different.

"I quit calling it country because [the meaning of the word] has changed," Hancock says. "Now country is more like really bad '70s rock."

Satellite radio at least now offers an alternative to the tyranny of the commercial airwaves: "The stuff that dominated FM radio for so long, thank God we don't have to listen to that . . . anymore."

The 47-year-old grew up on his parents' record collection. It included country artists such as Hank Thompson and Johnny Horton, the Western swing of Bob Wills, lots of big bands, and musicals such as South Pacific and Oklahoma! The rock of his own generation never much excited him.

"I'm so happy they had the records they had," he says. " South Pacific was on TV last night. I was like singing along with it. . . . "

That's hard to picture. But it does point up Hancock's continuing devotion to his own path.

"I do music not because the pay's good. I do it because it's what I like to do," Hancock says. "Hey, man, it's great making money. I like the fact I get royalty checks, and I haven't had to do hard labor in 20-something years. But that's not why I do it."

Wayne Hancock, with Bill Kirchen, at 8 p.m. Thursday at the Sellersville Theater, 24 W. Temple Ave., Sellersville. Tickets: $19.50 and $29.50. Phone: 215-257-5808.

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