Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Mike Gentry
Wayne "The Train" Hancock specializes in spinning the pain and suffering he derives from woman troubles into songs that make a body feel quite a bit different. It's a wonderful thing to consider how typical tears in your beer songs don't necessitate that any tears have actually been shed. In fact, most times, they feel the exact opposite, giving way to the elation that - despite all of the sadness that might be dripping out and spreading around on this evening, or making this day feel like a plow or an anchor - is the theme, as if there's one less thing to worry about for the time being. The ties are cut and there is a certain separation, an amputation that will always leave a scar, but will eventually just remain as a tale to tell, something that was once vivid and stinging turning into a numb and distant afterthought. The female troubles that Hancock chronicles walk hand-in-hand with the long and sprawling road that he and the boys find themselves endlessly pursuing in a classic case of the allure that draws men with instruments, vans and buses in. The women are out there in a similarly endless supply, there for the meeting and the dalliances, the romps and the blurry conversations, but the real feelings are reserved for those special ladies back home, holding down the fort, raising the babies and waiting diligently for that bus or that van to finally bring their men back home to them. The wait and the road break spirits mercilessly and it strains everything to a point that something has to give. Hancock writes about the tough times and the women whose patience is honorable, but waning quickly before finally evaporating, the way one would write about full moons, knowing that, like clockwork, they'll be coming back around again soon. There's no getting away from the prelude or the consequences, no matter how hard anyone tries.
He sings on the title track of "Viper of Melody," an album that's another of Hancock's brilliant, ramshackle, old-timey juke joint collections, "When times are tough, I just twist one up and gather my friends around/Play my guitar and sing all night and tear them curtains down." The songs come from men who get themselves down in the dumps, but they can't stay there forever. They have women they miss and they think about them through the time it takes to smoke through every cigarette and the time it takes to get to the next gig, watching the hard road churn by beneath them, taking them either further away or closer to the ones they're missing, as well as the ones missing them.
The only certainties in the lives of the Hancock and his guys is that there's not end to their hellos and goodbyes they have to deliver to their ladies, so they talk about them the way he does during a breakdown in "Mornin', Noon and Night," with a wayward fondness. Hancock addresses his stand-up bass player, asking to hear a little about his old lady, interpreting his notes, "How bout it huh? Anything for Mrs. Taylor? Oh yeah, she cooks like that? Better than going to the seafood house and the waffle house all together now, huh? But down in, down in Houston the traffic's…yes the traffic's pretty rough down there in Houston. And, yes, yes, she's coming…she's movin' to town is she? And she doesn't mind the way you live? That's good. You have a lot of crazy friends that smoke and drink. And she likes to come to every show. That's what we like to hear." Sounds like a good girl worth coming home to. Hancock makes them all sound that way.
*Essay originally published April, 2011
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