Wayne Hancock – Gabe’s Oasis (Iowa City, IA)
Austin-based hillbilly firecracker Wayne “The Train” Hancock has spent a good portion of his 33 years with no fixed address. A rambling family life brought about a childhood spent as the eternal “new kid in school” at all points West before settling in Kilgore, Texas, for most of his high school years. Six years in the Marines got the wheels rolling again, and they kept spinning for a similar period after that stint as Hancock careened around the Lone Star State’s roadhouses, singing for drinks and drinking for songs.
Inevitably, the wheels fell off that hell-bound “Train”, but a sobered-up Hancock has spent the last five years barnstorming the planet, preaching the Gospel According to Hank and Jimmie.
The opening set by Tom Jessen’s Dimestore Outfit set the table nicely, with Jessen’s gravely baritone crooning early-’60s pop and R&B chestnuts mixed in with original material (combining roots-country and heartland rock) from the band’s Redemption CD on Trailer Records.
Resplendent in baggy jeans and a thrift-store Hawaiian shirt, the feisty Hancock and his crackerjack three-piece band then took over the stage, apparently intent on — and ultimately succeeding in — reducing the active dance crowd into quivering pools of themselves. Hancock’s nonstop acoustic guitar (with veteran standup bassist B.B. Morse looming over his shoulder) anchored the chugging rhythm and the center of the stage, with hotshots Charles Arthur (electric guitar) and Jeremy Wakefield (pedal steel) soaring in the wings.
Demonstrating effortless, mike-busting yodels and a blue-ribbon keening wail, Hancock’s phenomenal vocal instrument was simultaneously true to his master’s voices and as natural as a dip in the pond. The band ripped through nearly 30 tunes, split almost evenly between Hancock’s own stump-the-experts originals and covers that were both predictable and inspired.
Among the latter were jaw-dropping honky-tonk renditions of “I Ain’t Got Nobody” and Fats Waller’s “Viper’s Drag” (“When you’re a viper…”). A jumpin’ take on the hoary blues rave-up “Hoy, Hoy, Hoy!” positively cooked, and Wilbert Harrison’s war-horse “Kansas City” was brought back from the dead by a galvanizing “Dust My Broom” transfusion from Arthur’s fluent guitar.
Predictably — yet wondrous all the same — Hancock paid worthy homage to Hank Williams (with stunning renditions of “Long Gone Lonesome Blues”, “Honky Tonk Blues”, “Move It On Over” and “Lovesick Blues”) and Jimmie Rodgers (in particular with “California Blues” — which he dedicated to Big Sandy — and in general with a night’s worth of Singing Brakeman yodelese).
By closing time the few dance-floor survivors were drained, plodding shadows of their former selves, soggy testaments to the fact that if Wayne Hancock’s home is still wherever he hangs his hat, his heart and spiritual mailing address remain fixed in Hillbilly Heaven.