Texas honky-tonker Wayne Hancock has long been known for the lonesome howl of his singing voice. Unfortunately, his life recently took a turn that makes that lowdown feeling all too real.
“I guess that’s really up to the Lord to decide,” says Hancock when asked if he and his wife Gina plan to reconcile. “I’m in my world right now, and she’s in hers. So, hell, if I can’t write a song to help someone else out, what good is [going through the ordeal]?”
His new album, Ride, is a thoroughly bluesy set of songs because many of them were written after the breakup. Then there’s Hancock’s ongoing battle to get sober, which only adds to his struggle. It would be understandable if the whole record was dedicated to a deep depression, but it’s actually got a surprisingly bouncy feel.
Somehow, Hancock is still optimistic, and Ride captures both ends of his emotional spectrum. He called in to CMT Edge to introduce the new album and explained what was on his mind when he recorded it. He’s determined not to let anything get him down.
CMT Edge: The first thing I noticed is that the new album is very motorcycle-influenced. Why was it important for you to choose the name Ride and the handlebar artwork?
Hancock: Well, it was something different. I think on all my albums, I write about pretty much how I live my life. And me and my wife recently got separated, so I went out to the motorcycle community and started doing a lot of hard riding. It just seemed like the thing to do. I figured it was time to maybe take a different direction on something.
Has riding motorcycles been an escape for you?
Yeah, it’s an escape. Being on a bike doing 80-something miles an hour down the highway is better than Prozac ever was, you know?
What is it that connects people so much to motorcycles, even though they’re dangerous?
I think it’s the adrenaline rush of riding, and you’re pretty unprotected out there. When I ride, I’m so concentrated on the highway or whoever I’m riding with that I really don’t think about anything else. It could be 45 degrees, and I’m not even cold.
Many of the new songs on this record are pretty bluesy, which makes more sense now. What kind of emotional place does this record find you in?
If it wasn’t called Ride, it would probably be called I Really Miss My Wife. (laughs) You know the song “Best to Be Alone”? I actually wrote that on my way to visit her one day. She’s living in Arkansas, and we’re real good friends now. We’re better friends now than we were when we were married.
Why do you think that is?
Before, she was involved in my business. She would go on the road with me, and you know the story about show biz and marriages. They usually don’t work out real well because you’re around each other 24/7. And business is business, and people get their feelings hurt. Now she’s back in her hometown, and we’ve got our own friends again, and so the stress is gone.
Now that you’re separated, what does the song “Holding My Baby” mean to you?
At the time that I wrote it, me and my wife were on the outs, but I was still trying to be a good husband. That’s been one of my standing jokes — that I wrote that song about being with my woman, and about a week later, she left. (laughs) But I always try to put a sunny outlook on things even when it seems impossible. That’s the basis of a lot of blues songs. You’re purging your soul, but you’re hoping for better times. People can relate to that. The world isn’t always win-win, falling in love and having a big family. Sometimes you go through several pairs of shoes before you find the right one that fits you. I’m beginning to think that maybe I’m not supposed to be married. But music’s my first love. So I guess if I have to have girl problems the rest of my life, that’s cool. I can deal with that. But I’ll always have music. Music is number one.
“Deal Gone Down” is something a little different for you, mostly because it’s got that spoken word intro. What’s the story behind that song?
Yeah, that was kind of funny. It’s written like this happy-go-lucky tune, but it’s really talking about some dark stuff. I was fooling around in the studio, and I said, “You son of a bitch, you’re f**n’ my wife! You’re not getting away with that!” And Lloyd Maines, who’s produced all my albums, told me he really wanted to put that on the record. And I said, “OK, then you have to bleep out that word because they won’t play it on the radio.” I don’t usually do stuff like that.
That song was taken from a real event, though. I was in my early 20s and just out of the Marine Corps, and I used to go to this honky-tonk in East Texas. There was a young bartender in there that kind of looked like … you know, the long blond hair, kind of pretty-boy type. And there were always all these women around. I guess I was pretty naive and didn’t know any better, but those women were the wives of the guys who were working the oil fields around there. I think it was late ’88, and somebody walked into that bar and killed every son of a bitch in there. I mean, they shot the waitress, they shot the patrons and killed the bartender. Turns out it was one of the husbands, and I guess after a fit of rage, he did what he did.
Another theme of your life lately is that you’re making a really strong effort to get clean and sober. Why did that become important for you?
I just got tired of drinking. I was sober for 12 years a long time ago and fell off the wagon in about ‘98. Now I’m almost 48 years old, so let’s see, I’ve been drinking for at least 35 years. It’s not like smoking reefers, where you can get really high and put it down and go away. You get hooked on alcohol, and it’s a bad thing. I feel like I’ve burned the candle at both ends, and I’m just tired of it.
Do you notice a change artistically? That’s gotta clear your head up a bit.
Definitely. And I feel better, too. People tell me that I’m a different person than I was when I was drinking. Of course, you don’t notice that when you are drinking. I used to have a couple of shots before I’d go onstage, but the audience could always tell. And I think that maybe if I was clean and sober, it certainly wouldn’t hurt my career any.
Being a really approachable guy, you even went so far as to ask Facebook fans not to offer you a drink or anything.
Yeah. I played a show not that long ago. It was a benefit for one of my brothers, and even though I told a guy I’m not drinking, he still bought me a shot. Some people, they really don’t get it. But if they were to see me drunk on a show, then they probably will appreciate me not being drunk. (laughs) I really suck when I drink and play music.