Thanks to Paul Kerr for offering Taj Mahal and Ry Cooder’s version of ‘2:10 Train’ as last week’s Chain Gang track, he couldn’t have left me with an easier open goal for this week. Train songs after all are the bread, butter and jelly of American roots music. They are as central to the history of the music as railroads are to the history of the country itself. Trains are the most ubiquitous metaphor in American(a) music and picking a train song to follow on this week is an unmissable opportunity to explore any lyrical theme or concern that might take my fancy: death, redemption, guilt, love, sweaty love-making, even (whisper it) travel, separation and displacement. But it’s not just the glory of the metaphor that attracts. Musically they open up every possible experience from the primal rockabilly of Johnny Burnette’s ‘Train Kept a-Rollin’, through the rollicking honky tonk of Dale Watson’s ‘Gothenburg Train’ and the lonesome loose-limbed indie of Kevin Morby’s ‘Slow Train’ to Social Distortion’s tattooed punk-roots ‘Drug Train’.
And there’s the rub, it’s just too obvious. Great as they all are and gloriously noisy too for the most part. I can’t bring myself to take the obvious route. Instead I’ll stick with Train but as a nom de plume not a metaphor and reintroduce Wayne ‘the train’ Hancock to the AUK cognoscenti. After nearly 4 years it’s high time we gave the ‘King of Juke Joint Swing’ (so good they nick-named him twice) some more attention and this is a perfect opportunity. I’ve gone with ‘Double A Daddy’ from his unimpeachable 1995 debut album ‘Thunderstorms and Neon Signs’, which holds a very dear and settled place in our ever-changing musical zeitgeist. It’s a song addressing Hancock’s hard-won sobriety, part of a short but fine tradition of such numbers, John Hiatt, Robbie Fulks, BJ Barham and Jason Isbell prime among them. Unlike these others though Hancock is joyous about his new-found status and seems sure of himself in his celebrations, never becoming sentimental, self-righteous or preachy (which, whispering again, those others can be).
In ‘Double A Daddy’ he offers to do the driving “So you won’t have to go downtown” before encouraging his compadres to: “Go ahead, tie one on, Yeah, tilt ‘er back mama, ‘Til the last drops are gone, When your daddy’s at the wheel, Ain’t nothing ever gonna go wrong”. It’s basically a paean to being the designated driver while everyone else is hitting the lash big time: “Well you can dance all night, ‘Til you fall on the floor, Knock yourself out, ‘Til you can’t stand it anymore” and for that alone he deserves a nod of the head and 3 minutes 25 seconds of our undivided attention.