Though his music is very much set in the world of traditional country, filled with banjos, fiddles and, for the most part, nary a distorted guitar to be found, Bob Wayne is not what you’d call a traditional country musician.
He curses like the proverbial sailor, sings songs about the party life, rubs elbows with heavy metal bands and really doesn’t care what anyone thinks about him. He’s a songwriter that lives for the story and a wanderer that lives for the road. Pick a night, and you’ll find him in a dive bar on the corner, or maybe opening for a metal band in a larger venue. He’s on stage 300-plus nights a year and wouldn’t have it any other way.
Wayne’s career was jump-started when he became a guitar tech for Hank Williams III. He toured and learned the ropes with III, later becoming his opening act. The two have kept up with each other, with Wayne guesting on III’s records and vice versa, including the duet “All My Friends” on Wayne’s latest album Till the Wheels Fall Off. But even with a friend like that, the musical road wasn’t easy for Wayne. The do-it-yourself work ethic drove him, as he traveled the country in his 1970s Cadillac limousine — complete with bull horns on the front a la Boss Hogg, of course. He sold his self-produced albums in zipper bags out of the trunk of the Caddy, and you can still buy those records at his shows and on his website, hand-burned in his John Deere motorhome.
A few years ago, Wayne, who had always been adamant that he didn’t need a record deal, surprised fans by signing with indie label Century Media, one of the first signings to their People Like You Records division. The label, to that point, had been mostly associated with metal, and extreme metal at that. He released his first album with them, Outlaw Carnie, in 2011. The record largely consisted of re-recordings of songs from his self-produced albums with a few new tunes. In 2012, he followed up with Till the Wheels Fall Off, which also featured a few re-recordings, but more new material.
I managed to talk with Wayne as he was traveling across California in a van (he was taking a drum set out this time that wouldn’t fit in the Caddy), off on another road adventure. I found out that despite having some label support, the way he approaches his music really hasn’t changed that much.
FRED PHILLIPS: Till the Wheels Fall Off has been out for about a year now, are you happy with the response it’s been received?
BOB WAYNE: I think so. It’s been good, and I really like it. We walk into bars and they’re playing it on the jukebox and stuff before we get there because you can get it on those new bar Internet jukebox things. I’m proud of it.
FRED PHILLIPS: There’s definitely an autobiographical thread to a lot of the songs here — and a lot of your past songs. How much of it is real life and how much is artistic license?
BOB WAYNE: There’s a nice blend in there. Some of them are 100 percent real, like “Blood to Dust.” Every word is real. “Spread My Ashes on the Highway,” that’s me talking. This is what I really want. Then there are the stories. I take stories from things that happen on the road and people we’ve met. Ones like “Mack” — the truck-driving, gun-toting, meth-snorting blue collar hero — and “Lyza” are obviously just made up characters. I’ve actually written screenplays for a lot of them, too. Sometimes within the story, I’ll throw some real-life experience mixed with some crazy stories and stuff. I learned that by listening to Johnny Cash. Cash never went to Folsom Prison. He never murdered anybody. But he sang about it. It showed me that I could sing about anything. Some of them are real, but some obviously aren’t.
FRED PHILLIPS: You mentioned screenplays, any ideas about getting them turned into movies?
BOB WAYNE: That’s what I really want to do. In fact, I’m trying to get a camper set up in California – I know a guy there that told me I could set one up – so when I’m not touring I can spend some time there and work on it. I’ve written a full screenplay for “Mack,” and within the movie I’ve incorporated a lot of my other songs. Basically, it will be like an epic Bob Wayne movie with a lot of different characters from my songs. If you’re a fan and listen to my CDs, you’re going to be able to pick out scenes from all of my songs. I just need to get it to somebody who can get it made. And even if it doesn’t get made, at least I wrote it. That’s what’s important for me.
FRED PHILLIPS: One of the interesting things about your career is that your music is pretty traditional country as far as sound and instrumentation, but you signed with Century Media, a label known primarily for metal, and a lot of the bands you do shows with are metal and punk acts. What about your music do you think appeals to that crowd?
BOB WAYNE: For one, I am that crowd. That’s what I grew up on, going to every punk and metal show that I could from high school on. I come from that crowd. I’m basically a product of that crowd, but I also listen to Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson. I saw Johnny Cash when I was 11 years old. It was my first concert, and my mom took me. It was a moving experience, even at that age. You could tell there was this presence on stage. I had that in my roots.
You’ll notice when you walk around a Slayer concert, you’re going to see all of these different shirts and vests, and you’ll see at least 50 to 100 Johnny Cash T-shirts and patches. Those two things go hand-in-hand in a weird way, at least for our crowd. Where I come from, they’re either listening to old hardcore country or extreme metal or underground music. I’ve met people in Slayer and Black Sabbath and Pantera, all kinds of big metal bands. You know who they’re listening to? The same damned shit. They love Johnny Cash. They love David Allan Coe. Pantera did an album with David Allan Coe. It just fits.
In a way, Cash is underground now. In a way those guys have become an underground scene because you’re not going to hear them on the radio these days.
FRED PHILLIPS: I take it you’re not a fan of country radio?
BOB WAYNE: I’m not saying that it’s wrong or right. I’m not one of these guys that go around saying “fuck that shit.” My mom plays in a Top 40 country band, and she plays on the weekends in the bars. I was raised on my mom doing that. To each their own. It’s just not for me. It physically makes me nauseous when someone puts that on, and I’m not kidding. I worked with a guy that played Top 40 country, and after a while I literally got sick to my stomach. It made me physically ill. I’m not going to say he was wrong for listening to it, but at some point, I had to tell him, “you’ve got to turn that shit off. It’s making me sick.”
FRED PHILLIPS: Getting back to your relationship with the metal crowd, do you think your music might influence some of those kids to go out and check out the Coes and Cashes of the world?
BOB WAYNE: I’ve actually experienced that. We’ve played a lot of metal shows. We opened for 3 Inches of Blood once, and I was nervous as heck to open for them. It was like a bunch of goth kids, and I was like “oh great, they’re going to hate us. Let’s just get up there, do our thing, get off the stage and get out.” At the end of the show, I was approached by all these kids that looked like they just walked out of Hot Topic, and they all said, “I didn’t know this kind of music existed.” It struck a chord with them.
Just recently we opened for Tiger Army. I hadn’t heard of Tiger Army, but they’re selling out 1,500-seat venues. I took a look at the crowd and said, “Oh shit.” They were all Mexican goth-looking kids, and I thought they’re just going to hate us. And they wanted to hate us. They sat there with their arms crossed just staring at these guys with the beards and banjos. They wanted to hate us. By the third song, though, there was a circle pit going. We had them all going. We sold tons of merch to tons of kids that had never even heard this kind of music. I think once they see it, and see that we’ve got a real punk edge, especially live, they like it. I mean, we come out really fast, and I’m singing “Fuck the Law” and “smoke some weed and fuck some whores,” and those people are like, “yeah, that’s what I want to do when I go out and party.” We’ve done a good job of converting people.
FRED PHILLIPS: Have you given any thought yet to the next record?
BOB WAYNE: I’ve been writing a lot of stuff with my banjo. I don’t really bring it with me because I’m playing a lot of shitty PA systems, and it doesn’t sound good. But later this year, I’ll be busting out the banjo and playing a bunch of new stuff. I’ve been writing some killer songs, some good stories. I’ve got one about Sam Tucker, an old gold miner in Alabama. I’ve got some good ones, but I don’t want to give away too much. I’ve got her almost done, almost completely written. Hopefully I’ll be recording this winter when I get off the road, and we can get it out there next year.
FRED PHILLIPS: If there are folks reading this that don’t know who Bob Wayne is and what he’s about, tell them why they should come check out one of your shows.
BOB WAYNE: If you like banjos and fiddles and a damned good time at a high energy show, check it out. We all hang out, too. There are people out there I’ve met on the road that have become lifelong friends. You just never know, man. We’re banging it out there.