Hank III often gets the credit for reviving the traditional country sound. Though he obviously doesn’t have as noticeable a country name, the true godfather of the neo-traditionalist movement might be Wayne “The Train” Hancock. III will tell you that himself as he often pays respect to Hancock when asked. “The Train” revived the Hank Sr. sound a few years before III arrived on the scene and, in fact, wrote most of the songs from III’s 1999 debut Risin’ Outlaw – including this one.
From Hancock’s second album, That’s What Daddy Wants, “87 Southbound” is taken straight from the 1950s country songbook. It doesn’t hurt that Hancock can do a pretty much dead-on vocal impersonation of Hank Sr. It’s a loping, catchy number spiced up with some Cajun-flavored accordion, and it’s just a great song. After a couple of listens, it will be hard to get it out of your head. He also shows a little bit of that outlaw attitude that became a signature of III’s sound in the first lines as he talks about catching his woman with another man “on them damned slick, sticky satin sheets,” a line that’s punctuated by a very rock ‘n’ roll bit of bass and guitar noise. It’s almost Primus-like. After that, though, it’s pure country.
III’s version of the song, which may be more familiar to people, dropped the Cajun influences and goes for a more straight country sound. Both are great versions, and usually, I can’t decide which I like best. That’s not the case with all of the III covers. If you’ve never heard Hancock’s original version of “Thunderstorms and Neon Signs,” you owe it to yourself to check it out. Like all of the Hancock originals, it’s a little twangier, but more soulful, too.
Though rooted in traditional country, you’ll hear bits of blues, western swing and even jazz on songs like “Juke Joint Jumpin.’” He’s a true original and one of those many artists that’s never quite gotten the recognition he deserves.