Arts and Entertainment

James Hunnicutt recounts lessons from the road with Wayne ‘The Train’ Hancock

James Hunnicutt, from the cover of his first solo album
James Hunnicutt, from the cover of his first solo album 'All By My Lonesome.'
— image credit: Courtesy

Local stringer returns from tour with alt-country legend, readies to head back out on his own.

James Hunnicutt is no stranger to standing in for bands.

He counts nearly two dozen bands he’s been a part of, or filled in for, over his two-decades-long career in the local music scene. Earlier this spring, Hunnicutt answered the call from alternative-country icon Wayne “The Train” Hancock — who was in need of a stringer to fill the storied lead guitar spot in his traveling band.

“He’s a living legend at what he’s doin’,” Hunnicutt said of Hancock. “And what he does, I don’t think anybody does it better. He really is almost like Hank Williams walked out of the 40s... in a lot of ways it was kind of like playing guitar for Hank Williams, modern day.”

Reportedly the man who Hank Williams III (the country music legend’s grandson) came to for inspiration when disillusioned with the disingenuous scene in Nashville, Hancock has long been an anti-hero of the hardcore country music underground.

A rare breed of traditionalist, he describes himself as the bloodstain spreading from a stab wound in the fabric of Nashville’s idea of country music.

With a good word from another alt-country icon (Joe Buck), Hancock took Hunnicutt out on the road for two tours across the country this spring/summer. Hunnicutt, a longtime Port Orchard resident, was even set to move to Hancock’s home state of Texas to pursue the gig full time.

“It was definitely the most demanding guitar gig I’ve ever had,” Hunnicutt noted, saying it made him a better player in effect. “It was a trial by fire because I was only able to get one CD, then a week later I flew down and there was no rehearsals, it was just — out on tour. And (Hancock) plays anywhere from two to four hours a night, and I mean, I’d never played any of the songs with him, ever, and I’d probably only ever even heard one out of 10.

“I survived though,” he added.

And aside from the occasional barking at by the hardnosed bandleader, Hunnicutt said he got mostly compliments on his chops.

But while he was away, he also learned a lot about himself and what he feels he’s meant to do musically — which is playing his own songs, doing his own thing. And by the end of the four-month jaunt, he’d decided against moving to Texas.

“The most important thing I took away from it... the biggest thing I learned was really that this is home,” Hunnicutt said of Kitsap. “I feel like I took a few steps away from my world and I realized, wow, I was really where I needed to be, doing what I needed to be doing. It’s that classic ‘you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone’ thing.”

Hunnicutt came back to a warm welcome with solo shows at Bremerton rock clubs the Charleston and Winterland earlier this month.

He’s set to play one more local gig Aug. 28 at Winterland before heading back out on the road, opening for Seattle band Hard Money Saints’ West Coast/Midwest tour. He’ll return to Puget Sound around mid-September, with another “All By My Lonesome” tour slated for late October and an album of murder ballads on the horizon, all from his home base in Kitsap.

“Austin (Texas) is an amazing musical city, granted, it’s probably the coolest musical city in the country — it’s a mecca,” Hunnicutt admitted. “But I love the fact that Bremerton isn’t a mecca. Still there’s a lot of great music over here. It’s real. I call Bremerton like our little Liverpool, like the Beatles, you know? Seattle’s the biggest city and where all the flash is, but there’s so much garbage over there, and there’s so much snobbery and cliques and scenester (BS).

“Over here, its small enough and kind of grass roots enough to where you don’t have that scenester attitude," he added. "It’s a special thing. I’ll take Bremerton over Seattle any day.”

JAMES HUNNICUTT will open for Seattle band Hard Money Saints and California band The Sugar Daddys at 9:30 p.m. Aug. 28 at Winterland, 1220 Sylvan Way in Bremerton. 21+, $5 cover. Info: www.myspace.com/winterlandrocks, www.jameshunnicutt.com, myspace.com/jamesabilly.

TUMBLEDOWN:Another local band in the alt-country, rockabilly vein — Tumbledown — is set to hit the road for a three-week tour from the West Coast to the Midwest, starting this week. The'll be playing a local-ish kick-off show Aug. 29 at Seattle’s Showbox at the Market. Info: www.tumbledownhq.com.

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