40 Nights of Rock & Roll

Welcome, friends, to the web log for upcoming documentary “40 Nights of Rock & Roll," a film by director Scott Sloan & former Paste magazine editor Steve LaBate.

Here’s a sneak peak at Steve LaBate’s work in progress, 40 Nights of Rock & Roll: A Life-Affirming Death March Through the Heart of Rock Music on the Road in America, the companion behind-the-scenes book to the 40 Nights movie.


After dinner, back at the edge of the maze of warehouses, we find the club we’re looking for, Low Spirits, its back-lit sign gleaming florescent lavender in the Albuquerque night. Inside, locals Felix y Los Gatos are already on stage unleashing a torrent of rockabilly, Western Swing and accordion-anchored New Mexicali rock. The audience claps along to the adrenaline-shot beats, egging on the band, who eats it up and spits it right back at them in the form of machine-gun drum fills and breakneck Stratocaster runs. 

By the time headliner Wayne “The Train” Hancock hits the stage, the room is beyond warmed up. It’s the first time he’s played Albuquerque in half a decade, and his fans are ready to throw down. “Before we get going,” he says, “I’d like to see a show of hands—who’s been in jail this year?!”

A barrage of hoots and whistles follows, and the band busts into high-speed rocker “Johnny Law.” They’re just a drumless trio tonight—upright bass, acoustic guitar and overdriven electric—but they still rock out, Wayne strumming along, warbling high and lonesome, his lead player busting at the seems with twangy guitar licks while the bass cat walks hard, slapping time, ever so subtly rushing and dragging like an off-kilter wristwatch. Wayne and his band are heirs to the throne of the original rock & rollers, preserving in amber a nascent sound invented more than a half century ago. It’s as if they stumbled on a fold in the space-time continuum that allowed them to skip back across the decades and bottle rock & roll’s essence at the source. In the musical world Wayne has created, time stopped just after 1:00 a.m. central on Feb. 3, 1959—the exact instant the plane carrying Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper went down in that snow-covered Iowa field—and it’s been running on a two-decade-long loop, 1940-59, ever since. 

Under the red-and-blue stage lights, the band cooks on, simmering all that hillbilly and gospel music Cowboy Jack and Charlie Louvin were talkin’ about with a couple heaping tablespoons of sweat and swagger.  “I live wild, free and reckless,” Wayne sings. “Man oh man, I had my fun.” But after all the Saturday-night sin, the hangover sets in, and he’s clamoring for a little Sunday salvation—“Now, my world’s so sad and lonely, I wish I could change the things I done.”

 I look toward the stage, past ghostly silhouettes of towering men in ten-gallon hats wearing leather belts with shiny, oversized buckles as they whirl tattooed women in red lipstick, cowgirl boots and rippling skirts around the room. “Get some, honky!” one of the fellas shouts at Wayne before dropping a kiss on some gal with a perfect Betty Page ’do. Before I can blink, the two dervishes are at it again, a tornado of flesh on the dance floor.  …

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