TEN thousand hours. That’s what it takes. In his book Outliers: The Story of Success, US journalist Malcolm Gladwell popularised the “10,000-hour rule”.
The secret to success, he claimed, was not in momentary strokes of genius, but in hard slog: Analyse the career of anyone from Bill Gates to The Beatles, and you’ll discover that they’ve clocked up a magical 10,000 hours of practice in their chosen field.
Hank Wedel has put in his 10,000 hours. The Cork-based singer-songwriter reckons he’s played almost 7,000 gigs in a performing career of over 30 years. Yet technically, he jokes, he’s just released his first solo album, Living in the Land of Love.
“Well, it’s the first album in my name,” he says. “I’m being teased about that by friends: ‘Hey, your first solo album!’ But of course I recorded for a long time under the name Open Kitchen. I always wanted to keep a band together.”
Wedel, 52, has shared stages with everyone from Shane MacGowan to Declan Sinnott to The Kinks. Christy Moore has covered one of his songs, the title track of Moore’s 2009 album Listen, and he’s a familiar figure in venues all over the country from years on the road with rock bands Princes Street and Open Kitchen, who were regular fixtures in The Lobby Bar, a hub of Cork talent throughout the 1980s and 90s.
Internationally, he says, he’s gigged “from as far east as Azerbaijan and as far west as Oklahoma”. Yet is it fair to say that the success industry outsiders associate with a career in music — signing to a major record label, playing to stadiums — has eluded him?
He says that watching others live the high life and burn out helped him choose a path where he measures success differently.
“I figured out a way of operating within the music business without letting it crush me,” he says.
“By the 80s it was clear to anyone who was paying attention that becoming a rock star or working with record companies was a scam. The bands we liked: Moving Hearts, Madness, Thin Lizzy, The Undertones, all ended up broke. You could see these people on Top of The Pops every week and on your screens and at huge sellout concerts and they’re broken.”
“I probably got sex and drugs and rock and roll backwards,” he says. “It’s always been rock and roll, drugs and sex in that order. I really get off on playing and learning songs. I can’t get enough of that and that’s the fire that still burns.”
Wedel, born in Ohio to an Irish mother and an American father, moved to Mallow at 11. Staying grounded has always been aided by having a base in Cork, Wedel says, as well as the stabilising influence of his wife Eileen, who he met at 15. The couple have four children and have just celebrated the arrival of their first grandchild.
“I was always artistically impressed with Jimi Hendrix and Elvis Presley, or even survivors like Bob Dylan, but that doesn’t mean I want to crash a motorcycle or OD on heroin. I wanted to be near the thing and I wanted to play and get better at working with people. I like the attention of being on stage, but I was not enamoured of the industry, and none of us in Cork were. I wanted to build something that would support me continuing to do it.”
Or maybe while honing his stagecraft in all those hours of live performing he let recording and releasing albums take second place?
Heavily influenced by the Grateful Dead and The Band, Wedel was always drawn to what he describes as “the non-hype of the hippy era. I always wanted to just get all my friends together and play. That’s been the modus operandi”.
Living in the Land of Love, an album characteristic of Wedel’s trademark blues and rock steeped Americana, has emerged, a celebration of that collaborative streak.
Self-funded and recorded over two years with producer Christian Best, the album’s 10 tracks show a remarkable diversity of approach and a wealth of guest talent.