Ray Wylie Hubbard first sat down for our 20 Questions three years ago (1st 20 Questions w/ RWH). In the years since, Ray’s legend has only grown further with the growth of his Grit N’ Groove Festival (happening this Saturday April 2nd) and national television appearances in support of his latest album, A. Enlightenment, B. Endarkenment (Hint: There is no C). 2011 finds Ray on the cusp of recording another album and producing records for rising newcomers like Lincoln Durham and Charlie Shafter.
As usual, these 20 Questions find Ray showcasing his wit, humor and intelligence. There is something to be learned from each of his answers.
Dive in as Ray details the various contractual entanglements he’s found himself in, talks about the time Poodie Locke picked up Dolly Parton in Waco, reveals how he got the goods on Slash’s rider while in Amsterdam and explains what Gary Stewart has in common with Lightnin’ Hopkins. All that plus tons of other enlightenment from the Wylie Lama.
1. Ray, you’ve always got lots of projects going on at one time. What’s new and exciting in the world of Ray Wylie Hubbard?
My Grit N’ Groove festival is coming up soon…I’m shooting a film project I wrote with Brent Carpenter that involves Hayes Carll, Scrappy Jud Newcomb, Scott Davis, and Ron Shock and others. I’m producing records on Charlie Shafter, Lincoln Durham and Chelle Rose…as well as recording my own new album this summer. Somewhere in the midst of all that I’m writing my memoirs, conducting song writing workshops with Kevin Welch and always gigging.
2. You have dipped your foot into the festival hosting business over the past couple years. What made you want to start the Grit N’ Groove festival? The line-up each year has enabled you to really capture the essence of the title and have a unique event.
I thought there was a need to do a festival that centered on songwriters that were just pretty low-down walking badass cool. And…Joe Walsh, Chris Robinson, Tony Joe White, The Gourds, Jonathan Tyler, The Trishas, Teenie Hodges, Lincoln Durham, Matt King and Charlie Shafter ooze cool in my funky old book.
What else do you hope fans get out of the festival?
I hope the fans dig the fact that this is a once in a lifetime line up and I kind of believe they will leave Whitewater that night with a full tilt natural higher than a kite electric and acoustic 60 cycle hum roots rockin’ and jelly rollin’ experience they will tell their grandchildren about.
3. Name association:
-Willie Nelson- a bodhisattva
-Larry Joe Taylor- set for life
-Willy Braun -a Kelly… still pretty reckless
-Cody Canada -Okie pride
-Jerry Jeff Walker -Not as grumpy since his back operation
-Gary P. Nunn -Workhorse
-Steve Earle – Keep coming back, it works if you work it
-Guy Clark -There’s him, then there’s everybody else
-Gordy Quist – Fairly spiritual for a heathen
-Jamie Wilson -Mother Trisha Superior
-Jonathan Tyler-Texas rock and roll savior
4. You had the opportunity to travel to New York this past year and appear on national television (Late Night with Jimmy Fallon) to promote your fantastic latest record A. Enlightenment, B. Endarkenment (Hint: There is no C). I know that a number of guys get booked on those shows and have had bad experiences with song requests, lack of sound checks etc, but the Fallon crew really seemed to dig your stuff and treat you well. What was that whole experience like?
Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were on the week before, so I kind of felt like a 198l Chevy station wagon that burned oil with red duct tape on the tail lights compared to a couple of vintage Rolls Royces going in…but Jimmy was so gracious and funny. He hung out with us before the show and was very aware of the record being number one on the Americana charts.
His crew was just old school pro. They had 2 of everything thing we requested for…amps in case we needed backups etc. After the filming, George Reiff who played bass and engineered my last record went in the sound booth and helped them with the mix by turning off the handclaps from the people behind us…they were nice but couldn’t keep time. He had them turn up the harmonica and Lucas’ lead guitar on the breaks.
His people really cared to make it sound right. I have had a number of musicians tell me that our sound was just phenomenal for a tv show. Of course having Rick Richards, George Reiff, Billy Cassis and Lucas Hubbard as the band might have something to do with it too!
5. You’ve recently been doing quite a bit of touring outside of Texas. How are the audiences beyond our borders different from that of the home crowds?
I really don’t see any difference as long as I deliver the goods…you know…song, applause, song, applause, song, applause, joke, laugh, song, applause, standing ovation, encore.
6. Over the past few years you have produced a number of younger acts, including the amazing debut from Lincoln Durham. What makes you want to work with an artist in the producer role?
They have to have some depth to their writing and be nice. Both producer and artist, in order to make a great record, have to be honest, open minded and willing.
What are the biggest challenges of producing someone else’s music?
Well, if they are new to recording it’s just getting them comfortable so that nothing comes between them and the best they can possibly do.
A big challenge is money for a new artist, but if I believe someone is a bonafide cut their words and they would bleed writer, then I would do it for nothing…and I have. But, I don’t like leaving home so there has to be some compensation for the time I’m away from the people I love so I got to charge for it.
I feel fortunate to have worked with and learned from Lloyd Maines, Gurf Morlix and George Reiff.
7. Your chosen vocation requires quite a bit of travel. What is the craziest thing you’ve seen out on the highways in all your years of traveling around?
Well, besides liquor stores that sell fireworks alongside guns and wagon trains on I35, I suppose the craziest thing I’ve seen on the highway is Dolly Parton standing naked in the front window of her tour bus.
No wait a minute, that was some big busted woman Poodie Locke picked up in Waco and had her put on a blond wig. She took off her top and stood in the front window of Willie’s crew bus after they put a sign that said Dolly Parton on the visor and then just cruised down I35 to Austin.
8. The Last Rites of Ransom Pride was a film that you had a hand in creating via co-writing the screenplay, writing the music and score and other elements to film-making. What attracted you to the film medium?
Some songs are movies if you close your eyes so I’ve always loved the medium and I do write…so it seemed like the thing to do. The movie didn’t quite turn out like I saw it….I was music supervisor in the beginning and believed I would score the music to picture as I had been promised.
At some point, I lost the trust of Tiller Russel who wrote the thing with and who was directing it. He brought in a Hollywood guy named Jeff Dana to take what were the demos of the songs I had written for the movie and some beds of musical ideas I had laid down and then scored it.
Did the movie come out like you envisioned?
When I saw and heard the results, I removed myself as musical supervisor because if I hadn’t, it would mean I approved the score and I could not as I believed it was detrimental to the film…as was the editing. I almost was going to fight to remove my songs but I knew it had been such an ordeal for Tiller to even get the movie made that to do so would completely delay, cripple and hurt everyone involved. So, I accepted the karma of my past sins and let it go. It was heartbreaking though.
Will you be undertaking more movie projects?
I am working with Brent Carpenter who was a producer on the Larry Sanders Show on a project. We shot the short film with Hayes Carll and those guys back in January… and he is taking it around to see if we can get financing to either do a movie or a series on some cable show that allows a lot of cussing!
9. It has been said that country music is the white man’s blues and as your music has evolved, it’s grown to include more blues influences. To what do you attribute this?
Brad, who said that? Was it Gurf Morlix? Buddy Miller?
It had to be some hillbilly who learned the pentatonic scale and got his heart broke or ran out of whiskey…and I would agree wholeheartedly with the statement!
I guess I attribute writing more groove blues influenced songs because of learning how to fingerpick, then learning open tunings and then putting a slide on the third finger of my left hand and trying to emulate those powerful and beautiful deep blues by the masters who paved the way. I feel very fortunate to have seen Mance Lipscomb, Lightnin’ Hopkins, and Freddie King perform when I was young in addition to Ernest Tubb and Gary Stewart….what they had in common was that they wrote and sang from a place only those condemned by the gods are aware of.
10. A. Enlightenment, B. Endarkenment (Hint: There is no C) had quite the attention-grabbing cover and title. How did the artwork and title come to you?
As a kid I learned you get more attention burning down the barn than you do carrying out the trash. I drew a stick figure man in a one inch square box since that is about the size of the cover in magazines for a review or ad. I erased the head and drew a circle at the end of this stick figure’s hand and a line in the other for a sword and it seemed weirdly mysteriously appealing to the eye. I just liked the word endarkenment because every time you type it, spell check always flares up and assumes its misspelled or there is no such word. Pretty cool, huh?
11. As we noted in our last interview, your sun Lucas is making quite the name for himself as a guitar player. Like any teenager, I’m sure he’s into bands that you’re not. What’s the coolest band he’s helped turn you onto?
Band of Horses
12. You make your home base out of Wimberley. What are the pros to being in such a serene hill country setting?
I have lived a lot of places but this is the first place that ever felt like home since I was a kid. The pros are too numerous to even mention so i’ll just give you one: I live in a old log home on top on a small hill and the sun sets off my front porch and as it does I stand in awe as well as in gratitude.
Are there any cons?
Well, there’s no sushi or Thai or Vietnamese restaurants.
13. If you had to write a song about rivers, tacos, highways or beer…which would you choose and why?
Rivers I guess, because rivers are deeper than tacos, more natural than highways and as dangerous as beer when full and angry.
14. Do you set aside time to write songs and attempt to force something to happen? Or do you only write when inspiration strikes?
Both. I set aside time but don’t try to force anything to happen. I prefer courting the muses opposed to threatening them. Flannery O’Conner once said, “Never second guess inspriration.”
So, I try to abide by that and when it hits, I keep all doors open. I must add that it’s okay to rewrite.
15. Stories behind the following songs:
-Down Home Country Blues: I was playing “Smokestack Lightning” and Judy walked in from the kitchen, kissed me and I got the first line, “sugars got some sweetness to it as do my baby’s lips”…and then got the lick and just wrote about the things Ilike that are back porch crawling king snake cool. Howlin’ Wolf, resonators, Gibsons, Fender tweeds, lipstick pickups, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker. I do use Elixir strings instead of Black Diamonds though.
-Tornado Ripe: A tornado destroyed my hometown of Soper, Oklahoma when I was a kid. The sounds outside while we were in the storm cellar really did sound as if God was belching and growling and spittin’ on the ground. It was actually my grandfather who before we closed the cellar door I remember saying, “Them clouds is tornado ripe…they gonna grow a tail any minute.”
-Heartaches and Grease: Women and pork rinds can both damage your heart.
-Pots and Pans: Maybe I should have second guessed inspiration but I was playing a mandolin and got locked into a groove I couldn’t quit playing while in the kitchen. The phone rang and I kept the groove going with my fingers tapping on some skillet hanging on the wall while I was talking. I hung up and started playing the mando again and Lucas had turned on his amp and joined in playing lead from his room upstairs. Judy came in from outside and started dancing “The Frug” and I started hollering and moaning… and well, that’s just another day at the Hubbard house.
-The Real Trick: About a 16 year old kid I knew who was in rehab and I was inspired by the idea that the outside stuff isn’t what makes us happy. It’s getting our insides right that gives us contentment.
-Black Wings: When I was twelve years old my grandmother caught me out behind a shed smoking a Pall Mall cigarette I had swiped from my grandfather. As she grabbed my ear and walked me back to the house she said that the only way I would ever get to heaven would be on black wings…and I guess that’s as good a way as any.
-Polecat: I like the idea of a woman who can field dress a squirrel and then just come up and lick my ear after supper and say “come on.”
-Whoop and Holler: I prefer spiritual awakening to religious conversion any day but I love a good Pentecostal holy rollin’, jumping up and down, rolling around on the ground, stomping and clapping when the holy spirit comes a’calling song!
-Loco Gringo’s Lament: There was a band in Dallas in the 80’s called Loco Gringos who I believe were going to just explode as the coolest band ever to come out of Texas….then Pepe od’d . I was asked to sing “Redneck Mother” at his wake by his band mates as I think they said it was the first song he learned on guitar. So, in a Deep Ellum nightclub with emo kids, p.i.b.s, hipsters, dreadlocked young rockers, bartenders with mohawks and waitresses in fishnets…drug dealers and DEA informants… maybe both and the same…tattoo artists, recovering alcoholics, alcoholics not in recovery, old roadies, black mascara’ed go-go dancers as well as all the pierced and the doomed…I sat and sang the song and everybody joined in and by the last chorus we were all singing the damn thing with tears in our eyes.
-Old Guitar: The first time I played Lucas a Jimmy Reed song, after it was over he just picked up my old Gibson and just fell into the groove and the feel and played it just as low down as it was meant to be. You got to raise ’em up right on Hooker and Reed.
16. Nashville’s been trying to figure out a way to make a buck off Texas guys for a long time. You’ve managed to avoid the pitfalls of bad business. What advice do you give younger artists when the sharks are circling them in the water?
Unfortunately, I did not avoid all the pitfalls. I signed a bad publishing deal when I was younger and I’ve also had a few bad recording contracts.
The last one being as recently as the one with Sustain Records. Our lawyer checked the contract before we signed…and on paper it was good but Jimmy Perkins breeched it and didn’t honor it so we sued his lame lying ass and got Snake Farm back. If you think this is libel or slander, Jimmy, sue me.
So, I may not be the one to be giving advice but here’s what I would suggest: keep your publishing and read Moses Avalon’s book “Confessions of a Record Producer”. Either that or marry a woman who was raised by car salesmen and bookies.
17. What are your favorite venues to play? Who treats you the best?
I have lots of favorites. The Shed at Smoky Mountain Harley-Davidson in Marysville, TN. Luminaire in London. McCabes and The Palms in California, The Blue Door in OKC. Antone’s, Cactus Cafe, Saxon Pub in Austin. Mucky Duck in Houston. Granada in Dallas, Jefferson Freedom Cafe at the Unitarian Church in Fort Worth, Susanna’s Kitchen in Wimberley, and Joe’s Pub in New York City.
All of these places treat me pretty good, but when we played The Paradiso in Amsterdam a while back, somehow they got Slash’s backstage rider mixed up with ours by mistake so we walked in and all his requirements were there. It was beyond what you could even imagine it would be. We didn’t tell them they had made a mistake, so we wallowed in some pretty extreme decadent luxury for a couple of hours.
18. Rapid fire:
-Favorite western movie? The Wild Bunch
-John Wayne or Jeff Bridges? How ’bout William Holden?
-Coffee or No Coffee? Coffee
-Ranch Road 12 or Hwy 281? Ranch Road 12
-Robert Johnson or Hank Williams? Robert Johnson and Hank Williams
19. What is your favorite Townes Van Zandt song?
Snowing on Raton
20. It has been documented that music consumers are not buying as many albums as they once were and instead prefer to purchase singles. This is much like it was pre-Beatles where the market was singles-driven. As someone who has seen it all a time or two in this crazy music business and has consistently released quality albums, what do you make of this trend of going away from albums?
I like that you refer to them as albums, Brad, rather than cds…and thank you for the kind words. I never have been a singles buyer and really don’t keep up with that. The songwriters I prefer seem to be less chart driven and write not because of royalty checks or trying to have a top ten country hit…but rather because of an inner desire to create something significant by tearing off a piece of their soul and rhyming it and making it fit the laws of music. Those songs seem to be on albums rather than singles.