Ray Wylie Hubbard is a legend in Texas and beyond. He is a respected and renowned songwriter and survivor. His musical career spans five decades, and he is the midst of a continued creative renaissance that has catapulted him to career highs he once thought impossible. His journey in life and music is full of inspirational, insightful and humorous tales, and I was honored he took the time to discuss it all with me. Please check out this edition of 20 Questions.
1. What’s new and exciting in the world of Ray Wylie Hubbard?
I will soon be releasing a live album we recorded at the Granada Theater, also have been working on the movie I wrote with Tiller Russell “The Last Rites of Ransom Pride”, you can check ito ut at www.ransompride.com. Other than that, I’ve been producing records for the Band of Heathens, Liz and Lincoln Durham and Lucas Hubbard. Doing our Roots and Branches radio show, and writing the next record, just grooving!
2. As a music business veteran, you’ve seen quite a lot of changes over the years. What things have stayed the same? What things have become very, very different?
What;s stayed the same, is if you give a boy a guitar the girls come around. What is different is there’s a lot more boys with guitars!
3. Name association:
-Randy Rogers-Rock and roller.
-Cory Morrow-Good timer.
-Jason Boland-Walking cool honky-tonker.
-Hayes Carll-My next big royalty check!
-Slaid Cleaves-Woody Guthrie’s heir.
-James McMurtry-Guitar slingin’ poet.
-Billy Joe Shaver-Christian Outlaw.
-Stoney LaRue-Stormy Monday blues.
-Todd Snider-Peed on my front tire one time!
-Walt Wilkins-Pat Green’s favorite writer.
4. You’ve got a great relationship with the Ragweed bunch. Can you talk a bit about how you hooked up with them. And, what do you think makes y’all connect on an artistic level?
I met them at KNBT’s Americana jam a few years back and was invited to their Waylon benefit. Cody came out a played lead on “Wanna Rock and Roll”…something about the chords E, D and A played with reckless abandon in 4/4 time in front of a couple thousand screaming kids…and to tell the truth, art may not have a lot to do with it, but you do connect on some low down, deep-grit and groove, sweat and blood level.
5. Your “Roots and Branches” radio show is quite influential and respected. What do you enjoy most about doing the radio show? What’s your favorite moment from the radio show?
I like the idea that you’ve got to write songs to be on, and since Mattson Rainer (KNBT Program Director) and my wife Judy book the show and both have great taste in music, I know that I wont be hearing any crappy songs for a couple of hours. One of my favorite times was when Billy Joe Shaver was on the show and told about how he spent the night with Tanya Tucker sleeping at the foot of her bed.
6. Much like Rusty Weir with “Don’t It Make You Wanna Dance”, your ascent in the music business was bolstered by one song, “Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother”. You’ve played it live thousands of times, yet you seem to manage to keep the song fresh by interjecting humorous quips and lines about what it is like to have written a song that is so identifiable and tied to you. The majority of your song catalog is decidedly un-“Up Against the Wall”. Can you relate what it is like having the albatross of that song hang around your neck? And talk a bit about how you’ve managed to wear it so well, so well, so well?
For such a long time that was the only song I was known for…so my other songs suffered for it. Nowdays, it fits well in my arsenal so I appreciate much more than I did for such a long time. I tell young kids that after you write a song…ask yourself, “Can I sing this for 34 years?”
7. You’ve been touring for several decades, what are your most memorable touring experiences from the following towns:
-Houston-Doing a song swap with Lucinda Williams and Steve Earle at Rice University.
-Dallas-Playing poker with Freddie King after a gig.
-Lubbock-Loading in under blue skies, playing in a dust storm, loading out in the rain.
-Amarillo-Cowboys, bikers, and frat boys all at the same gig. They didn’t particularly like each other, but they all sang along on “Redneck Mother”!
-Kerrville-President Lyndon Johnson in the crowd.
-Oklahoma City-Playing a Woody Guthrie Festival with Nora Guthrie in the audience.
-New Orleans-The food and the vibe every, single time.
-Stephenvilleb – My son, Lucas’ first time to sit in with the band. He and Seth James traded 8’s on the song “Cooler In Hell”, it was amazing.
-Tyler-Played with Bugs Henderson on one of my birthdays, got a cake.
-Galveston-Seeing Hayes Carll play for the first time. He was opening for me and Wrecks Bell, and he sang “Redneck Mother” in pig Latin at the Old Quarter.
8. Your story of redemption and sobriety is inspiring to all who hear it. You’ve credited Stevie Ray Vaughan with helping you make the decision to clean your life up. Many people have used your story of recovery as a foundation for their own. What was the catalyst for your life-changes? What advice do you have for those currently struggling with their own demons?
When you’re born you get so many drink coupons, and I used all mine up and finally got to the point I had all that fun I could stand. If you want to quit drinking, the first thing you do is quit drinking.
9. Aside from your influence, most artists cite Townes Van Zandt, Jerry Jeff and Guy Clark as heroes. You were knee-deep in the foxhole with those guys back in the 70’s. What do you think was the common thread that made each of them have such a lasting impact?
Simply put, they all wrote great songs. Their output holds up as well today as it did then.
10. You’ve written songs solo and you’ve co-written many songs. Do you have a preference? Typically, where do you find inspiration for your tunes?
Inspiration can come from anything and can happen at any time, you’ve got to be ready. Also, never second guess inspiration, yet it is okay to rewrite. I have no preference, co-writing or solo I’m just glad when they rhyme and are done!
11. Gurf Morlix seems to be the musical yin to your songwriting yang. To what do you credit your tremendous working relationship with Gurf?
Gurf knows grit and groove and grease…and he is completely fearless…beyond walking cool. He won’t let me slough any thing off.
12. Stories behind the following songs:
-Snake Farm- I’ve been driving by the Snake Farm for years, and one day I just looked over and went “Oooh just sounds nasty.” So, I came up with the chorus, and then asked “What am I going to do with this?” Of course, the answer was to make it a love song.
-Three Days Straight-Lucas was in the 3rd grade and asked me to help him with his multiplication tables…and I liked the numbers 3, 6 and 7.
-Didn’t Have a Prayer-About being in the darkness, and the only way out is prayer.
-Ballad of the Crimson Kings-I just liked the idea that there are those condemned by the gods to write…maybe that explains why I’m still doing this.
-Conversation with the Devil-Just a bad dream that turned into a pretty good song.
-Screw You, We’re From Texas-Just a way to say that I like Texas better than Nashville.
-I’ve Seen That Old Highway-I really have seen what it’s done to the young and kind.
-The Way of the Fallen-Well, I asked myself, “If there really was a devil where would he live?” The thought came to me, Corpus Christi…and it went from there.
-Wanna Rock and Roll-I’ve always liked old bluegrass murder ballads like “Knoxville Girl” and “Tom Dooley”, so I just wrote one with a speeded up raunchy rock and roll “Gloria” beat.
-Dangerous Spirits-The Hopi Indians used to explain that when things were terribly, terribly wrong and bad that dangerous spirits were at large in the hills, and that seemed to be a good as reason as any to explain the unfortunate circumstances of this old world.
13. You’ve been playing live for many years and at many venues. Can you relate the craziest story or incident you’ve seen or heard that is fit to print!
Well, in Colorado we were playing a club back in the early 70’s and decided to leave our gear and amps there and pick them up the next day on the way out of town. But, the club owner, whom we heard was heavily in debt, insisted that we should go ahead and get our stuff out that night. We did, and the next morning when we drove by on the way out of town, there was nothing there. Seems sometime during the night someone had dropped a whole bunch of dynamite down the chimney and blew the place off the face of the earth.
14. Your son, Lucas, has become quite the guitar picker at an early age. Were you an early guitar prodigy as well? Also, you have a rather distinct sound. What were the biggest influences on your guitar picking style?
I got my first guitar when I was 15, and just beat the hell out of it until I was 41! Suddenly, I decided I wanted to be a real songwriter, so I took my first ever guitar lesson to learn how to fingerpick. My influences have been Lightning Hopkins, Tony Joe White, and Sam Swank out of Dallas.
15. You are widely praised for your sense of humor and generosity. So, I’d like to know, who is the funniest person you know? And, what person has been the most helpful or beneficial to your career?
The answer to both is my wife, Judy.
16. You began your career in a folk group with Michael Martin Murphy. What would the folk musician of your youth think of the hard-rocking troubadour you’ve become.
I actually wasn’t in a group with Mic