Written by James Killen
Interview- Ray Wylie Hubbard 10/29/2016
I got up early this morning to catch Ray Wylie Hubbard at his Wimberly home as his 70th birthday approaches. Ray was up and plenty chipper for our little talk. He’s been spending time in the studio working on his next disc, following up Ruffian’s Misfortune. His energy is contagious and his sense of humor had me chuckling throughout the conversation.
HMR-Good morning Mr. Hubbard. Before we really get started, what’s going on in your life that you’d like to get out in front of the readers?
RWH- Well, we’ve got the gig coming up, that 70th birthday show at the Heights theatre and I’m really looking forward to that. I’ve played the Kessler theatre in Dallas and it’s just a great, great gig. The same people are doing it so I’m looking forward to that. I’m in the studio recording a new album that’ll be out in the spring.
HMR- Is this 70th birthday something special or is it just another day on the calendar?
RWH- Probably just another day on the calendar. I don’t even dress up for Halloween. You know I haven’t even really thought about it, it’s like the old saying, one day at a time, that’s how I take it. I get up and put one foot in front of the other today. I really haven’t thought about it.
HMR- Every birthday is that way for me. I’m just glad to get one.
RWH- Yeah I am too. I’m not trying to make a big deal about it. I think Judy put it on a poster, “70th Birthday Bash”, but I’m too old to bash. I really am, but I enjoy the gigs, playing is still a joy for me. Travelling sometimes, the damned old airports are a drag, but the performing and like I say right now I’m in the studio right now and I really enjoy that part of it and playing live is still fun and interesting for me.
HMR- You wrote an autobiography recently, “A Life, Well…Lived”. I just got my copy in the mail and I haven’t gotten a chance to get into it yet. Are there any special messages in it or is it just plain good entertainment?
RWH- Well, it’s kind of threefold. I start out talking about growing up and how I got into music and kind of what got me up to this point. But then there’s these old road stories thrown in there, just kind of Forest Gump things, kind of how things happened. And then I put song lyrics in it. Then at the end of it, too, I kind of talk about what I’ve learned about song writing and inspirational craft and trying to live on certain spiritual principles without having to go to church every Sunday.
HMR- Yeah, I actually had a question down about that. I saw that “Barefoot in Heaven” was your rustic Christian contribution to Ruffian’s Misfortune. I’ve noticed that you’ve put a cut on just about every record that has to do with faith and spirituality. Is this kind of like your tithe?
RWH- I haven’t thought about it like that. I guess that I’m sort of a spiritual mongrel. I don’t follow any one professed dogma. I talk about it in the book. I try to live a spiritual life, being honest, having courage when I need to, not holding resentments, you know that whole thing. I talk about all of that in the book. I haven’t really thought about putting ten songs on an album and one of them is kind of an old country blues gospel song. That’s just kind of the way it is.
HMR- I think that’s great. I enjoy those quite a bit.
RWH- You know, I feel very fortunate. I’m sleeping with the president of my record label. That’s not Clive Davis, that’s my wife, Judy. She comes in and says you write about whatever you want to write about, whether it’s about Les Paul gold tops or it’s about Charlie Musselwhite or it’s an old gospel blues song. You record it the way you want to record it and she says “I’ll try to sell the damn things”. So, for a writer, that’s a really good place to be. I’m not writing for a publishing company. I don’t owe a publishing company twelve songs a year. I’m not writing a song to get somebody to cut it. Whatever inspiration I get I try to write it into a pretty good song, whether it’s kind of an old naughty blues, or has a spiritual gospel tint or it’s just about a Les Paul. I’m not writing and thinking about the future of the song. I’m just kind of writing it for right then. I feel very fortunate as an old cat to have that kind of freedom to write about Charlie Musselwhite or whatever. It’s just a really good place for me to be right now.
HMR- You know that I’ve always seen you as just being Ray Wylie Hubbard and keeping on going with your thing and now we have this big Americana music movement that seems to have risen up and surrounded you.
RWH- Well you know, I have no idea what’s going on with Nashville country music. I don’t know any of those people. I just don’t follow that. People ask me “Who do you listen to?” and I just listen to friends of mine, you know, like Hayes Carll and James McMurtrey and Gurf Morlix, guys like that. They’re writing songs that I really enjoy a lot. So to answer your question, if you really think about maybe ten years ago, the whole Americana thing was like Lucinda Williams, Joe Ely, Sam Bush, the Jayhawks, Kevin Welch…kind of that vibe. Now you’ve got Robert Plant and all of these guys into Americana, it’s a widespread thing. It’s good for me. I’ve never been, you know, main stream country. I’ve always been on the fringe of the whole entertainment industry.
HMR- It’s as much blues and rock and roll as country. I know.
RWH- I feel real fortunate. I started off in folk music back in high school with Michael Murphey and BW Stevenson and the Austin scene with Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt and Rusty Wier and those cats and Jerry Jeff Walker. So the lyrics have always been important to me. Then I got into my forties, I cleaned up my act. I went to see Lightning Hopkins and Mance Lipscomb and I said I’d like to play guitar like that, rather than to just be a strummer. So I talk about it in the book. In my forties, I actually took guitar lessons and learned how to finger pick. And then I got into John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters and things like that. So right now the songs have this low down groove to them, but hopefully the lyrics are a little more folk, having that influence of folk music where the lyrics are little more to them than just “I woke up this morning and had the blues”. I love that songs like that, too. I’m not dissing those songs, but for me, that’s just kind of where I am. I feel very grateful that I’m putting out records and still selling a few and I get to travel around and play them for people.
HMR- You mentioned appreciating all of those other fellas’ music. You did a collaborative piece on the last album, “Bad on Fords” with Ronnie Dunn of Brooks and Dunn. Do you enjoy doing the collaborative writing? I know you did some with Hayes Carll.
RWH- Yeah I really do. It’s kind of like writing a song that you never would have written otherwise. I really do enjoy it. When you’re writing with somebody that you really respect and you throw out a line and you say, well that’s a crappy line, but then with the song it really works. You know what I mean? I do enjoy it.
HMR- I get it. Sometimes you bounce something off somebody and you feel bad about it, but the other guy comes back with yeah, but if we do it like this….
RWH- Yeah, you know working with Ronnie, he’s like an icon of country, one of the biggest country stars there is, but he’s really down to earth. We got together and I said what do you want to write about? I don’t know, why don’t we write about being Oklahoma car thieves. So we wrote it and cut it. He sent it to Sammy Hagar so that he could play guitar on it. So Sammy cut it and put it on his last record. Ronnie called up and said Sammy Hagar just cut that and put it on his last record. So I said that’s cool with me. So when I said that you write it without thinking about the future of it, you never know where it’s going to go. There was this song I wrote four or five years ago called “Dust of the Chase” and now it’s in this movie called “Hell or High Water” with Jeff Bridges in it. It’s a great movie, even if my song wasn’t in it. So you never know what’s going to happen to them.
HMR- I’ve got one last question here. I noticed that your son, Lucas, was included on guitar on this last album. How was it working with your son? Does it give you a sense of pride?
RWH- I’ve been working with him since he was about sixteen. It was a lot better before he found out that the other guys in the band were getting paid. It was great back then. He’s a great player. He doesn’t show off. He comes from that school of Buddy Miller and Derek O’Brian and Seth James, school of cool. He’s got a lot of taste in his licks. He plays exactly what the song needs. He has really good taste and he’s a good player, so yeah, I get a sense of pride when he throws down a lead. He travels well and he’s got his head screwed on straight, so yeah, it’s a joy.
HMR- I really enjoyed that last record, Ruffian’s Misfortune. I wrote a little review on it. I thought that it was a great band that you had put together. I really liked the drums on it.
RWH- Yeah that’s old Rick Richards. He played on a whole bunch of my records, but then about three years ago I get this phone call from Joe Walsh. He says, I don’t want to steal your band, but I want to steal your “Snake Farm” band. So Rick Richards, George Reiff and Bukka Allen went out with Joe for about a year. So I’ve got a young kid now named Kyle Schneider that can really lay down that mean groove, too. Rick is just doing a lot of session work now. It’s just great. I feel really proud of the record. I feel very fortunate to have worked with Lloyd Maines and Gurf Morlix and George Reiff as producer. So this next one here, I’m just going to go in by myself. I guess that a lawyer that defends himself has a fool for a client. So I’m gonna go ahead and produce it myself. Those other guys are so busy, I can’t even get in touch with them now. But thank you very much. I’m very proud of how that record came out.
HMR- Well, again, I really enjoyed it and I’m looking forward to the next one.
RWH- Okay well listen. Drop me a line about the book when you’re done with it. I think it’s a good read.
HMR- I’ll do that and I’ll be catching your show at the birthday bash or whatever Judy is calling it.