Ray Wylie Hubbard Interview
One of the best parts of our job here at STEAM - is getting to talk with musicians. Doesn’t seem to matter the genre, the level, or age of the artist, to me it is always so interesting. When Rusty said we were going to interview Ray Wylie Hubbard I started doing my homework because I was afraid that we wouldn’t ask the right questions (you know the ones everyone asks) and try to come up with something new. I think we did a good job…
STEAM - I know there are a few questions I need to ask so if you want to tell me stories you just go for it!
RWH - Oh you don’t want to get me started on stories.
STEAM - Sure I do, I bet you have some great ones! I read that you are originally from Oklahoma. When did you move to Texas?
RWH - We came from Southeast Oklahoma in the 50’s and we moved to Oak Cliff which is a suburb of Dallas when I was about 8 years old.
STEAM - How did you get into music and get hooked up with the Country Outlaws?
RWH - I went to Adamson High School in Oak Cliff. It was the same school Michael Murphy (Michael Martin Murphy), who did “Cadillac Wildfire,” and BW Stevenson, who did “My Maria” and” Shambala,” went too. I got into music by watching Michael Murphy, when he was a senior and I was a sophomore. He was the first songwriter I’d heard say, “here’s a song I wrote” and then sing it. So that’s when I got a guitar and started beating on it. After high school I went up to New Mexico for a while and then to Austin and its great music scene. Shortly after that I met Jerry Jeff Walker and Willie Nelson and that whole Outlaw Country scene of the 70’s. Anyway, I was in my 20’s and 30’s, did a lot of folk festivals and whatnot, and had some trouble with the record labels. I really wasn’t very mainstream, in fact I never have been. I was 40, 41 when I really decided to take my music serious and took finger picking lessons. So that’s when I gave up being a young country punk and got into Americana and back where I really belong.
STEAM - That’s very cool and you wrote “Up Against the Wall” (Redneck Mother)?
RWH - Yes I did. It was a kind of turbulent time that America was going through. There were two quite different sides; you had the rednecks my country right or wrong, like the “Okee from Muskogee” and the other side was long hair and antiwar. So there were two separate very distinctive camps in America so “Up Against the Wall” was kind of a joke and an answer to “Okee from Muskogee”. Jerry Jeff Walker cut it on “Viva Terlingua”. Well that came out and the whole Outlaw progressive thing happened. By the way this is the 40th anniversary of Jerry Jeff’s recording. And you know, I never thought of myself as a country guy. I was always a folk singer in my mind. I was more into folk then country but things happen, I went out and played a lot, and here we are.
STEAM - We met Jerry Jeff Walker about 20 years ago, when Rusty opened for him in Tempe Arizona.
RWH - Yeah, that’s back when he was a little grumpy but he’s all right now. It was quite a time back then you know. I just hosted a radio show on Sirius and he was my guest. He is just funny and a delight. I feel real fortunate that we’ve been friends for so long.
STEAM – (Tamma) I was in the World Championship Rattlesnake Races in San Patricio, out on 666. Have you ever gone?
RWH - No I haven’t and I don’t want to either.
STEAM - Tamma actually raced. They put her out there with a rattlesnake, shin guards, a stick, and said go!
RWH - No way would you get me out there with rattlesnakes. Its better you, then me!
STEAM - Well, I wasn’t alone, there was a snake handler too. Anyway, I brought that up because I want to know how you came up with “Snake Farm”. That is such a cool song and it’s the first that comes to mind for a lot people when you say Ray Wylie Hubbard.
RWH - There are snake farms all over the Southwest as you know and they’re just tourist traps. There’s one in New Braunfels TX that’s been there for 40 years and I’ve driven past it on my way between San Antonio and Austin probably a good 10,000 times. And one day I drove by it and said, “Snake farm. Brrr, it just sounds nasty. Brrr, it’s a reptile house.” It just kind it dawned on me I had this little chorus going and I thought how weird is that? I’ll make it a love song about a man who doesn’t like snakes but he is in love with a woman who works at a snake farm. So with that I had to decide what kind of woman she would be. So she’d like malt liquor, she’d have tattoos; she’d be rough and tough. It makes a lot more sense now doesn’t it?
STEAM - It does and that’s my favorite song of yours. And we saw you on Letterman not too long ago.
RWH - Yes we were. It was 4 or 5 months ago my agent, Keith Case, gets this call from Jeff at WorldWide Pants who says Dave wants to know if Ray would do a show in February. Well Keith doesn’t know who WorldWide Pants or who Dave is and he says let me see if Ray is doing Happy Hour in Waco because those are kind of hard to reschedule. Jeff tells him this is for David Letterman and he wants Ray to do Mother Blues but he’ll only have 3 minutes and 32 seconds. We said yes and I had my son, Lucas, play with me on the gold Les Paul. I did Mother Blues which is about 95% true but we had to cut off 2 verses and I changed a couple of names here and there just because, not to protect the innocent – there weren’t any back then.
STEAM - I thought it was really cool when you pointed out your son on guitar. He’s on your latest album, The Grifter’s Hymnal, Bordello Records (Thirty Tigers/RED), right?
RWH - Yeah he’s on that album. Lucas is 19 and is doing real well; going to school, playing guitar, and he’s got a job at the bowling alley. Actually kind of funny story, one week he was playing guitar on David Letterman and the next week, on a league night, he bowls a 300! I believe he is the youngest to bowl a 300 during league night. He is a real good kid and I’m very proud.
STEAM - We wanted to talk about the Grit n’ Groove Fest on April 6 and your radio show you do in New Braunfels. We just had a story on The Homestead Inn and Tavern on the Gruene and that’s where you host your radio show.
RWH - We do the radio show on Tuesday nights which is a lot of fun. It’s a songwriter’s show so the only requirement is that you have to write your own songs. That really works well because there’s a lot of new up-and-coming people writing songs out there and of course Billy Joe Shaver and Randy Rogers come in every once in a while. It’s a whole lot of fun when those cats show up.
We’re so excited with the lineup for the Grit n’ Groove Fest on April 6! The list of performers is just amazing with songwriters and bands: Hayes Carll, Uncle Lucius, the Dirty River Boys, Sons of Fathers, and a whole lot more. We’re real happy with the lineup and the WhiteWater Amphitheater is just a great setting for this!
STEAM - We’ve been visiting with Billy Joe Shaver quite a bit lately and we were telling him about interviewing you, he said he thought you, Willie, and him are about the last to the Outlaws.
RWH - Yeah, I think the group is whittling down. I think the really cool thing is that with Willie, Billy, and myself, we’re still writing songs and being out there. We haven’t stopped, we haven’t slowed down any. And were not nostalgia acts, we are right there with everybody else. Billy and I just had to show together and he is just such a great writer and so much fun to be around. Every once a while we’ll do a show and I’ll get this phone call just before we go on and Billy will say, “I just found out your on before me so I’m going to go on first so I can go home.” We had a show at SxSW and we met up just before I went on. He said he’d have switched places with me if he’d know I was going on first.
STEAM - The drums and guitar are just so awesome on stage; you really do wonderful stuff just the two of you. How often do you bring out the whole band?
RWH - My son is in the band so we don’t do band jobs during the week or during school. I’m at that age and that level where I can get the gig and then get the band. I don’t have to go out and hunt down people anymore or have to hunt down jobs to keep a band. Depending on the gig it’s typically the drummer, Lucas, and me, but if we’re playing something a little bigger, like Gruene Hall, we pull in a bass player too.
STEAM - I have just two last questions. First, you are a great songwriter and knowing you have written so many do you have a favorite song?
RWH - I guess it has to be “The Messenger”. There’s a line that says “Our fears are like dragons guarding our most precious treasures”. And so with that at 42 I overcame the fear of learning how to finger pick. It was a fear for me, at my age, to call somebody and asked them to teach me finger picking. So “The Messenger” is my favorite and a very personal song.
STEAM - I know you’ve got to get going, so last question: I know you’ve done a lot of interviews. Is there one thing that no one has asked you that you’d like people to know?
RWH - There is only one thing I can think of, when I finish a song I say, “Thanks.”