Ray Wylie Hubbard first became a prominent artist when Jerry Jeff Walker recorded his song “Up Against The Wall, Redneck Mother” in 1973. This cover led to a record deal with Warner Bros. Records and a series of critically-acclaimed albums. Ray took a break from music in the 1980s, but returned to form in the early 1990s with more of the country, blues and folk blend that initially made people take notice. His 16th studio album, The Ruffian’s Misfortune, came out last year on Bordello Records.
In support of The Ruffian’s Misfortune, Ray continues touring and returns to New York on Jul. 13 with a show at Hill Country. Ray — who also recently released a memoir, A Life…Well, Lived — caught up with Downtown about his past, present and future. Prior to this Q&A, I had no idea that “Ray Wylie Hubbard” wasn’t his legal name.
How did you wind up as Ray Wylie Hubbard as opposed to Ray Hubbard? Was there another Ray Hubbard around and performing?
Ray Wylie Hubbard: When Jerry Jeff recorded “Redneck Mother” on his record, Viva Terlinqua, Bob Livingston intro’ed the song by saying “This song is by Ray Wylie Hubbart…Hubbard,” and against the wishes of Jerry Jeff Walker’s record company, he insisted it be on the record like that. So I got a song recorded by the great Jerry Jeff Walker and a middle name at the same time.
You had experienced success as a songwriter before you had as a performer. Was it ever your plan to be a songwriter exclusively?
RWH: Not really. I actually was a performer before I had written any songs. The folk group I was in did a lot of Michael Murphey songs, and after a while I started writing some of my own.
What inspired you to write an autobiography? Was there an offer? Or did you have interest in revisiting your past?
RWH: My friend Thom Jurek liked some of these old road stories I had e-mailed him and kept saying I should write a book. There was no offer — I just decided not worry about the mule. I was just going to load the wagon and after it was loaded see what to do with it.
For someone coming to see you at Hill Country, what should they expect?
RWH: Some nursery rhyme lyrics about blackbirds and rabbits saying profound things set to a deep groove powered by cool licks and tone that makes little demons drool and fallen angels dance the hully gully…
Is this the first that time that you’ve performed at a barbecue restaurant?
RWH: I would have to say no.
What do you remember about the first time you’ve performed in New York?
Beyond physically being in a different place, is a performance of yours in Texas different from a performance of yours in Texas?
RWH: It’s pretty much the same low-down groove no matter where I perform.
Is there a song that you enjoy performing most?
RWH: If I didn’t enjoy a song, I wouldn’t do it, but “Snake Farm” and “Wanna Rock And Roll” do the enjoyable deed.
Ringo Starr is said to be a big fan of yours. Do you remember the first time you were told that a big star was your fan?
RWH: Back a long time ago, Waylon came backstage to our dressing room at the Austin Opry House and said he dug what I did.
Do you have a professional accomplishment that you’re most proud of?
RWH: Well, having a Beatle sing on a track on my record would be hard to beat.
Given how pop-oriented country music on the radio is these days, do you still identify as a country artist?
RWH: I have never identified myself as a country artist. Ever. I wrote “Redneck Mother,” remember? I think of myself as a folk singer who’s got a dead thumb groove and can lay down a blues riff that makes ya wanna stomp around in a mud puddle.
Is there a country artist these days that you feel is properly carrying the torch of great Americana songwriting and storytelling?
RWH: Not a so-called country artist, but Jason Isbell got a heart that’s in the right place.
After this tour has wrapped, what’s ahead for you? Is there more product coming to Ray Mart?
RWH: Gonna do an instructional video of this finger-picking dead thumb groove thing I do.
When you’re not busy with your career, how do you like to spend your free time?
RWH: Reading and then some more reading.
Finally, Ray, any last words for the kids?
RWH: Well kids, if you wanna be a songwriter who writes significant songs…don’t just listen to The Ghost Of Tom Joad, read The Grapes Of Wrath.