Some Things Under Heaven are Just Cooler than Hell

Ray Wylie Hubbard might not want to admit but he's tied to the Outlaw Country movement. Photo Courtesy: Courtney Chavanell
Ray Wylie Hubbard might not want to admit it, but he’s tied to the Outlaw Country movement.
Photo Courtesy: Courtney Chavanell

By L. Kent Wolgamott

Ray Wylie Hubbard was born in Soper, Okla., and made it to Oak Cliff in 1954. After graduating from high school he spent some time at the University of North Texas as an English major. He’s no stranger to Outlaw Country based on his personal experiences in the music industry and penned “Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother” which was made famous by Jerry Jeff Walker in 1973. Over the years, Hubbard has recorded 16 albums and performed on numerous tours. He’ll be performing at the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo on Jan. 20.

Ray Wylie Hubbard knew the sound he wanted to hear after he and his band finished their work in a Dripping Springs, Texas, studio last summer.

It wasn’t produced, slick and layered. It was the sound of the debut albums of the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, Buffalo Springfield and the Black Crowes.

“Those guys didn’t have pedals, didn’t have any money,” Hubbard said. “They had to go in, just plug into the amp, put three mics on the drums and try to record. That’s what we wanted to try to do, was get that sound. Everything now is so auto-tuned and synthesized. We wanted to go in and try to get like where you could hear real guys really playing.

“When it came time to mix it, we took out the lip smacks. But we left in the coughs and string noises and pedal squeaks and 60-cycle hums on an old amp. I just kind of dig the tone, the grit and the groove. Some of my favorite records you can hear that, like them old Lightnin’ Hopkins records. You hear some of that crap, but it’s perfect. You may not like the singer or the songs, but you’ll like the way it sounds. It does sound cool.”

It is The Ruffian’s Misfortune, Hubbard’s new Bordello Records release. And it does sound cool.

Whatever label you want to tag onto The Ruffian’s Misfortune, contrary to the common perception of Hubbard, it definitely isn’t country.

“I’ve never been a country singer,” Hubbard said. “I wrote ‘Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother’ that was very anti-country at the time. Merle Haggard had ‘The Fightin’ Side of Me’ and ‘Okie.’ That was kind of the hippie answer.”

Hubbard started out as a folk singer in Oklahoma before he became part of the outlaw/cosmic cowboy scene in Austin in the 70s and early 80s where Jerry Jeff Walker made “Redneck Mother” a hit.

By the mid-80s, Hubbard was enveloped in what he calls a “honky tonk fog.”

“Then when I was 40, Stevie Ray (Vaughan) helped me get clean and sober and I got back to where I said ‘I really want to play guitar with that John Lee Hooker, Lightnin’ Hopkins and Mance (Lipscomb) groove,’ ’’ he said. “So it’s a really good place for me to be to have that foundation in folk music, where the lyrics are important, and put a groove to it. It’s where I feel comfortable.”

That groove runs through The Ruffian’s Misfortune, whether Hubbard is channeling Neil Young on  “Stone Blind Horses,” riding on the slithering sinuous “Hey Mama, My Mama Ain’t Long,” rock ‘n’ rolling through “Bad on Fords” or talking about the harmonica master on the spare “Mr. Musselwhite’s Blues.”

Musselwhite is far from the only name that turns up in Hubbard’s songs.

“I name drop stuff, I’ll name drop Howlin’ Wolf, Chrissie Hynde and Joan Jett, and talk about amps and telecasters,” he said. “Those are things that are important to me. Of course love is. But I’ve got to write about it like ‘I got love. After I dated this stripper I found a door girl and bought a guitar.’ ”

Jett and Hynde turn up in “Chick Singer, Badass Rockin,’ ” a garage rock stomp on which Hubbard pays tribute to female rockers.

“There are so many, like Erika Wennerstrom of the Heartless Bastards, of course Joan Jett and ole’ Chrissie Hynde,” Hubbard said. “There’s just something about it. The real ones, they’re not doing it to be a celebrity. They’re females, they rock and they care about it. They’re not doing it to be a reality show or win a contest. They’re like the Ma Raineys and Sister Rosetta Tharpe, they just got up there and played.”

The Ruffian’s Misfortune is the second album in what Hubbard intends to be a trilogy. The first was 2012’s The Grifter’s Hymnal. He’s already got four songs written for the next album.

“The next one I’m going to call it The Rogue’s Ascension,’ ” Hubbard said “It’s kind of a trilogy. It’s kind of the idea as I’ve gotten older, this old cat, this roots folk singer guy kinda looking back. You still enjoy dirty guitars and everything, but you’ve kind of think about your mortality.”

“I think the whole theme right now is I hope God grades on a curve. I’m not Attila the Hun, but I’m not Mother Teresa,” he said. “I’m hoping I can slide into the middle there. That’s why I’ve got the song on there ‘Barefoot in Heaven.’ I’ve been listening to Sister Rosetta Tharpe. That rocks. There’s that vibe in there.”

Hubbard also is releasing his memoir.

“It’s called, and I have to punctuate this ‘A Life dot, dot, dot Well comma Lived. A Life… Well, Lived,’ ” he said. “It’s just got a bunch of old road stories and then it’s also got growing up in Oklahoma and getting into music, folk music, travels. It’s got some song lyrics and kind of talk about the inspiration and craft in songwriting.”