Many things come to mind when the name Texas comes up, whether it was the invention of Dr Pepper, its vastly growing Silicon Valley, or the fact it is the second largest state in the US after Alaska where Austin is the capital.
From the story of The Alamo to the capital of Live Music. The red, white and blue state has multiple things that are renowned for, including music.
The flat plain state is known to be the home to a list of iconic singer-songwriters from different genres throughout the years, from blues giants such as Lightnin Hopkins, Blind Willie Johnson, country singers George Jones, Willie Nelson, rock band, ZZ Top to storytellers, Terry Allen, Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt.. the list is too big to cover.
Texas music holds its own uniqueness with sound and appreciation towards narrative, that led to the title “Poets State”. The craftsmanship of artists with their lingering, real-life stories simply resonates the term poets or often storytellers.
And one summer in the 1970s, a young man by the name of Ray Wylie Hubbard and a group of friends spent their summer holiday at Red River, New Mexico. Trading licks, swapping tunes and writing songs- young aspiring songwriter Hubbard wrote a “reflection” at that time of current events that were taken place in a song “Up Against The Wall you Redneck Mother.” Little did he know by 1976, it will become a national hit for Mr. Bojangles Jerry Jeff Walker that landed him a record deal with Warner Music. Despite the hits, Walker is known for, “Up Against The Wall You Redneck Mother” remained to be associated with the musician since he first laid eyes on the tune.
Despite being born in Oklahoma and only moving to Texas aged 8-9 years old, Hubbard then went on to be one of many influential songwriters out of the Lone Star State, with renowned songs like “Snake Farm” “Screw You, We’re From Texas” and “Mother Blues
Releasing new album in 2016 “Tell The Devil I’m Getting There As Fast As I Can”, Ray Wylie Hubbard joined Richmond Free Press for a special interview discussing his recent induction to the Texas Heritage Hall of Fame and receiving the Songwriter of The Year Award from Austin Chronological.
A very huge thank you to both Judy Hubbard for making this interview happen and for Ray for giving his time!
RT: First of congratulations on your induction to Texas Heritage Hall of Fame!
RWH: Thank you, it was quite a deal, we did a thing on Saturday Texas Heritage Hall of fame and I was inducted with Buddy Holly- Mickey Newbury and Liz rose. That was quite a time and Last night, I won the Austin chronological music award Music writer of the year. so it was quite a week.
RT: Talk about a busy week!
RWH: Yep, Yep it has been a busy, for an old cattle I’m still making rock!
RT: Don’t they usually hold Austin Music Awards the same week as SXSW?
RWH: yeah usually by SXSW but they decided I guess to do it the week before. It was quite a deal.
RT: During your induction performance, Ronnie Dunn (Brooks and Dunn) Eric Church came up on stage to join in for “Snake Farm”, how does it feel to have a young generation connect to your music.
RWH: well, really it’s gratifying, of course. Because, I’m not a mainstream guy at all. I’m kinda on more on the fringe of Americana, I’ve never had like been on the country charts or hit records. I’ve been kinda underground, Texas songwriter. So for these guys to find me, and acknowledge me is enough. But then for them to come to Austin and be willing to get up and perform with me. It was quite a thrill. It kinda validates what your doing you know, for a long time you’ve been writing songs just kinda like I say I’m very underground definitely not mainstream for these guys to find me and acknowledge me is very gratifying.
RT: Quite recently, you released a brand new album tilted “Tell the Devil I’ll be there As Fast as I Can” I must say what a title!
RWH: Well hopefully the tittle is to be taken metaphorically rather than a prophecy.
RT: you also had guest vocals on your new album Patty Griffin, Eric Church, and Lucinda Williams. I must say, I really loved your comment about Lucinda where you mentioned you wanting a “Female Keith Richards”
RWH: Haha, yeah that was for Lucinda she was on the record, Lucinda kinda have that you know female Keith Richards vibe about her she was perfect for the song devil. I had Eric church and Lucinda and patty griffin, I needed an angel so I got Patty for the last song (In Times Of Cold)
RT: The album concept is as you mentioned earlier holds metaphorical references based on characters from everyday life. For instance, in “Lucifer and the Fallen Angles,” the song speaks of songwriters or artists in general keeping true to their sound. Throughout the years, battles have been fought between publishers and record companies confiscating an artist’s creativity in order to feed their big companies.
RWH: I have to agree with that. Well, it is, you know, I feel very fortunate, I’m not on a major label I’m not singed to a big mainstream publishing company my wife Judy, runs a record label (Bordello Records) so she says, you write the songs you want to write and you make the album you want to make and then she says I’ll try to sell the damn things, so for a writer like me which, I’ve never been a mainstream writer that’s a really good place to be. Because I’m writing and I’m not thinking about the future of what I’m writing, I’m able to write whatever I want to write about so, I really enjoy having freedom. Like I said I don’t have a record producer, record company, telling me what to sing.
RT: I know you studied English at collage, would you consider this aspect to have provoked your style of novelty songwriting?
RWH: Yeah, like I have so said, my father was an English teacher, so early on, instead of reading 3 little pigs, I was reading “The Raven”, or the “Tale of Two Cities”, “Oliver Twist”, that got into literature and so that has a great influence when I write. So, when I’m trying to write, even it a goofy song like snake farm that was well written so yeah. It means a great deal to have that foundation in folk music and literature and later on laid on a low down dirty groove that I often run it.
RT: Let me get this right, you first met Michael Martin Murphy at College and then you went on to form a band together?
RHW: Actually, I went to high school with Michael Murphy, and we weren’t in a band together but we knew each other in high school and he was an instrumentalist and getting me into folk music. But no we never were in band together but we played the same clubs and same folk circles at that time.
RT: Oh, I see, I need to update my info in this case. I do apologies about that!
RWH: That’s all right, it happens a lot!
RT: One summer, however, yourself and a group of friends went to Red River -New Mexico, which resulted in what then became a hit “Up Against The Wall You Redneck Mother”
RWH: Yes *sigh*
RT: oh, that came with sigh!
RWH: Well, you know, in America that time it was a very turbulent time as it is now. There was the Vietnam War, there was civil right movement, there was women’s movement going on so it very a turbulent time in America. And Merle Haggard had out songs like “Fighting side of me” “Okie from Muskego” and so Redneck Mother was kinda the answer to that if you were a longhaired hippie musician. It was meant to be taken ironically in a way and so we wrote that and it just kinda came out. Then, Jerry Jeff Walker recorded it and then the actual rednecks that I was making fun of started singing it, haha, and that’s why the sigh.
RT: After its success, this led to you being signed by Warner records, which resulted in your first official album “Ray Wylie Hubbard and the Cowboy Twinkies”. With your first release, you often warn fans not to hear that record. why?
RHW: yeah, what happened after we made the album, it was a folk rock record. My influences where the likes to Buffalo Springfield, of course you know Stone Country and at that time, Gram Parsons, so we made what I thought was a folk rock record and the record label said well, country radio ain’t gonna play this, so they put steel guitars on it, girl singers on every track, so it wasn’t the record we had intended. So we were heartbroken when it came out, it wasn’t us.
RT: Can I just ask, who came up with the name?
RHW: We were getting ready to play a gig in Fort Worth and they said we needed band name. You need to have a name, so the bass player said I always wanted to be a band called the Twinkies. So I said, well since we are playing Fort Worth we outta be the Cowboy Twinkies. What we lacked talent we made up for an attitude, we had kinda of punk rock sensibility, when we preform we were very irreverent, I don’t know how to explain it but that’s how the name came about!
RT: Once I saw the name I thought it was funny yet very interesting.
RWH: yeah, we had kinda of cow-punk attitude, we were pretty young and rambunctious, we would do Merle Haggard song then we would do a Led Zeppelin song. We had a lot of energy.
RT: After “Up against the Wall” release in 76 by Jerry Jeff you moved down to Nashville? And started hanging around with the likes of Guy Clark and Towns Van Zandt..
RWH: I never moved to Nashville. After we did the record in Nashville, I just never went back with the business, I never could. The record company came out and laid there we couldn’t tour behind it but then I was always a working musician. I could play the folk festivals and do little coffee houses with Towns and Guy and Jerry Jeff Walker, Michael Martin Murphy and so. I was always able to make somewhat of a living just playing live since I had any income as far as songwriting or artists royalties.
RT: There was a period between 76 to 84 where you released a few albums, but suddenly laid low for while until 94.. Was there ever a time you thought about quitting?
RWH: No, I never really.. The music was good, I was having fun playing nightclubs and Honky Tonks, but the business part of it I was never part of that as far begin on radio or charts or anything. But you can make a good living just as I said being bar band. So I really thought about quitting, because there was nothing else I can really do, *chuckles* so to answer your question there was a struggle and it was hard times but I was always ok.
RT: Moving over, I believe you moved to Texas from Oklahoma when you were about 8-9 years old, were you exposed to music at that time?
RWH: we were very rural, the music I got was as a kid going to church and then there was a little country radio station, so it was pretty much Lefty Frizzell, Hank Williams on the radio, but then there was all of these whooping and hollering gospel songs on the church, so that was kinda my first introduction to music. And then when we moved to Dallas, of course there was radio and you can get Gene Vincent, Buddy Holly and rock and roll. But my first music was of course church and straight ahead hillbilly country.
RT: Previously in the past you mentioned when moving to Texas you went to see the likes of Ernest Tubb and Lighting Hopkins. What was that like for a kid who’s background in church music to suddenly be exposed to what was called then “sinful music”?
RWH: it was in high school, the folk scene was going on so there was all these folk clubs, so I guess 16-17-18 I would go to these folk clubs and there would be these big guys like Mance Lipscome, Lighting Hopkins and I got to introduced to them so I feel very fortunate to have seen those wonderful blues guys. Then later on when I got in a band we were able to seek out other music. We go to see Ernest Tubb, Gary Stewart. So it was a whole spectrum of music. It was just fascinating for me and I loved it all.
RT: I always liked to picture Mance Lipscome and Lighting Hopkins performance would be a in a gloomy dark, smoke filled room..
RWH: Yeah! There is a place here called Mother Blues, which was a funky old nightclub, we go there and play. The opening band was like a 9 piece soul band. They were called Big Bow and the Arrows I believe. They had horns and a Hammond B3 the place was rowdy and jumping and people were dancing and drinking and yelling, and then they cleared that out and then lighting Hopkins came out and his got his old fender amp and Gibson guitar with a DeArmond pickup and plug in and bought the place down, it was just mesmerizing, he had that just had this power. It was some funky times back then.
RT: Travis D Stemnling the author of Cowboys and New Hicks and Countercultural of Austin progressive Country scene” once quoted in a documentary when speaking about Texas Songwriters he said, “ We’d like to think of Nashville as the Craftsmen and Texas as Poets” what is it about Texas that defies it songwriting qualities than any other form of songwriting?
RWH: well, Texas always had its independent spirit. And the thing about Texas songwriters, all the these guys were writing their own songs from Blind Lemon Jefferson up to through Lighting Hopkins and Mance Lipsomce and then of course the Folk scene came in and Guy and Towns and Billy Joe Shaver and all of these guys, there was just that thing you wrote your own songs while in Nashville you’d sing other peoples songs and be on the radio and so there was this whole, its almost like a foundation in Texas that you have to be songwriter you have to write your own songs, the audience here is not gonna understand a cover band in ways. it was that big difference. It was a great environment to grow up in to because you had all these incredible songwriters that where just writing songs like nowhere else. They weren’t like any else, with Guy Clark –“Desperado Waiting on a Train”- or anything by Towns “Marie” or Billy Joe Shaver and so.. There is something about the Texas thing that you know have this great independent spirit where you can write and not have someone look over your shoulder. You writing and nothing about the future of what you’re writing when you start off. When you’re young and you’re writing, I don’t think trying to a get a record deal or a publishing deal your just writing because you have this need within to express yourself through music and I think that was thing here in Texas all of these guys were songwriters rather than just country singers.
RT: Referring back to what you mentioned about not thinking of the future when it comes to songwriting- at the end of the day, don’t one want to make both ends meet?
RWH: well, I think its kinda the difference between Nashville and Texas I think. In Nashville songwriting is livelihood you’re writing your songs in order to somebody to record them to make money over it but in Austin and kinda Texas it’s more like lifestyle of a songwriter. I’m mean here in Austin you got guys like Hayes Carll and James McMurty, John D Graham they’re great songwriters and they are writing songs because its their live style. So I think the big difference here is there’s that depth and weight to it. As far as the Texas songwriting is.
RT: It’s the Texas Spirit!
RWH: Yeah, You know I’m not really dissing the new country music, but I haven’t heard a song like “Bojangles” or “On The Road Again” or “Geronimo’s Cadillac”, or “Georgia on a Fast Train”. I haven’t heard that from the songwriters of Nashville. I couldn’t really tell you what they do. But those songs they are significant and I think that’s what is great about as you said The Texas Spirit. I just haven’t heard anything like that lately.
RT: I agree!
RWH: Well, it becomes the record labels they are like creating the product then creating the demand for it in a way. Back in the 60’s 70’s 80’s I’m an old guy talking like that but these guys artists were expressing themselves so now its becoming a very big business and controlled they have actually I guess broad rooms where they sit and do demographics and all that stuff you know and you just have guitar go out there and lied down and talk about whatever is going on in this life that day.
RT: But, If one of Texas lifestyle is songwriting. Wouldn’t that inflect challenge?
RWH: well, its not so much challenge as it is but all of sudden its like I write a song and I say “man this is a great song” and then I go to Austin to a little club and there’s McMurty he goes I wrote this new song or Patty Griffin or Jimmy Vaughan, so you go aha ok. Its not competition in a way but all of a sudden it sets the bar high where you really want to write really great cool songs. Because you’re running around with people who are juts incredible songwriters, so you have to step up your game! Last night at the Austin Music Awards, there were all these incredible songwriters. So I have to take my songwriting seriously and care about it. But like I said I don’t think there is a completion but I think its good to have that bar-level to aspire to.
RT: Earlier you brushed on the subject of the Americana genre; with underground genres vastly becoming popular today, do you think the genre is facing a threat of becoming a mainstream genre?
RWH: Well, you know I really like the Americana thing, a lot of my friends and some people put more Americana than country and a lot of my friends that I admire them are in that genre. But Americana is becoming very very mainstream right now. I mean 10 years ago Americana was Lucinda Williams, Joe Ely and Sam Bush and The Jayhawks. it was a pretty small circle. And now you have there, rock guys that are talented that are kinda going into the Americana field. John Mellencamp got a new record out, the classic rock stations aren’t gonna play him, because they are playing old stuff and then the new rock stations they are not gonna play him, because they are playing Third Eyed Blind and Stone Temple Pilot and all of that. But Americana will play him because he fits that type of music. So it’s becoming very more mainstream.
RT: My only concern for Americana is that one-day Florida and Georgina Line could be on its charts.
RWH: I’m glad you said that rather than me, it is, like I said its becoming very mainstream and hopefully something like that will sneak its way in.
RT: As an independent artist leading an independent record label with your wife what are challenges as the label might face?
RWH: Like I said, she says you make the record you want to make, I don’t have anyone telling me how to sing or how to produce it or who plays on it or any of that stuff. I just have this incredible freedom to make a low down cool records that I think I like and my friends would like. So with my wife Judy she handles everything, the publishing, the mechanicals and all that stuff and as I writer I can just write. Damn there’s a “Snake farm” I can write about, I can rhyme say John the Revelator with 13th Floor Elevators. You know I can write about an old club in Dallas. So having that like I said I don’t have to comprise my writing at all and that’s a great place to be. So I’m very fortunate to have this incredible women allow me to do that.
RT: In terms of independent labels do you think they will someday be head to head with big labels?
RWH: I really don’t know how to answer that… Because the music thing is changing so much, I mean you got a guy who can make a record in his bedroom and put it out in through social media and YouTube and do extremely well without the record labels. So I don’t really know, but I know the future is going be interesting and so its so strange now because of downloads and streaming and wife just got a new car that doesn’t have a CD player so I don’t know its an interesting time for music. I don’t know what’s going to happen I’m just gonna keep writing gnarly old songs.
RT:For upcoming artists who are going into the field what advice would you give them?
RWH: Well, I always say, don’t just listen to Bruce Springsteen’s “Ghost of Tom Joad read the Grapes of Wrath, read the book that aspired Bruce Springsteen to write that. When all of these young cats come up to me and ask I say read. Read the great classic, that’s what I usually say. By that when I say, don’t just listen to the Ghost of Tom Joad read The Grapes of Wrath, get into literature whether it is novels or poetry. So that’s what I usually say if a young cat asks me about that.
RT: In the light of World Book day, what’s you recent favorite book?
RWH: Transformations of Myth Through Time by Joseph Campbell. Joseph Campbell taught Mythology at Sarah Lawrence Collage and he also wrote “Thousands Faces” which is incredible. “The Transformation Through Time” is probably- well, it is my favorite book of all time and he’s one of my favorite authors but I have so many but yeah but that’s the book I love and recommend.
RT: Well thank you so much for joining me Ray!
RWH: Thank you!