RAY WYLIE HUBBARD: DRUNKEN POETS AND OPIUM
Stream: Ray Wylie Hubbard “Pots and Pans”
Ray Wylie Hubbard helped put the warhead on Jerry Jeff Walker’s heat-seeking missile and put the phrase ‘redneck mother’ into the English language. He soldiers on yet in the wilds of Texas but is heading west with a new record put out by a record company whose president he knows very very well. This interview by Drew Denny.
I gotta tell you that [Walker’s] ¡Viva Terlingua! was one of my first CDs. I used to ride around Oak Cliff in the backs of trucks singin’ ‘Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother’ when I was 12 years old, drinking Lone Star beer and hand-rollin’ cigarettes.
Ray Wylie Hubbard: Really? That’s great! You know I think that album holds up—even now, which is pretty impressive. It started that whole progressive country thing. So you’re a Texan?
Sure am. What was Oak Cliff like when you were a kid?
Ray Wylie Hubbard: Well, I’ll tell you what—I moved from Soper, Oklahoma, when I was just 8 years old. It was quite an awakening cuz I was pretty much in overalls and barefoot up there and then I got to Dallas and felt—well, I got that whole feelin’ like I never fit in. It was a weird thing. I spent a lot of time ridin’ the bus to the downtown Dallas library is where I spent all of my time.
You were a big reader?
Ray Wylie Hubbard: Yeah, I was—I went to the library every weekend. Where I was from was pretty rural and even Dallas in the late ’50s and ’60s was pretty hillbilly. So I just spent a lot of time alone, I s’pose.
This new album has more references than an encyclopedia! I’m always impressed by your ability to mix personal experience with mythology and literary allusions.
Ray Wylie Hubbard: I’m glad you feel that way cuz for this record—for A. Enlightenment B. Endarkenment (Hint: There is no C)—I got back into Edgar Allan Poe and Steven King and the horror. Picked up the biography of Dylan Thomas, started thinking about my childhood churches …
Do you go to church now?
Ray Wylie Hubbard: Ah … no. I prefer the term ‘spiritual awakening’ to ‘religious conversion.’ I kind of—I try to live on certain spiritual principles. For a long period of time I considered myself a spiritual mongrel—I read up on Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Native American, and I tried to grasp all that. I thought of myself as a spiritual mongrel but nowadays I consider myself a spiritual slug. I don’t wanna do anything too fast. I don’t wanna commit.
I heard ‘Whoop and Hollar’ and thought, ‘This is revival music!’ But then came ‘Pots and Pans’—I wonder what the people in the church of ‘Whoop and Hollar’ would think of that sexy section in ‘Pots and Pans.’
Ray Wylie Hubbard: I think as I’ve gotten older, I’ve decided to take advantage of the freedom to do what I want to do. I did this record with my own wife, Judy—it’s her label, and I’m actually signed to her label.
So she’s the boss?
Ray Wylie Hubbard: I’m sleeping with the president of the record company, which I don’t know if I’d recommend that but … It was a great thing having this freedom of not having anyone look over my shoulders. I’m not trying to write—cuz I’ll never be top 40 country—but trying to write a song for someone else to sing to make a hit with, that’s never been my forte obviously. So to have that freedom to be able to kind of put on that jacket and look at this through someone’s eyes without being judgmental like with ‘Whoop and Hollar’ or ‘The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse’—it’s trying to write about salvation from that mindset without judging it or looking down on it but then also to be able to write about drunken poets and opium. I kinda put on that persona where I’m being the guy in the torn T-shirt settin’ on the porch playin’ with his guitar and having his family around but also sometimes kinda tryin’ to write something that has a little depth and weight to it.
Do you always write from your own perspective or do you get into different characters?
Ray Wylie Hubbard: Well, both! Really. The character of the song ‘Tornado Ripe’—when I was a little kid, a tornado hit the town that we lived in and we came out of the storm cellar and it was just gone away. There was nothing there but death and killin’. That was an actual experience, you know—remembering that moment. ‘Whoop and Hollar’ is about when I was a kid goin’ down to all these revivals. Then again with opium I did my research. I didn’t do that firsthand! I read about it. The same thing, the character in ‘Loose’ is kind of a fast woman that is a friend of the guy who’s writing the song. I guess I try to write a song from a character’s viewpoint without judging it. I love having that freedom.
The woman in ‘Loose’ is the one who says, ‘Let’s go get tattoos.’ You got any?
Ray Wylie Hubbard: Yes, I do. Did you ever see my album cover for Snake Farm? I got that—the two-headed snake. It’s a long sordid story how I got that.
Are you willing to tell it?
Ray Wylie Hubbard: Next time I’m gonna get a black sparrow tattoo on my hand. Since I have that enlightenment I guess I’m gonna have to do that to—
Balance it out?
Ray Wylie Hubbard: Yeah! How ’bout you? You got any? What you got?
I have a skull with math symbols and my favorite equation, some bits of a painting, and a big black tree with branches that turn into black sparrows! And a human heart hanging on one of the branches.
Ray Wylie Hubbard: Do you have a picture of that on your MySpace?
Facebook. I’ll tag you.
Ray Wylie Hubbard: I got a song on an older album of mine called ‘Crimson Dragon Tattoo’ and the idea of that song is that the tattoo talks to you. That’s kind of the idea on Enlightenment, too—I don’t know if you have it, but every once in a while that tattoo will say something to you.
I believe it.
Ray Wylie Hubbard: Watch out for the black sparrow!
Since you’re used to putting yourselves in others’ shoes for songs, was it a natural thing for you to write a screenplay?
Ray Wylie Hubbard: In a way it was. Tiller Russell—he knew the structure of doing a film. So I could just become one of these characters and figure out how they would cuss. That was my forte. Just make it sound natural. It wasn’t that much different in a way. I didn’t have to rhyme it or make it in meter, but there was still rhythm to it—to the dialogue.
This career choice intrigues me because I graduated film school then became a musician! Films took too much time and too many people—
Ray Wylie Hubbard: I can see what you mean. So you play? You should come to McCabe’s! We can hang out and you can show me your tattoo!
You bet. You know, I think we know some of the same people—I went to high school with Django Walker, and Stevie Ray was my friend’s godfather. We talked about Jerry Jeff, but as I understand it, your friendship with Stevie Ray also had a big impact on your life?
Ray Wylie Hubbard: They both did—Jerry Jeff gave me my first black molly. Ain’t supposed to say that. Stevie Ray—well, I got clean and sober when I was 41 and Stevie Ray was very instrumental in takin’ the time to talk to me about his recovery from drug addiction and stuff. He was very influential and very helpful in giving me some hope at that time, which was what I didn’t have. Wow, that’s cool! Have you talked to Django lately?
I usually see him at South by Southwest. Speaking of father/son musicians, what’s it like playin’ music with your son?
Ray Wylie Hubbard: It’s pretty cool! He’s a good little guitar player, and I feel really proud of him cuz he’s kind of learned from guys like Gurf Morlix and Seth James and Derek O’Brien—some of these cooler, kinda older rootsy blues guys … I say I’m really proud of him cuz he’s at the point where he plays the song rather than just playin’ the licks. There’s a lot of players out there that got the licks but he really plays the song. It’s really cool. We just played at the Austin Music Hall—the Haitian relief deal—and it was really cool cuz Charlie Saxton was there and Bruce Robison and the Gourds … He was like, ‘Hey Lucas, what kinda amp?’ And Lucas said, ‘Vox AC30!’ Cuz that’s what he plays out of! It really is fun for me. He’s a good kid. It’s really cool that he’s been able to hang around these musicians that I have a lot of respect for. He’s doin’ well.
So y’all got the whole family in on it?
Ray Wylie Hubbard: Yeah—we’re just doin’ it, you know?
RAY WYLIE HUBBARD WITH AMY SPEACE ON SUN., FEB. 21, AT MCCABE’S GUITAR SHOP, 3101 PICO BLVD., SANTA MONICA. 7 PM / $20 / ALL AGES. MCCABES.COM. RAY WYLIE HUBBARD’S A. ENLIGHTENMENT B. ENDARKENMENT (HINT: THERE IS NO C) IS OUT NOW ON BORDELLO. VISIT RAY WYLIE HUBBARD AT RAYWYLIE.COM OR MYSPACE.COM/RAYWYLIE.