Singer-songwriter, modern day poet, storyteller, and keen picker, Ray Wylie Hubbard returns to the New York area on July 13th when he will bring his grit and groove to Hill Country NYC. Easily capturing the attention of his audiences with not only those dirty grooves and weathered vocals, but with his wit, wisdom and banter as well, the self-described "old cat" graciously took some time to talk about his recent memoir A Life...Well, Lived, the meaning of being a prosperous songwriter, what's ahead and more.
We last spoke about a year ago when you were preparing to play Brooklyn and you're returning onJuly 13th, this time at Hill Country in NYC. With so much travel and touring, do you ever get to stop and enjoy where you are or is it always just going from one place to another?
Well, it really kind of depends. I don’t do long tours like I used to. This time, we fly into Washington D.C. then play in Sellersville and New York and so we don’t have a lot of time. When we first came to New York we’d try to get there early to hang out and enjoy it but now it’s like a whirlwind playing a gig and heading to the next one. When we played Flagstaff, I got to see the Grand Canyon though, so sometimes we get to enjoy the places we play.
You recently did a short run with Jonathan Tyler and Aaron Lee Tasjan, both of whom seem like kindred spirits to you.
I found these young rock n' rollers under a rock (laughing) and we went out and played Cain’s and a few other places. I just love hanging with them and the gigs were so much fun. I brought them both up on stage with me, so it turned into a free for all train wreck (laughing).
But really, I just love those guys. There are certain cats you run into who are stand up guys and doing it for the right reasons – well, maybe they started off doing it for beer and girls (laughing) - but they’re rockers whose hearts are in the right place. They have this great rock n’ roll vibe and it’s important to them to write songs with great lyrics, depth and weight - which they do. They’re not posers.
Did you get to do any writing with them?
Jonathan and I have another one we’re working on and are going to go into the studio together and try to record it when we find time. I have an idea I want to throw at Aaron too, so we’ll see. They keep me on my toes.
It’s been a year from Ruffian's Misfortune, are you working on anything new?
Right now I went back and rerecorded some of my older songs with the vibe I’m doing now which is more of a dirty groove. I also cut a couple songs with Bright Lights Social Club - great musicians who play this very psychedelic rock - that I’ll put on this rerecording. Then we’ll probably go into the studio in September and record a new record to come out sometime around April. That’s the plan right now.
Turning from the music to the book, A Life...Well, Lived. I’ve never read a book so fast, but also didn’t want it to end. So far you’ve indeed had a life well lived, but you’ve also seemed to have learned from all of your life experiences and taken away quite a bit of wisdom.
Well, yeah. I feel very fortunate and am very grateful today. There’s a quote to “Keep your gratitude higher than your expectations” which is something I do. I’m not happy with some of the stuff I did earlier, but I look back on it and I’m grateful I got through it. As an old cat I try to live by certain principles: to be honest, to not have resentment and to have courage when I need to...and it seems to works for me.
It definitely comes through in the book.
I was moved by your outlook and philosophy about giving and contributing not just in one’s professional life, but in one’s personal life as well.
Well, I guess it comes with maturing (laughing), although I really haven’t matured at all, I’m still a teenager in my old head. The purpose is to see what I can give rather than what I can get and by doing that…I get stuff. You know, I was in Pueblo and a young man came over to me and told me the story of his brother who got back from Afghanistan. They played some of my songs on guitar together and then all of a sudden his brother had some type of brain bleed that put him in a coma for ten days. All of a sudden, he came out of the coma and he said, “Let’s sing “Rabbit.” And so they sang the first verse about twenty times in a row and then he went back into his coma and died some days later. That meant the world to him to be able to share that with his brother and it meant the world to me too. It’s moments like that that make it all worthwhile and really validates why you’re doing it. There are the moments too with songwriting where another writer, like McMurtry or Welch, will tell me they really liked a song of mine - and that appreciation and validation of my writing means more to me than any royalty check or award.
Right, because in the book when you say prosperous songwriter, I definitely didn’t take prosperous to mean monetary riches.
Yeah, it really isn’t. Prosperity isn’t always material - I have a funky van, not a Mercedes. It comes in better forms and the other ways mean a lot more to me now. To look back over what I’ve been through and still be out here trying to contribute, to write a song that will maybe make someone smile or dance or hear someone say they checked out an artist because I name dropped them in a song…. that’s important.
Another takeaway from the book was how much you really love your wife and son; it comes through every time you mention them.
You know it’s the love you get back that’s really important. I’m very happy and proud of them. Judy, I think I said this in the book, if it wasn’t for her I’d have everything I own in a shoe box looking for a happy hour gig (laughing). She took the wreckage of my past career and kept the ball afloat. As a songwriter, I’m in a good place to write about whatever I want to rather than writing for a publishing company or trying to write a song so that someone big in Nashville will record it. Judy’s given me the freedom to write the funkiest song I want to, about whatever I want and to make the kind of record I want to make. And that’s a good place for a writer to be. I’m not writing for any other purpose than just to write.
Lucas is writing some songs with another fella, but he plays guitar with me a lot. He’s turned into this really cool roots rock guitarist. He plays like the guitar players I like: Buddy Miller, Gurf, and Charlie Sexton who have more of a roots feel which is exactly what my gnarly old songs need.
The book is filled with so many great stories. Is there one that’s a personal favorite or maybe one you left out that you care to share?
Oh my goodness, well, I probably left some out because I didn’t remember them when I was writing…I’ll save them for book two! I don’t know if it’s my favorite because Lucas being born was a special time, but the most important story is the one where Stevie Ray and B.C. came to talk to me. I was doing a lot of drugs and drinking and they took the time to come over and tell me what it was like for them. It meant a great deal to me for them to be so generous with their time and just tell me the truth. Stevie was the first guy who shot straight with me. He gave me hope at a time in my life when I didn’t have a belief system or faith.
Sure, anyone reading the book could definitely tell how impactful that was on you.
Switching gears a bit, this year has been such a year of loss in the music community. You mention Guy Clark in the first few pages of the book.
It has been a rough year. I’d known Guy for a long time. We weren’t tight, but he’d come out to a show and we’d see one another at festivals or talk on the phone. It’s very tragic; you think of Guy, Townes, and Billy Joe [Shaver] as some of the guys who set the bar - I don’t think anybody will ever surpass those guys as far as songwriting. I feel very fortunate to have known him. And of course, I’d done some shows with Merle which were always a treat.
Guy was 74 and I’m 69 so it’s the kind of the thing I wrote about in The Ruffian’s Misfortune. It wasn’t a concept album, but I saw this theme of hope and hoping that God grades on a curve – like I’ve said, I’m not Mother Teresa, but I’m not Attila the Hun either (laughing).
Thinking about things, I’ve had some really amazing expereinces, even recently. A few weeks ago, I opened a show for Joe Walsh. He called me and said, “Why don’t you come down and open a show for me? I’d love to see you.” So I went down there with Kyle my drummer to open for Joe Walsh. And I'll tell you something I learned as an opening act: I’ve learned that it is better to quit two minutes early rather than go one minute over. I learned that from Muddy Waters. We went to play a club in Omaha and I saw that Muddy Waters was playing there in a few weeks. So I ask the owner if I could open for him and he says, “You’re a folk group and the opener needs to be a blues band.” So I told him I had a blues band, which I didn’t, but we got the gig and we came back to play the show. I meet Muddy and he says, “How long are you supposed to play?” I tell him forty-five minutes and he says, “Well, play for forty-four, not forty-six.” And I’ve always remembered that: as an opening act never go over because it puts the headliner back and the road crew as well. So when we opened for Joe, we were supposed to play twenty minutes and we played for eighteen…giving us the chance to do it again, because if you go over you never have the chance to do it again.
Wise advice that you’ve carried along!
So with all of these amazing experiences, do you have anything left you want to do or any sort of bucket list?
I don’t really have a bucket list. I’m one of these people, like Forest Gump, where I just let things happen. I have goals, like writing good songs and making good records, but everything else that happens is just...I feel very fortunate to have seen Lightning Hopkins, Freddy King and Ernest Tubbs. I have a Coricidin bottle from Gary Stewart and a harmonica from Charlie Musselwhite, which mean so much. Like I said [in the book] about appearing on Letterman when I was 68 years old, “I didn’t want to peak too soon.” I enjoy playing gigs and meeting the folks after. Although the airports sometimes aren’t that great (laughing), it’s all still fun for me.
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Where: Hill Country NYC 30 W 26th Street
When: July 13th
Time: Doors 930pm/ Show 10pm
Tickets: GA $22/ Seated $35