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February 05, 2015


Renowned Texas songwriter/Americana hero returns with lean ’n’ mean follow-up to 2012’s triumphant The Grifter’s Hymnal; album soon to be followed by his uproarious, hair-raising autobiography,
A Life … Well, Lived.

Co-produced by Hubbard and bassist George Reiff,
The Ruffian’s Misfortune showcases Hubbard’s bluesy slide
alongside the twin guitar leads of Gabe Rhodes and Hubbard’s son, Lucas

WIMBERLEY, Texas — When it comes to down ’n’ dirty roots ’n’ roll, nobody in the wide world of Americana music today does it better than Ray Wylie Hubbard. Except, it seems, for Hubbard himself. After riding a decade-long career resurgence into the national spotlight with 2012’s acclaimed The Grifter’s Hymnal and his first ever appearance on the Late Show With David Letterman (“I didn’t want to peak too soon,” quips Hubbard, 68), the iconoclastic Texas songwriter is back to continue his hot streak with The Ruffian’s Misfortune — his 16th album (and third on his own Bordello Records, via Thirty Tigers) — due out April 7, 2015.

From his humble beginnings as an Oklahoma folkie in the ’60s to his wild ride through the ’70s progressive country movement, and onward through the honky-tonk fog of the ’80s to his sobriety-empowered comeback as a songwriter’s songwriter in the ’90s, Hubbard was already a bona fide legend by the time he really found his groove right at the turn of the century. That’s when he finally felt confident enough in his guitar playing to dive headlong into his own inimitable take on the blues, a form he’d admired but steered clear of for decades, thinking its mysteries were beyond his grasp as a basic chord strummer.

“I used to go see Lightnin’ Hopkins and Mance Lipscomb and Freddie King, all those cats, but I never could play like them — I guess because I never took the time or effort to try — until I was in my 40s and learned how to finger pick,” says Hubbard. “Once I learned how to finger pick, I started going, ‘Oh, OK, this is how they did all that!’ Then I started learning open tuning, and then slide, and it was just this incredible freedom that gave all these songs a door to come through that wasn’t there before. It was like all of a sudden having this whole other language or a whole other set of tools to add to my arsenal.”

In lieu of drugs and alcohol, that language became Hubbard’s new addiction — and the title of his 2001 album Eternal and Lowdown somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy: 14 years further down the road, he’s still chasing hellhounds deep into the underbelly of the blues, with a Lightnin’ Hopkins gleam in his eyes and a Rolling Stone swagger in his boot steps. The Ruffian’s Misfortune is his latest missive home from this leg of his long journey. Its message? Don’t wait up.

Packing 10 brand new songs into just under 34 minutes, The Ruffian’s Misfortune is the tightest and most focused record of Hubbard’s career; it will also be his first record to be pressed on vinyl in more than 30 years. But its grooves cut just as deep in digital form, every track rumbling like muddy water over a bed of lethal rocks and gnarled roots. The terrain ain’t exactly pretty, but every record Hubbard’s fished, fought, and dragged from those waters — including such fan and critic favorites as 2002’s aptly-titled Growl, 2006’s Snake Farm, and 2010’s A. Enlightenment, B. Endarkenment (Hint: There is no C) — has only strengthened his resolve to follow his gypsy muse closer and closer to that dark river’s source. Hubbard hints that he may someday find his way back to less rocky ground, admitting that he keeps a 12-string on hand “thinking I might go back to more Gordon Lightfoot type stuff … every once in a while the old folkie guy will rear his ugly head” … but The Ruffian’s Misfortune finds him still a long way from that.

“I really liked The Grifter’s Hymnal, and I think The Ruffian’s Misfortune is still kind of a part of that,” he offers, noting that he likes the way both titles would look just as fitting on a dusty old book jacket — or perhaps at the start of a silent movie — as they do on an album cover. But the similarities don’t end there. “This record is pretty much where I am as far as trying to make records that work on a couple of different levels, by laying down a groove with cool guitar tones and vicious nasty licks with lyrics that have a little depth and weight and even a little humor thrown in, too , as life is pretty much like that.”

Hubbard describes the process of getting those lyrics down just right — with every line and word weighted and measured with a poet’s discipline — as both “a joy and anguish.” But the actual recording this time around went down remarkably quickly, with most of the tracks nailed down live in two or three takes over the course of five days at the Zone studio in Dripping Springs, Texas, right up the road from the rustic Hill Country cabin Hubbard shares with his wife, manager, and record label president, Judy. Hubbard’s ferociously gifted 21-year-old son, Lucas — who’s been holding his own onstage with the old man since his late teens — shared lead guitar duties on the album with the equally talented Gabe Rhodes, swapping leads the whole way through. “I really wanted to have that Ron Wood/Keith Richards two-guitar vibe, you know?” explains Ray Wylie, who of course played a fair amount of guitar himself: namely, all of the slide and acoustic stuff. The bedrock is provided by bassist/co-producer George Reiff and drummer Rick Richards, whose “deep in the pocket,” just-behind-the-beat timing has been Hubbard’s not-so-secret weapon for years on both record and stage. Hubbard raves that Reiff and Richards make for such a potent groove machine that he’s had to share them on more than one occasion with friend (and poacher) Joe Walsh: “He called me up and went, ‘I don’t want to steal your band … but I’m going to steal your Snake Farm band,’” Hubbard recounts with a laugh. “Which of course is a high compliment to George and Rick.”

Sonically, The Ruffian’s Misfortune picks up right where The Grifter’s Hymnal left off, with Hubbard and his wrecking crew confidently jumping from jagged, wicked-cool roots rock (“All Loose Things,” “Down by the River”) to trashy, ’60s-style garage stomp (the ferocious “Chick Singer, Badass Rockin’” and riotous “Bad on Fords”), Mississippi and Texas blues (“Mr. Musselwhite’s Blues,” “Jessie Mae”) and even earnest country-gospel name-checking Sister Rosetta Tharpe (“Barefoot in Heaven”). The songs themselves are rife with wayward souls worthy of both words in the album’s title — sinners, luckless gamblers, drunks, thieves, and at least one beautiful, fierce woman (“Too Young Ripe, Too Young Rotten”). Some of these characters own their misfit/outsider status with a proud and exhilarating air of invincibility (like the aforementioned badass-rockin’ “Chick Singer,” equal parts sloppy cool Chrissie Hynde and sneering Joan Jett), while others are all-too-conscious of their mortality (“Hey Mama, My Time Ain’t Long”) and not overly confident in their prayers for salvation (“Stone Blind Horses”). As narrator and guide, Hubbard doles out more empathy than judgment for the whole motley lot, but his words sting like grit in open wounds just the same. As he puts it rather ominously in the theme-setting opener, “All Loose Things,” “The gods can’t save us from ourselves.”

Actually, Hubbard gives that line to a blackbird — the same animal that also observes, tongue-in-beak, “Look at them fools down there, they ain’t got no wings!” It’s an old trick he says he picked up from studying Aesop’s Fables. Of course, Aesop doesn’t get a co-writing credit on that number, nor do Charlie Musselwhite or Jessie Mae Hemphill for directly inspiring “Mr. Musselwhite’s Blues” and “Jessie Mae,” respectively. But Dallas rocker Jonathan Tyler does get one for lending a hand (and a cool guitar lick, although he doesn’t play it himself on the record) in the writing of “Hey Mama, My Time Ain’t Long,” while Marco Gutierrez and Sean “Nino” Cooper of El Paso’s Dirty River Boys collaborated with Hubbard on the cautionary border anthem “Down by the River” and Ronnie Dunn of Brooks & Dunn fame pitched in on “Bad on Fords.” After taking a shine to The Grifter’s Hymnal, Dunn invited Hubbard up to Nashville to write some songs together for a solo project he working on. Hubbard in turn was impressed by the country superstar’s legit Red Dirt roots and rock ’n’ roll attitude, so he figured Dunn might get a kick out of an idea he had about an unrepentant Okie car thief with a fast and furious pick-up line: “I’m bad on Fords and Chevrolets, but I’ll be good to you!” He figured right — though neither of them could have foreseen Red Rocker Sammy Hagar getting his hands on a demo of the song and cutting it first, on 2013’s Sammy Hagar & Friends. (“He does it a lot different than I do,” Hubbard deadpans. “We didn’t do any high kicks when we recorded it.”)

There’s a bit more to that particular story, which is but one of hundreds, if not thousands, of colorful anecdotes Hubbard could tell about his long and eventful career — some going even further back than the one about how he came to write “Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother,” which became one of the defining anthems of the entire progressive country era after Jerry Jeff Walker recorded it on his classic 1973 album
¡Viva Terlingua! He’s certainly got more than enough of them — and years of insight to match — to fill a book, which is something he finally got around to tackling after persistent prodding (and a bit of editing help) from friend and music writer Thom Jurek. After spending the better part of the last two years sifting through his memories and hashing them out on the page, Hubbard’s autobiography is off to the printer and due out this spring or summer right alongside The Ruffian’s Misfortune. It’s exceedingly Hubbard-ly title? A Life … Well, Lived.

His book may be finished, but Hubbard’s not done, well, living that life. And as long as he keeps his gratitude higher than his expectations (to borrow a line from The Grifter’s Hymnal’s “Mother Blues,” pointedly delivered by Hubbard himself and not some wiseacre Aesop’s crow), his fortune going forward should be pretty good.

“As I look back, I’ve had some amazing cool things happen, but I still feel like I’m moving forward,” he says. “I still enjoy it, and I think there’s still plateaus to reach. I don’t know what they’re going to be, because I haven’t really sat around thinking about it; when I wrote ‘Mother Blues’ for the last record, I wasn’t thinking, ‘I’ll put this album out and try to get on Letterman’ — he just heard the song on SiriusXM Radio and called up and asked for us. So who knows what will happen with this record? All I know is I feel very fortunate right now in that I’m playing gigs that are really fun to do. And as long as I can keep writing and performing new songs, I think I could keep doing this for awhile. I saw some show once where Pinetop Perkins was playing at 90 years old, and Judy said, ‘You’ve got another 20 years in you!’”

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May 16, 2012


On the album, currently #2 at Americana Radio, Ringo Starr contributes vocals, guitar, handclaps and shakers to his own composition.

AUSTIN, Tex. — Texas troubadour Ray Wylie Hubbard will begin his Spring/Summer tour in support of his new album, The Grifter’s Hymnal, currently at #2 on the Americana Music Association’s radio chart, on May 31st in Seattle.

Whether you’re short on time due to an impending apocalypse or simply need a tidy introduction to bring you up to speed on Texas troubadour Ray Wylie Hubbard, the opening track on The Grifter’s Hymnal, “Coricidin Bottle,” tells you everything you need to know in just under two minutes.

And what it tells you about Ray Wylie Hubbard — who will shortly head out on the road for June, July and August tour dates across America — is, he’s the kind scrapper poet with the devil-may-care wherewithal to write both “lay down a groove like a monkey gettin’ off” and “shakes the mortal coil round my amaranthine soul” into the same song, and the lethal charm and chops to pull it off.

“Words are funky,” chuckles Hubbard, a voracious reader and seeker who draws as much inspiration from the likes of poet Rainer Maria Rilke as he does from Lightnin’ Hopkins and Mance Lipscomb. “That ‘amaranthine soul’ line . . . I went somewhere and that word came up, and it means either purple or forever. And I thought, ‘yeah, that’s the kind of soul I’ve got.’”

The “lay down a groove like a monkey gettin’ off” line speaks for itself.

“The album really does have a lot of attitude,” Hubbard says proudly. “We made it to play loud, and I think the sonic quality of it is just beautiful. Even if you don’t like the singer or the songs, you’ll like the way it sounds.”

The sound he was aiming for — and bulls-eyed — recalls many of his favorite rock records of the ’60s, with equal doses of Small Faces, Rolling Stones, and Buffalo Springfield. But take his characteristic self-deprecation with a pinch of salt, because for all his love of nailing down a groove (especially over the past decade of his career), Hubbard’s ragged-but-right vocals and lyrical wits continue to get better and better with age. So, too, it seems, does his knack for tying his projects up with just the right title.

“The whole idea was, I really like those words, grifter and hymnal,” he says. “The grifter kind of came out of the ’20s, kind of like the con man in Paper Moon. He’s not really a bad guy, because usually they would only grift people who maybe had it coming because of their own greed. I just like the idea of it — not that I’m so much of a con man, but . . . I’m 65 and still scuffling! I didn’t want to peak too soon and I don’t want to be a nostalgia act, so I keep trying to learn new things and make it work. The carrot’s still out there for me.” Hubbard’s been chasing that carrot since the ’60s, when he started his journey as a folk singer in his native Oklahoma before falling in with the wild and wooly cosmic/outlaw Texas country scene of the ’70s — in large part by way of penning the immortal “Up Against the Wall (Redneck Mother),” which Jerry Jeff Walker recorded on his seminal 1973 album ¡Viva Terlingua!. Hubbard gigged constantly and recorded sporadically throughout the rest of the ’70s and ’80s, but it wasn’t until he stumbled out of his “honky-tonk fog” and into sobriety that his career as a songwriter’s songwriter began in earnest, with 1994’s Loco Gringo’s Lament. He’s moved from strength to strength ever since, recording a handful of acclaimed albums with noted producers Lloyd Maines and Gurf Morlix and cementing his standing as one of the most respected artists on the modern Americana scene.

The Grifter’s Hymnal, like A. Enlightenment, B. Endarkenment before it, was co-produced by Hubbard and George Reiff, with tracks recorded at both Reiff’s home studio in Austin and at the Edythe Bates Old Chapel, located on the scenic grounds of the Round Top Festival Institute halfway between Austin and Houston. “George’s musical knowledge is great, and he’s an incredible engineer and incredibly open minded,” raves Hubbard. “And he really cares about arrangements and making each song work from beginning to end. For instance, he’s a bass player — he’s played with Chris Robinson, Joe Walsh, Kelly Willis, Jakob Dylan, the Dixie Chicks — and yet there’s five songs on this album that don’t have bass on them, which tells you that as a producer, he knows what’s best for each song.”

Reiff and Hubbard (acoustic, electric and slide guitar; harmonica) are joined on the record by drummer Rick Richards, legendary keyboard player Ian McLagan (Small Faces, Faces, Rolling Stones), and guitarists Billy Cassis, Brad Rice, Audley Freed, and Hubbard’s 18-year-old son, Lucas. And, just for good measure, a Beatle: Ringo Starr contributes vocals, guitar, handclaps and shakers to the album’s one cover, his own “Coochy Coochy.” “I’m a grifter — I figured if I did a Ringo Starr song and sent it to him, maybe he’d sing on it!” Hubbard confesses with a laugh.

Actually, Starr has been a Hubbard fan since hearing 2006’s Snake Farm, which prompted him to invite both Hubbard and Richards to his home in Los Angeles and to his all-star birthday celebration at Radio City Music Hall. “He loved Rick,” Hubbard says. “He was introducing us to people like, ‘This is Ray and this is his drummer. He travels with a drummer — not a bass player, a drummer!’ And one afternoon at his house he said something about how he liked my songwriting, and I said, ‘Well, I really like your songwriting, too.’ And he said, ‘Very few think of me as a songwriter, nobody ever cuts any of my songs.’ And I said, ‘I will!’”

“Coochy Coochy” (which first surfaced as a Starr B-side in 1970) provides The Grifter’s Hymnal with one of its lighter moments, but it fits right in as part of an album that above all else is a celebration of getting one’s rock ’n’ roll ya-ya’s out. Admittedly, Hubbard notes that a handful of the songs “kind of mention God or salvation,” while “Lazarus” and “Moss and Flowers” both address mortality and the haunting “Red Badge of Courage” offers a somber meditation on the psychiatric battle scars of war. But sonically, the spirit of the album is best summed up by the call to arms he issues in “South of the River”: “Wake that thing up and put some clothes around it/You lost your prescription, I found it/You need some good rocking, nothing painful . . . ”

That’s not to say The Grifter’s Hymnal is all about good times, even when it rocks. “New Year’s Eve at the Gates of Hell” revisits the songwriter-as-Dante motif of one of Hubbard’s most popular (and funny) anthems, “Conversation with the Devil,” although this time around he turns up the heat and drags a former record-industry business associate down with him, just to watch him burn. Hell, it seems, hath no fury like a call-it-like-he-sees-it grifter/poet/artist screwed. “Some of the songs should offend the right people, I hope,” Hubbard says with a devilish grin. “Or offend the wrong people, let me put it like that.” Hubbard stirs up even more smoke — but holds the venom — on the nearly six-minute-long “Mother Blues,” an exhilarating, mostly factual account of his days paying his dues in a storied Dallas nightclub that hosted all-night parties stocked with dealers, gamblers, strippers, young white hipsters and grizzled black blues legends. That’s one of the songs his son Lucas plays lead guitar on, which was only fitting given that the boy’s mentioned in the last verse, along with his mother and Hubbard’s wife/manager, Judy. (Unbeknownst to Hubbard back in the day, Judy was employed at the time as Mother Blues’ teenaged door girl.) It’s an epic story song, destined to be a crowd favorite at shows for years to come — and not just because it features what is arguably Hubbard’s best (and certainly funniest) line to date: “We hit it off like a metaphor.”

That line is pure Ray Wylie, but he credits his wife with the song’s even more memorable endnote. “I heard her say one time that the days she keeps her gratitude higher than her expectations, she has really good days. I filed that away in my head, and it came back to me when we were playing this song live one time, before I really had an ending for it. I told the crowd, ‘I’m really grateful to you all for showing up, and I’m grateful for being here with Rick and my kid . . . the days I keep my gratitude higher than my expectations are really good days.’ And it seemed like the right way to end the song.”

It’s a theme that comes up again two tracks later, in the chorus to “Count My Blessings.” For a 65-year-old rock ’n’ roll grifter obsessed with the blues, blackbirds and all manner of scoundrels (himself included) having to dance with the devil, Hubbard has no qualms admitting that he’s got an awful lot to be thankful for — not the least of which being the opportunity to make records like this one, with longtime friends (Reiff and Richards), personal heroes (McLagan and Starr), and, of course, his boy.

Truth be told, he can’t even gripe about current label, Bordello Records, at least not if he knows what’s good for him: his wife Judy is the president.

“This really was a very special record to me,” Hubbard says. “It wasn’t easy, and some of it really was a struggle, but it was fun. I think each record to me has been a struggle in a way, and I like it that way. I like it that they’re all hard to do, because I think that makes them all have more value to me. It makes me kind of reach for a better part of myself. It keeps me from settling.”


Thurs., May 31 SEATTLE, WA Tractor Tavern
Fri., June 1 PORTLAND, OR Mississippi Studios
Sat., June 2 EUGENE, OR WOW Hall
Tues., June 5 VIRGINIA CITY, NV Red Dog Saloon
Wed., June 6 WINTERS, CA Palms Playhouse
Fri., June 8 FELTON, CA Don Quixote’s
Sun., June 10 SAN FRANCISCO, CA Café Du Nord
Thurs., June 14 BELTON, TX Schoepf’s BBQ
Fri., June 15 CORSICANA, TX The Remington
Sat., June 16 GREENVILLE, TX Hunt County Fairgrounds
Wed., June 20 WASHINGTON, D.C. The Hamilton
Thurs., June 21 ASHLAND, VA Ashland Coffee and Tea
Sat., June 23 STAUNTON, VA The Mockingbird Roots Music Hall
Sun., June 24 CHARLESTON, CA Mountain Stage @ Cultural Center Theater
Fri., June 29 AUSTIN, TX Threadgill’s World HQ
Fri., July 13 SAN DIEGO, CA Acoustic Music
Sat., June 30 DECATUR, TX Bono’s Saloon
Thurs., July 19 TELLURIDE, CO Sheridan Opera House
Fri., July 20 DURANGO, CA The Abbey Theater
Sat., July 21 COLORADO SPRINGS, CO Stargazers Theater & Event Center
Sat., July 28 SAN MARCOS, TX Texas Music Theater
Tues., July 31 SAN ANGELO, TX San Angelo Acoustic Concert Series

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Artist Photo