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08 Jun 2015

Feeling Fortunate: After Decades of Ups and Downs, Americana Performer Ray Wylie Hubbard Is in a Happy Place

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Ray Wylie Hubbard. Ray Wylie Hubbard.

Ray Wylie Hubbard’s career has been an up-and-down adventure spanning five decades.

In the ’70s, he was a well-known figure in what was called “cosmic country.” However, low record sales, addiction and other bad elements that plague musicians brought him down in the ’80s and early ’90s. Fortunately, he’s been enjoying a career resurgence—and he’ll be stopping by Pappy and Harriet’s on Saturday, June 13.

During a recent phone interview, Wylie said he had just returned home to Wimberley, Texas—an area that’s been stricken by terrible floods in recent weeks.

“It’s heartbreaking,” he said. “We’ve lived here for about 18 years and haven’t seen anything like this. But it’s a good community, and everyone is here cleaning up the best we can and helping people.”

Regarding his career, I asked Hubbard if “resurrection” is a proper term for its current state. While Hubbard never really stopped performing, he said the term is appropriate.

“I was always a working musician, even though I never put out any records that sold,” Hubbard said with a laugh. “… In my 40s, when I did an album called Loco Gringo’s Lament (in 1994), that was the first album that I did where I could look at people in the eye and not have any excuses taped to it. That was kind of a resurrection, at a time when Loco Gringos came out, where I could let people know I wasn’t dead or drunk. But I’ve always been around, and it’s amazing right now, because of the internet and satellite radio playing the whole Americana thing, along with Facebook and Twitter. I’ve never been a mainstream guy at all, so we’re doing pretty good right now.”

Hubbard said Americana music has been on a comeback as well, helped in part by the DIY nature of today’s music business. “A while back, in order to do a record, someone had to say ‘yes’ and give you the money to do it, like a record label. But now, you can do a lot yourself and put it out there, not needing a distribution or the big promo budget.”

The Americana world, however, will miss the recently concluded Late Show With David Letterman. Many Americana acts, old and new, performed on The Late Show, including Hubbard, who played on the show in 2013.

“I got a phone call saying David Letterman would like me to appear on the show. My agent said, ‘Well, let me make sure Ray isn’t doing a happy hour gig in Fort Worth, and we’ll see if we can make it work,’” he said. “It was really cool. We went did the sound check and the camera walkthrough, and we didn’t meet him until the show was on. He walked over from his desk and said, ‘Thank you so much for being on my show. Do you know Guy Clark?’ And I said ‘Yes, I know Guy Clark.’ He said, ‘I like him; how’s he doing?’ I told him that Guy and I were around that age where we could hide our own Easter eggs, and he laughed and went back to his desk. After it was over, he came back over and was so gracious.

“He had people on his show like Elizabeth Cook, Dale Watson, Billy Joe Shaver, and a lot of people who no one really knew anything about. … He was very instrumental in showcasing Americana and not the mainstream guys.”

On the subject of addiction, Hubbard said the late Stevie Ray Vaughan helped him through his troubles.

“He was the first cat I knew who got sober and was still edgy and cool,” he said. “I’ve seen some friends of mine get sober and end up on the 700 Club or something like that—I thought they were squares. But with Stevie Ray, he was still cool. He was fun, and he was still great to be around. He had this aura of coolness and he didn’t end up on the 700 Club, and I’m not knocking that, but at that time, that was the kind of the mental state. All the things he said to me are still very, very important to me.

In April, Hubbard put out a new album, The Ruffian’s Misfortune. Hubbard said his love of old American literature inspired the title.

“I wanted a title for it that sounded like a book you’d find in an old used bookstore,” he said. “The title would be like Last of the Mohicans or Tale of Two Cities, and I wanted it to sound like an old American novel from the 1800s. The Ruffian’s Misfortune seemed like the perfect title, like if I saw an old book next to Last of the Mohicans (which made) me say, ‘Oh, I wonder what this is.’ It was just a title that I really kind of imagined that would be a great book title. It just felt right for the songs I wrote at the time.”

These days, his career is a family affair: His 21-year-old son, Lucas, backs him on guitar during his live performances, and his wife, Judy, is his label’s president.

“It really feels good. I can’t recommend this for everybody, but sleeping with the president of a record label, for me, it’s great,” he joked. “I’m not talking about Clive Davis; I’m talking about my wife. It’s great for me, because she says, ‘You go write these songs. Anything you want to write. You record the albums you want to make, and I’ll try to sell them and keep you working.’ I’m not writing songs trying to get Tim McGraw to cover them. It’s great I can be in that place to write these songs without thinking about their future. … Going out with my son playing guitar—he’s on the gig, plays really tasty, and he doesn’t show off. I feel very fortunate to be able to do all of that.”

Ray Wylie Hubbard will perform at 9 p.m., Saturday, June 13, at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Road, in Pioneertown. Tickets are $20. For tickets or more information, call 760-365-5956, or visit www.pappyandharriets.com.

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