Ray Wylie Hubbard thinks of himself as a folk singer, who finally learned to finger-pick guitar when he was forty-one. As Hubbard sees it, adding the blues rock to his songwriter lyrics finally helped him find his groove. Ray frequently cites “grit, groove, tone, and taste” as the hallmarks of a great song, and strives to reach that with the songs he writes and performs, as well as the ones he produces for other musicians, from Band of Heathens to Chelle Rose. Hubbard’s most recent album, Grifter’s Hymnal, combines these essential song elements with a lineup of his friends and peers: George Reiff, Rick Richards, son Lucas Hubbard, fellow songwriters Liz Foster and Charlie Shafter, Billy Cassis, Brad Rice, Audley Freed, Ian McLagan, that Joe Walsh, and the Ringo Starr. Players like that could cover nursery rhymes and make an amazing rock and roll record.
Our conversation with Ray followed a day driving up a snowy mountain pass to an old mining town, in the middle of a June snowstorm. The connection is a little raspy at times, but Hubbard’s stories are worth your time. While many songwriters start with their personal experience, expand to their circle of friends, and then move on to writing about characters, Ray’s lyrics have moved in the opposite direction, with Grifter’s Hymnal becoming one of his most personal records to date. From the more or less factual “Mother Blues,” about an old blues club where folk singers were welcome to play and Ray’s now-wife Judy was the doorgirl, to an honest lament about business deals gone wrong, Hubbard has really brought forth his “folkie” element in this album. Talking with Ray is like a laundry list of every fabulous musician since 1960, but he shares his own respect for their craft, rather than name-dropping. You feel his excitement when one of them likes his songs.
Hubbard uses some lyrical conventions, such as saying things one could not comfortably say himself, by putting the words in the mouths of animals, a la Aesop’s Fables, or invoking Dante’s Divine Comedy to face your life’s sum at the gates of Hell–and less heady but equally trippy concepts like a “folk Irish wake Led Zepplin” song. With a hefty road schedule through summer, as Ray moves toward fall, he has several projects in the blackboard stage, including a film, his memoirs, and re-recording some of his back catalog with his own choice of production for the songs. Ray Wylie Hubbard is not a “nostalgia “act;” his music is current, reflective, yet appeals to fans ranging from his teenage son’s peers to greasy old biker fans of yore (in a good way, of course).
Songs in this Radio Show Include: