Roots and branches

Ray Wylie Hubbard typically flies farther under the radar than contemporary Texas music pals Jerry Jeff Walker (who introduced the world to the Hubbard-penned “Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother”) and Willie Nelson (whose label released Hubbard’s first solo album in 1978), but that doesn’t mean the 63-year-old singer-songwriter slacks off. This year he released the blues-soaked A. Enlightenment, B. Endarkenment (Hint: There Is No C), arguably his most successful album yet. He’s also become “the Wylie Guru” for a host of up-and-coming roots rockers like Hayes Carll, Cross Canadian Ragweed, and Band of Heathens, who make pilgrimages to Hubbard’s Wimberley home to record, get on the radio, or hone their songcraft.

You have nominations in just about all the Americana Music Association award categories that you’re eligible for. Congratulations.
Well thank you very much. Everything but newcomer. `Laughs.`

But Hayes Carll is nominated for newcomer, is that right?
Yeah, it is. He’s been around way too long I think, but that’s just me.

Are you going to have a party if both of you win?
Probably so. He’s nominated for newcomer and also for this song we co-wrote together, “Drunken Poet’s Dream,” for song of the year. We’ll acknowledge it somehow.

How did you get involved with KNTB’s Roots and Branches radio program?
I met Mattson Rainer `program director of KNTB 92.1 FM`, and I said, there’s so many songwriters around this area, we should do a show featuring these guys,” and he said why don’t you host it? The main criteria is you have to write your own songs. It’s a lot of fun for me to do, and then it just took off.

You’ve described your 20s and 30s as a lost period. When you see these young songwriters, do you ever want to give them advice or do they seem more serious?
They don’t seem any more serious than I was. `Laughs.` As long as they’ve got electricity and beer, they’ll play. I never preach to them. If they come up and ask me anything, I always say, “Read The Grapes of Wrath, don’t just listen to ‘The Ghost of Tom Joad.’” The show’s called Roots and Branches of Americana, so a lot of these young kids are branches, but I remind them that the deeper the roots, the stronger the branches. Go back and look at Lightin’ Hopkins and Mance Lipscomb and Freddie King, Ernest Tubb, early Willie stuff, and Jerry Jeff. So, they have that foundation as far as trying to write valid songs.

How do those roots effect your production style?
I’m an old guy, but I do know what’s cool. For me it comes down to grit, groove, tone, and taste. I really feel each song has those qualities. There’s a grit to them, whether it’s lyrically or it’s the music. Or there’s an incredible groove. And making sure the tone isn’t just what you hear every day. And the taste, getting players that have incredible taste, that just don’t play all these “look at me!” licks, that they really listen to what the song needs.

I hear you recently wrote a film.
It’s called The Last Rites of Ransom Pride. I wrote the script with a young fellow named Tiller Russell with the premise that he would direct it and I would score it. So they raised the money and filmed in Canada about a year ago with `Kris` Kristofferson and Dwight Yoakum and Lizzie Caplan, and then somehow I got fired to score the movie.

You got fired?
Yeah, I wrote a movie and it looks good and the dialogue’s great, but they brought somebody else in to score it, and I don’t think it’s as cool as it should be. They used some of my songs on there, but it’s still not that gratifying. I’ve got another project. If we do it, it’s probably going to have my musical friends in it. Hopefully I’ll have a little more say in it. I’ll know a lot more about that in the end of June; hopefully we’ll have the money to do it either as a movie or as an original TV series.

It sounds like you’re enjoying life, but so much of your record is so dark. Is your music an outlet or has your point of view changed?
I feel very comfortable being able to observe both worlds and write about enlightened stuff and then the endarkenment of it. When my gratitude is higher than my expectations, I have really good days. I’m very grateful for these songs and the ability to go up and play them. I think when I get back we’re playing Sam’s a week from Saturday.

You are.
I’m really looking forward to that. My boy Lucas will be playing guitar with me, so that’s always a lot of fun.

How long has he been playing?
He’s been playing guitar for about four to five years `Lucas is 17`, but he really got serious about it two years ago when he came up to me and said, you know, you call me out and I do a couple of my little songs and I go off stage and I feel like a novelty. I said, really? He said, yeah, I want to be a full-time guitar player. I want to be in the band. So I said, well, you gotta pass the audition. So then he worked on it. For about the past year he’s been my full-time guitar player when he’s not in school or when he gets grounded by his Mama. Which is kind of embarrassing, to show up to a gig and they go, where’s your guitar player?, and I go he got grounded. •

Ray Wylie Hubbard
8pm Sat, Jun 5
Sam’s Burger Joint
330 E. Grayson
(210) 223-2830

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