Ray Wylie Hubbard The Ruffian’s Misfortune


Submitted by Don Graham

Ray Wylie Hubbard may not be a household name but he is in my house. I’ve been a fan since back in the Cosmic Cowboy days of Jerry Jeff Walker and that Austin outlaw bunch.We caught up with Ray in Austin, Texas during SXSW. We talked about his new album The Ruffian’s Misfortune and his five decades in the music business.

Ray became one of the key musicians who took folk music to honky-tonks.He would play anywhere that had beer and somewhere to plug in. With his anthem “Up Against The Wall Redneck Mother”he brought the hippies and rednecks together, at one time on stage referring to them as “hipnecks”. Bob Livingstone was at the party the night Ray conceived ‘Redneck Mother’ after an ill-fated trip across the street to buy beer. Later on while Livingstone was playing in Jerry Jeff’s band, J.J. broke a string and said to Bob, “Play something while I change this string.” Bob only knew a verse and chorus of ‘Redneck Mother’ but sang it anyway. Then in 1973, knowing only one verse and the chorus, Jerry Jeff Walker called Ray from a recording session asking for the rest of the lyrics. Ray says, “Jerry’s version had an intro on it that said, ‘This song is by Ray Wylie Hubbard.’ Now the trouble with irony is that not everybody gets it. So, I’d go and play clubs and people would keep requesting “Redneck Mother.” I was a folk singer and I’d have these other songs I’d want to do. So I finish the song and people would shout,“Sing it again! Irony!”

Every Ray Wylie Hubbard record has the following characteristics; a mean groove, nasty good guitar licks, intelligent, well-chosen lyrics and a voice that could only belong to Ray. Put all those together and, welcome to Wylie World.

Ray Wylie HubbardRay Wylie HubbardThe path Ray Wylie Hubbard took to get to the place of the poet, prophet, picker who is sometimes referred to as the ‘Wylie Lama’, was a long one.  Ray graduating as an English major in 1965, immersed himself in what he refers to as the ‘Cambridge folk singers,” a group of folksingers that included Tom Paxton, Dave Van Ronk, Paul Seibel and Eric Andersen.

Hubbard was in Austin before Waylon and Willie became known as Outlaws. Along with high school mates, Michael Martin Murphy and B.W. Stevenson, he helped define the term.

In 1989, Ray got sober with the help of Stevie Ray Vaughn who had quit drinking 14 months prior, assuring Ray that he would not  only still “be cool”  and a “badass” (that was one of  Ray’s fears that he lose his edge) but that he would play and write even better. “Stevie was the first guy I’d met who got sober and didn’t turn into a square.”

Through another musician friend, Ray found an interest in learning the art of finger-picking. “I figured if I wanted to be a real songwriter I had to learn to play better.” He started learning from listening to the likes of  Doc Watson and Chet Atkins. He became a student of Texas blues guitar and through the clear eyes and mind of sobriety, he also became a student of life.

Ray Wylie Hubbard has made 16 albums, each one getting progressively better in tone, content and direction and with Grifters Hymnal it appeared he had peaked but the new offering ‘The Ruffian’s Misfortune’ proved us wrong; he got even better. If this isn’t the top of the mountain then you definitely can see the top from here.

We talked to Ray about his new album.“I’m real happy with the way this album turned out. We wanted this record to be real, complete with pedal squeaks, finger noise and all the ambient noise of the room. We wanted the sound to reflect the way the band plays live and I think we achieved that.”

The record starts with “All Loose Things”, a riff driven Texas blues gem, great start to this album followed by the swampy “Hey Mama, My Time Ain’t Long” which set the mood for what’s to come. “Too Young Ripe , Too You Rotten”  shows a little bit more of the folkie side of RWH  while “Chick Singer, Bad Ass Rockin’” sounds a little like a song ZZ Top would be proud of with great references to rock ‘n’ roll, Gretsch drums, Telecasters , Chrissie Hynde and Joan Jett. “ Bad On Fords” is a song written with Ronnie Dunn. “I got a call from a guy who said he was Ronnie Dunn. I said “Who?” He said “Ronnie Dunn from Brooks and Dunn”. I said are you the one with the hat? And he said “No, I’m the other one. Tony Joe White gave me your number and said I should call you about writin’ some songs together.” So we wrote “Bad On Fords” and Ronnie sent it to Sammy Hagar just to listen to. Well Sammy thought he sent it because he wanted him to record it, so he did. It’s a pretty good record ” The next tune is “Mr. Musselwhite’s Blues”, a great ode to blues harp giant Charlie Musselwhite while “Down By The River” is the most rock ‘n’ roll, rockabilly shuffle cut, a toe tapper.” Jessie Mae” a homage to Jessie Mae Hemphill, is a back porch blues drop tuning epic; Ray Wylie Hubbard at his best. “Barefoot In Heaven” is reminiscent of a Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee gospel folk classic leading up to final tune “Stone Blind Horses”, a perfect way to put a period at the end this album.

Ray is very happy with this record. “I wanted to make a record like the old Beatles and Stones kind of deal. They just went in there and plugged into their amps. Only used three mics on the drums, ’cause we wanted to hear the air around the drums. We didn’t use a lot of toys, my son Lucas may have used a pedal on something, but more or less we just plugged  into old tube amps, like my ’65 Princeton Reverb that I just love. Hopefully the folks will enjoy what I’m trying to do here.”

Ray has created some classics over the years, “Red Neck Mother” “Snake Farm”,“ Screw You, We’re From Texas”,“Conversation With The Devil” to name but a few and I’m pretty when all is said and done there are a few classics right here on The Ruffian’s Misfortune.

From Ray’s point of view, life is good. “I feel great, I get to sleep with the president of my record label, my wife Judy and have my son Lucas in  my band, a gig he earned by the way, he’s a great picker. I also still get to do what I love. Life is good.”

So if you’re into Texas folk/rock/bluesy/funky/feel good make you think kind of songs then get a copy of Ruffian’s Misfortune. And if you’re not into that, what are you waiting for? Go get this record and see what you’ve been missing! It’s the kind of record that you’re sorry to see end. Put it on repeat.