- Country, Blues
- Ray Wylie Hubbard
Liner Notes: I love Ray Wylie Hubbard. Snake Farm….ooooh, this is a great record.
“This is the best record I’ve heard in ten years…Hubbard is ripe”
Tony Joe White
Ray Wylie Hubbard , an alt-country southern rocker is one mean motorcycle. Snake Farm is a double wide load of blues guitar and sly humor, your basic old school boogie.
Scary Book Writer
When F. Scott Fitzgerald issued his classic conclusion that ‘There are no second acts in American lives,’ he failed to envision the career of legendary Texas troubadour Ray Wylie Hubbard. A willing conspirator in the late seventies Cosmic Cowboy revolt that ushered in the mythical Outlaw era, Hubbard was a catalyst in the cultural upheaval that led to the peaceful coexistence of Lone Star music enthusiasts who comprised each end of the social and political spectrum of that troubled time. In the stellar company of iconic colleagues like Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Doug Sahm and Jerry Jeff Walker, Ray Wylie Hubbard was an architect of the musical legacy that continues to inspire subsequent generations of up-and-coming Texas talent.
It is no small irony that a songwriter of such proven depth and originality would come to acclaim through the unlikely ascent of a tongue-in-cheek parody like Hubbard’s anthemic “Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mothers,” a key component in Walker’s landmark 1973 album Viva Terlingua. The song’s immediate success was a mixed blessing for Hubbard, who spent much of the decade following the song’s impact trapped in a Catch-22 of alcohol and drug abuse that was facilitated by just enough name recognition to perpetuate the gradual self-destruction that played itself out in the tired and lethal cliché of ‘living one’s art.’
Absent from the recording scene for much of that time, Hubbard plied his trade in a honky-tonk haze that extracted a measurable toll on his physical and emotional health, enshrouded his artistic potential
and confined his career to a survivalist track. Hubbard, who was born in Hugo, Oklahoma and raised in the Oak Cliff sector of Dallas, credits the late Stevie Ray Vaughan with influencing his decision to stop drinking on his birthday in 1987.
“Stevie told me what I needed to do for recovery,” relates Hubbard. “A lot of people remember Stevie for his guitar playing, but I remember him because he saved my life.”
A working musician throughout his self-inflicted stint in professional purgatory, Hubbard held steadfastly to the hope afforded him by his robust character and deep inner well of humility and keen, raw humor. As the fog of addictive behavior lifted, Hubbard committed himself to improving his prowess on guitar and began to realize a renaissance of sorts in his songwriting. The often arduous journey of recovery, meted out ‘one day at a time’ has helped contribute to a songwriting canon comprised of some of the richest literary references and compelling melodic tapestries of any contemporary artist, in any genre of popular music.
Ray Wylie Hubbard’s latest offering is the gritty, humorous, seductive and exhilaratingly intelligent Snake Farm, a collection of commanding songs that represent the best of both worlds, juxtaposing impeccable lyrics with dirty, primal grooves. The distinct imprint of uber roots producer/guitarist Gurf Morlix is apparent in the record’s authentic texture and sonic superiority. Morlix has helmed pivotal efforts by standard-setting artists, including Lucinda Williams, Robert Earl Keen and the riveting newcomer Mary Gauthier, whose brilliant CD Mercy Now is due, in part, to musical mid-wifing by Ray Wylie Hubbard.
“Ray brought her (Gauthier) over to the house one night,” recalls Morlix. “He wanted me to hear her songs. At the end of the evening, she told me, “I’d like to make a record with you.” I said, “I’d like to make a record with you, too.” We set the date that night.”
For his part, Morlix has been a Ray Wylie fan since the mid-seventies, but met him only ten or twelve years ago after a Hubbard show at Austin’s fabled La Zona Rosa concert venue.
“When I heard songs like “The Messenger” and “Dust of the Chase,” I thought to myself, ‘He’s got it. He’s figured it out.’ It’s not easy to be a great songwriter. I made sure I met him that night,” Morlix relates. “But the songs on Snake Farm are by far the best songwriting he’s ever done. This one (CD) is so earthy and seminal. Any line from this record could be a listener’s favorite line,” Morlix enthuses. “The lyrics are the hooks. Nobody else is writing songs like him---deep in the blues but with very spiritual lyrics. He’s out there all by himself.”
Snake Farm’s cornerstone is the hypnotic title track, inspired by a real-life reptile house. “There are snake farms all across America,” Hubbard explains, with a hint of adolescent fascination. “Primarily, they’re in the southwest, but the southeast, too; a bunch of snakes. If it’s a really big snake farm, there’ll be some angry monkeys in a cage in the back,” he adds, chuckling. “The idea was to make it (the song) about a woman working at a snake farm. I could kind of sense this character of the guy writing the song being in love with the woman who worked there.”
Recorded at The Zone studio in Dripping Springs, Texas, the songs on Snake Farm lend themselves to an amalgam of adjectives---greasy, rootsy, gnarly and slightly rude. The record was envisioned as a semi-live garage-swamp foray, and clearly achieves Hubbard’s goal of conveying a tone he defines as ‘decadent elegance.’
“We wanted this record to sound like the early Stones or Black Crowes or Guns ‘n Roses,” he confides. “With a minimum of guests.”
Indeed, the album benefits from tasteful appearances by harmonica groovemeister Ray Bonneville, vocalist Ruthie Foster and Americana pioneer Peter Rowan, but it is the presence of formidable guitar-slinger Seth James that signals a critical element in Ray Wylie Hubbard’s current resurgence. Perhaps no other artist of Hubbard’s generation, with the exception of demi-god Willie Nelson, has earned the respect and allegiance of so many young singers, writers and players populating the pantheon of rising Texas stars. From Pat Green, Reckless Kelly and Cory Morrow to Wade Bowan and Slaid Cleaves, a steady stream of ascendant artists are anxious to pay homage to Hubbard by co-writing songs, sitting-in with him onstage or simply seeking his counsel on matters personal and private.
Hubbard’s writing collaboration with guitarist/vocalist James and Cross Canadian Ragweed’s enigmatic frontman Cody Canada led to the pounding passion of “Live and Die Rock ‘n Roll,” in which a lyrical litany of rock’s historical highlights produces an urgent argument for passing the torch to a new generation with something to say and play.
“We reached down into my roots with Muddy Waters and “House of the Rising Sun,” then updated it with the AC/DC references and other things from Cody and Seth’s experiences,” Hubbard explains. “As I get older, I realize that this is the deal---it is ‘live and die rock ‘n roll’---even if you’re a folk singer.”
Clearly, Hubbard’s relentless authenticity rings true with artists three decades his junior. “We seem to have known each other for a long, long time, even though they’re young guys, “ he offers. “The thing I think they see in me is that I’m still writing songs, being creative and contributing. Hopefully, I still have an edge. I’m not a nostalgia act and I have the utmost respect for these guys as songwriters. I show them some tricks of the trade from the past and they keep me fresh.”
Along with the funk and groove of the songs on Snake Farm, there is an inescapable literary hue that colors the commentary. In the foreboding, entendre-laden “Way of the Fallen,” Hubbard renders a masterful take
on themes of redemption, salvation and existential angst in a dark, poetic rant influenced by Dante’s Divine Comedy.
“Flannery O’Conner said to never second-guess inspiration. But it is okay to rewrite,” he laughs. “I’ll agonize over my writing and try to make sure each word is right.” That commitment to compelling lyrics is especially evident in the eerie, cautionary tone of “Wild Gods of Mexico.”
“I was reading a lot of Joseph Campbell’s mythology,” Hubbard recalls. “The idea is that as you look back throughout history, from the Greek gods and the Roman gods to the Norse gods, at one time these gods were very real to these people but they kind of just died out. I was thinking, well, the people died out, but maybe the old gods were still there. It would be kind of funky if the feathered serpent was still around. And then came the idea that ‘The woman I love desired a child/she abandoned hope as we grew old.’ So, you have the idea that out of desperation , you went to these wild gods of Mexico and made this covenant, this pact, with them.”
If the songs on Snake Farm have a literary roadhouse aura about them, they are equally viable in the visual medium. Noted filmmaker Tiller Russell, producer/director of the provocative documentary Cockfight and director of the CMT series Small Town Secrets, shot music videos for two tracks from the album. “Resurrection” features skeletal figures contending with the elements of fire, earth and water and was filmed at California’s Salton Sea, which Russell describes as ‘a post-apocalyptic wasteland.’ The location for “Snake Farm” was the log cabin near Wimberley, Texas shared by Hubbard, his wife Judy and twelve-year-old son Lucas, a promising guitarist who has already graced the stage at Willie Nelson’s Fourth of July picnic and contributes a guest solo on “Old Guitar.”
Director Tiller’s respect for Hubbard is unmistakable. “Ray Wylie is rock ‘n roll’s last samurai,” the auteur asserts. “He writes like he has the devil at his tail, the Good Lord in his heart, a saddlebag of poetry and a pistol in his boot. His songs evoke images of Sam Peckinpah, Fellini and the best of (Robert) Altman.”
When asked about the process that has led him to write and record a collection of songs that resonate so deeply with such a broad, diverse and discriminating set of listeners---and to have done so at an age when many artists are decades past their creative prime---Ray Wylie Hubbard answers with characteristic self- deprecation.
“I didn’t want to peak too soon,” he offers, laughing the laugh of one who is alternately comfortable with and grateful for his present station in life.
Heartaches and Grease
The Way of the Fallen
Mother Hubbard's Blues
Wild Gods of Mexico
Live and Die Rock and Roll...