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Ray Wylie Hubbard "suffers" from "Delerium"

By Tom Geddie, January 2005

An East Texas country music DJ - a good one, a young one - admitted, off the air, recently that he'd never heard "(Up Against the Wall) Redneck Mother" and that he didn't know who Ray Wylie Hubbard is.

That's the kind of moment that makes Hubbard laugh. It also helps him keep a healthy perspective about this fame thing as time passes.

First recorded in 1973 by Jerry Jeff Walker, the then-young Hubbard's song became an anthem - deadly funny and socially conscious - for the original alt.-country crowd and an albatross, of sorts, for Hubbard. (He often says the best advice he can offer a songwriter is, once the song is written, ask yourself if you can stand to sing that song in every show you do for more than 30 years.)

Even an albatross has wings, though, and the song helped pay bills as Hubbard groped his way through the fog of youthful excesses before becoming one of the best songwriters in a state, Texas, full of good songwriters.

It's easy to wonder whether any of the young alt.-country bands today - 32 years later - will have a song that lasts as long as "Redneck Mother." Unless it's Cross Canadian Ragweed's anthem for the party years, the feverish "Wanna Rock 'n' Roll." No, wait. Hubbard wrote that one, too.

Back in the mid 1970s, Hubbard and his Cowboy Twinkies band had a short, very short, fling with Warner Brothers, who screwed up his album so much that he doesn't like to talk about it even today. He released a couple more records, but generally was known for "Redneck Mother," if he was known at all.

Beginning in the '90s, several years after he sobered up, Hubbard has released one fine CD after another, first on his own Misery Loves Company label and then on Rounder.

Each album was filled with meaningful songs as Hubbard worked his style across the mythical American West into the greasy, Delta blues. The Kerrville Folk Festival folks embarrassed him with awards; the spoiled-with-good-music Austin critics praised him almost, but not quite, beyond reason into the 21st century.

"Eternal and Lowdown" topped the Americana chart in 2001. "Growl" had the third most spins on the Americana chart in 2003.

In 2004, just as a reality check - and nice royalty check - rapper Lloyd Banks of G-Unit (50 Cent, Dr. Dre, etc.), did a song, "Warrior," that sampled "Hold On," a song Hubbard wrote years ago with Bob Livingston, but never officially recorded.

By year's end, somebody had put Hubbard's old Dallas Adamson High School yearbook up for sale on eBay.

Now with his critical acceptance established, it's only proper, in Hubbard's world, that his new CD, "Delirium Tremolos," out in January from Rounder, is mostly interpretations of songs written by other people. He rarely does other people's songs, so the new CD is, if nothing else, a curiosity.

Hubbard put several of his own songs on the CD, but the focus is on songs from the likes of 2004 Grammy nominee Eliza Gilkyson, Woody Guthrie and Slaid Cleaves (together; that's a whole other story), James McMurtry, Roger Tillison, and his recent producer of record, Gurf Morlix.

"I was talking with Gurf about cool songs other people had, and Gurf said, 'Well, if you ever want to do anybody else's, now would be the time to do it.'"

Hubbard says Morlix "just put it all together. I knew that since I didn't write the songs, we couldn't use the same arrangements or guitar feel. Gurf brought originality to something that was not original to me."

Hubbard does interviews like somebody eager to help, but almost always keeping a slight, personal distance. He uses self-deprecating humor as a shield and will poke fun at his best friends to keep from getting too deep into a subject.

(Not so long ago, he wrote this lyric: "I been writing all these songs. Believed I was done. I was wrong. So I got me an old mandolin. I hit this chord and then I up and hit it again. Don't bother asking me; I wouldn't tell you if I knew. I don't know why I do what I do. I just do.")

The first song on the new CD is "The Beauty Way," written by Gilkyson and Mark Andes about Gilkyson's father, Terry, who wrote "Bare Necessities," "Memories Are Made Of This," "Call of the Wild Goose" and other big-time hits.

The last of 10 songs is McMurtry's "Choctaw Bingo," which sounds like it ought to be one of Hubbard's hilarious between-songs stories.

"I called Eliza and said I wanted to do 'The Beauty Way,' and I wanted to do it right," Hubbard says, laughing. "And I told James I wanted to do 'Choctaw Bingo' the way it was supposed to be done."

Gilkyson did the vocal with Hubbard and also sang on the CD's best track, "This Mornin' I Am Born Again." McMurtry played guitar on "Choctaw Bingo."

Other guest singers are Jack Ingram, Patty Griffin, Kimmie Rhodes, Bob Schneider and Cleaves. Musicians include Ray Bonneville on harmonica, Rick Richards and Jon Hahn on drums, Cross Canadian's Cody Canada on electric guitar, and Ian McLagan on Hammond B3 organ. Morlix plays a whole lick of instruments.

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