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Ray Wylie Hubbard 'growls' about Texas

By John Lupton, May 2003

Page 2...

They're images that are well-grounded in reality for Hubbard, and he chuckles as he admits, "A lot of these things are kind of specialized facts about my family, growing up in southeast Oklahoma, where that rural kind of Tobacco Road, Cat On a Hot Tin Roof imagery kind of appears."

"Growl" is, he agrees, much more of a blues album - acoustic and electric - than the kind of alt.-country he's probably more often associated with, but when you set aside the labels and really look at what's behind and underneath the music, blues and country are pretty much the same thing.

"It's just a different way of looking at life. Blues and country are very, very close. They're like one and the same, really, as far as emotions and what people are saying. I've got to that point where I really don't question the song or try to sit down and write a blues song or a country song. I seem to do better by not trying to question it or putting a label on it, just kind of let it happen. One of my favorite quotes is from Flannery O'Connor, 'Never second-guess inspiration'"- he pauses again to let out a wry laugh - "but you do have to rewrite. That's kind of the way I am, I just kind of let these songs happen and then see where they're going to go and then just try to make them work. 'Eternal and Low Down' and this last one, it's just kind of gone that way, I've gone back to that kind of rootsy, gritty sound. I really, really enjoy it. Right now, I'm very happy with it."

He's also clearly very happy to be dealing with Philo, a subsidiary of the Rounder organization long known for its roster of outstanding talents with wildly independent streaks. Among the more hard-nosed tracks on "Growl" is "Rock-n-Roll Is A Vicious Game," a sardonic putdown of "Big Music," and Hubbard appreciates working with people who are happy to just let him do what he does.

"Philo just says, 'send us the master,' you know. I don't have an A & R guy looking over my shoulder and picking songs. Obviously, the songs we had on (this) album, there's no way (a major label is) gonna let them get out. It's a great freedom, that they have this trust where I say I'm going into the studio with Gurf Morlix, and they say, 'Okay, just send us the master and some photos.'"

For a guy as adept with imagery as Hubbard is, it comes as no surprise that he's got a pretty good handle on his own self-image, to the point that - like most other things in his world - he can find a good laugh in it.

"As I got older, I kind of gave up the idea of being a rock-and-roll star or a young country hunk. That's pretty much a given that I'm not going to be one of those. I just try to make a record that I would like to hear. Working with Gurf, we just said, let's make a record that we'd like to listen to, and that's how I kind of write. I'm fairly amazed, anytime I'm doing exactly what I always wanted to do, which is write my songs, and I get to travel around and sing them, and then I come home and give (my wife) Judy the money, and she lets me live here. It's a pretty good deal. In my 20's and 30's, I kind of got away from it. I got more into the honky-tonk, rockin' band kind of thing. My writing, I'm sure, suffered, and so I kind of got away from honoring songwriting and music and took it for granted and was more into the lifestyle. I'm happy and grateful right now, and hopefully this record will sell enough that I'll get to do another one."

With his high school buddy Michael Murphey (then known as the "Cosmic Cowboy"), not to mention Willie Nelson and Jerry Jeff Walker, Hubbard was a charter member of the gang that made Austin into the "Anti-Nashville" in the early 1970s, and he still finds the Austin scene to be the best place - for him, anyway - to call home.

"Someone the other day was asking me about the difference between Austin and Nashville. I think in Austin, it's still lifestyle over livelihood, you know, that the Austin musician, it's a lifestyle, you're a songwriter and a musician, and you play gigs, and you write songs and you do that rather than, like in Nashville, where songwriting is such a livelihood, you write songs in order to get them cut. I have got great friends that live there in Nashville, some great writers and everything, but it seems like Austin still has that kind of... you know, I'm gonna write songs and be a musician, and not fall into writing songs for a livelihood. It's a great, great scene, there's some incredible, wonderful musicians. It's a very giving musical community too, there are always fund-raisers and benefits, and all the types of musicians come together. You have the country guys, and the rock guys, and the blues guys and the folk singers, and they'll all come together. I've found it very un-cliquish, they're very giving people."

If Philo comes knocking again, will his singing and writing take him again down the darker side of the "Lost Highway"?

"I really don't know. I've written three songs since we recorded ("Growl"), and I really don't know what's going happen with them. Hopefully they'll rhyme, that's always a good sign. A number of people have wanted to hear me redo the old songs. I really haven't thought that far in advance."

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