Legendary Americana singer-songwriter Ray Wylie Hubbard is no stranger to the Athens music scene. The Texas-based musician said he plays in Athens at least once a year. On Friday, Dec. 1, Hubbard will headline the Georgia Theatre, playing songs from his newest record, “Tell the Devil I’m Getting There as Fast as I Can.” Hubbard talked with The Red & Black about his musical influences, growing his fan base and his new record.
The Red & Black: How did you get into playing music?
Ray Wylie Hubbard: It was in high school, back in the folk music craze. There was a fella in high school by the name of Michael Murphy who played at an assembly. He came out and said, “Here’s a song I wrote.” It was one of those moments. I got a guitar and learned some folk songs. After high school I went up to New Mexico and just traveled around with a guitar and a sleeping bag, doing the troubadour thing, and then stuck with it.
R&B: Who are your biggest musical influences?
RWH: I started off in folk music, where the lyrics were really important. I had a good fortune to see such songwriters as Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark. I was also able to see guys like Lightnin’ Hopkins and Mance Lipscomb and John Lee Hooker, the blues guys. In my 40s, it was a marriage of the lyrics, which have more depth and weight and humor to them, laid on a deep groove. That’s where I am today as an old cat, putting lyrics that come from that foundation and the lyrics of folk music. It’s working for me.
R&B: Do you feel your genre is still folk music, or is it something else?
RWH: The term they use now is ‘Americana’, which is a very broad palette that includes blues, folk, alt-country, bluegrass. That’s the term I feel comfortable with.
R&B: What was one of the biggest challenges you faced throughout your career?
RWH: I think, for me, I feel very fortunate that I have the freedom to write whatever I want to write about. I’m not writing songs for a publishing company, where I have to give some publishing company in Nashville 12 songs a year, to try and get someone to record them. My songwriting is not so much livelihood as it is lifestyle. Having the freedom of not being in a box, I can write some really cool songs.
R&B: How did you develop and grow your fan base over the years?
RWH: I suppose I keep at it. It’s kind of one of those things, I guess because of satellite radio, and local stations like NPR and public radio stations, and college radio stations. And of course the web, with Facebook and Twitter and social media, all that. People are finding me because I’m not on mainstream radio. I think people are searching out for something that’s not so homogenized. Maybe the audience is looking for something with a little more grit and groove, that’s got a depth and weight to it.
R&B: What are the biggest inspirations behind your new LP “Tell the Devil I’m Getting There as Fast as I Can?”
RWH: It’s a metaphor for I’m getting old and time’s running out, it’s a prophecy. It’s kind of a rock and roll fable, the whole idea of the musician with an amp, guitar and a van, going to play in a funky club and falling in love with a woman who can cuss great and got some cool ink on her from Tulsa. That was kind of the center point of the album, that idea. Of course, having Eric Church and Lucinda Williams sing on it was quite a thrill. It solidifies it in that rock and roll fable that it is.
R&B: Why did you decide to collaborate with artists like Eric Church, Lucinda Williams and The Bright Light Social Hour?
RWH: Bright Light Social Hour is so cool, they’re a psychedelic rock band here in Austin. Their song, “The Rebellious Sons,” was a Hendrix, Black Angels-type vibe. I just ran into those guys. I called them up and said “Would y’all come in on this song?” They took me to a place I’ve never been before, with synthesizers and that whole psychedelic-rock-band thing. I feel very fortunate to have people that I really respect and admire on my record.
R&B: How long have you been touring this album and where have you been performing with it?
RWH: It’s been out about three months and we’ve been all over. From the West Coast, California, to Florida, to New York, to the Midwest. We’re still, they say, “working the record.” Coming to Athens, we haven’t been there since the record came out. This is a good opportunity to come there and perform new songs, plus the old songs that the audience demands I play.
R&B: What do you like to do when you’re not touring?
RWH: My wife and I have an old log cabin here, south of Austin. When we got it, it was abandoned, and for the last 20 years we’ve been rebuilding it. That’s what I do in my down time. I’m fixing up this place. We’ve got it pretty well together, but there’s still always something to do.
R&B: How many times have you played in Athens before?
RWH: In the last seven, eight years, at least once a year. It has such a great foundation in music. It has the same status as Austin or New York as far as having that quality of music coming out of that town.
R&B: Can you describe what your live show will be like?
RWH: Well, I would hope they’d be entertained to an inch of their life. I think they’ll enjoy it and hopefully sing along. In Athens, because it has such a musical history, it’s like the audience becomes another member of the band. We’re all working for the same goal. There are moments in time that we’re together that we really enjoy it. Performing is still a joy for me. I’ll be coming with my son on guitar, he’s a hot young guitar player. Hopefully, they’ll get their money’s worth.
Ray Wylie Hubbard will perform at the Georgia Theatre on Friday, Dec. 1 with opener Kevn Kinney. Doors open at 7:30 p.m., and tickets are $20–25.