Wits of a grifter, soul of a poet

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Todd Wolfson/Courtesy photo
Ray Wylie Hubbard performs at Dan’s Silverleaf on Friday night, and he has a new album of songs to play.

Ray Wylie Hubbard calls himself “an old cat,” and he’s partial to “spiritual awakenings” over religious conversions and if he’s sure of anything, it’s this:

There are saints and there are sinners. But the meat and potatoes of life tend to happen somewhere in between.

Hubbard, who spent a hot minute at the University of North Texas in the 1960s, hasn’t played Denton in a while. He returns Friday night with a gig at Dan’s Silverleaf meant to shop his latest album, The Grifter’s Hymnal, to longtime fans and fans of folksy rock craving a slice of music by an accomplished craftsman.

Hubbard said a single, clear ethos guided him through the album.

“We started out with the whole idea that we were really kind of tired of the way music sounds now, with Auto-Tune and stuff like that,” Hubbard said. “We thought about these bands — the Rolling Stones, Small Faces, Buffalo Springfield and the Black Crowes. We were thinking about these bands who walked into the studio, plugged in and played. We wanted to do this very organic rock ’n’ roll.”

And by organic rock ’n’ roll, Wylie is talking about this Southern brew he’s mastered that borrows that groaning, creeping bass of the Delta blues and stirs it into the ear-pleasing melodies and build-to-the-end belly fire that make the Stones and the Crowes exciting even if they’ve got some road wear on them. Wylie’s undulating guitar licks top it all off with Red Dirt dust and coax the music into a penitent pause on a rickety church kneeling rail.

Then, the trick was to let it be, Hubbard said.

“Yeah, we took out some things like the lip smacks, but we left in the coughs and the pedal squeaks in there. Now, Ringo did his part in London, but other than that, we didn’t do any overdubs. We just wanted it to be real people playing real instruments and being as straightforward and honest as they can be,” he said.

That’s right, kids. Ringo Starr appears on this album, as does Small Faces piano man Ian McLagan. Starr sings with Hubbard on the cover of Starr’s “Coochy Coochy” while McLagan gave the ivories a workout. Drummer Rick Richards plays on the album, as do guitarists Billy Cassis, Brad Rice, Audley Freed and Lucas Hubbard, Ray Wylie’s 18-year-old son. The record was made at Wylie’s home studio in Austin and at the Edythe Bates Old Chapel in Round Top.

“I know it sounds cliche, but I was truly humbled to have Ringo and Ian on this record. To be in an old chapel and have a member of Small Faces sit down at the keyboard, and to have a Beatle involved, well it nearly brought tears to my eyes,” Hubbard said. “We didn’t do too bad with the rest of the musicians, either.”

Hubbard said he doesn’t labor over the spiritual tributaries that feed the album, and he insists there’s a little Buddhism, a bit of Native American spirituality and even a peppering of revival-style old time religion in his blood.

“I’m not a religious guy, but I’ve got spiritual principles,” he said. As long as he lets inspiration guide him, he usually doesn’t go wrong.

“I’ve been doing this a while.I know how to craft a song,” Hubbard said. “I feel like I’m old enough to do a song like ‘Ask God,’ but I can still do a song about a stripper and a Les Paul. I think it was Flannery O’Connor who said something like ‘never second guess inspiration.’ If you get an inspiration, take it. Revision is OK. But don’t second guess inspiration.”

So Hubbard is still scrapping with the devil and making his peace with the human race at age 65. Instead of packing it in for a cushy resort, Hubbard still sloshes with the spit and vinegar that made him quit North Texas for New Mexico as a lad, where he committed his life to being “a hippie musician.”

He’ll keep at it, he said, as long as he gets to do the music for free.

“They pay you to travel and stay overnight in hotels. They pay you to sit in airports. The travel can be a grind, but the music you do for free,” Hubbard said. “When I play, I figure there are going to be some longtime fans, but there might be some college kids who’ll come up and tell me their dad is a big fan and told them to check it out, and they dig it.”

Sounds like: The muse that led to Jace Everett’s “Bad Things,” or, as more people think of it, the opening credits song from True Blood.

Details: Ray Wylie Hubbard and opener Charlie Shafter perform at 9 p.m. Friday at Dan’s Silverleaf, 103 Industrial St. Seats cost $20, general admission is $15. Buy tickets at www.danssilverleaf.com .

— Lucinda Breeding

 


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