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Since Texas-based singer-songwriter Possessed by Paul James released his latest album There Will Be Nights When I’m Lonely out into the big scary world on October 29th, it has been on quite the tear, especially for an artist that up to this point was thought to only be known by a small, but dedicated sect of fans. The album held steady at #2 on Amazon’s Alt-Country/Americana MP3 chart for well over a week after the release, touched the #1 spot Friday night, and has remained in the top 10 since the release. Then this week, he received an email from Billboard informing him that his little independently-released album on Hillgrass Bluebilly Records had made it all the way onto the Americana/Bluegrass chart at #12, in between the latest albums from Old Crow Medicine Show and Noam Pikelny.
“I went over to our neighbors and we were just laughing our asses off in the driveway that it’s being that well-received,” says Possessed by Paul James, who lives in the small Texas Hill Country town of Boerne. “This is the first interaction with industry if you will—that level of industry with Billboard. We’re blown away, we’re amazed. I think what that tells us is that even though there’s been minimal opportunities, we obviously have done a very nice job making sure people see how sincere it is, and the quality and sentiment behind the music really reaches people in a powerful way. I think that’s the one recurring theme that keeps us in it, because people keep responding so positively. Otherwise, I don’t know how in the world we would be even in the situation to have this type of interest right now.”
It’s not as if Possessed By Paul James spends his days on the phone doing interviews with radio stations and newspapers, or is out touring non-stop behind the album like many full-time musicians. Leading up to the release and in the weeks after, Possessed by Paul James, whose real name is Konrad Wert, has been busy running a classroom of developmentally-disadvantaged elementary-aged children as a full-time special education teacher—an occupation that has awarded him similar accolades to what he’s receiving in the musical world. Last year, Konrad Wert was named Teacher of the Year for his school, and was awarded a “Golden Apple” award in September as a regional distinction for teachers who excel at their discipline.
While in the classroom, Konrad’s attention is clearly focused on the children, far away from the dimly-lit bars and clubs he plays when he can during vacations and long weekends. “Teaching feels like that first line of focus and defense when families are struggling in our country. It is in the trenches of social change. It is investing in children, and if you’re investing in children, you’re investing in what society is going to develop into.”
Even though his music is a part-time pursuit, it receives full-time love when Teacher of the Year Konrad Wert morphs into Billboard-charting Possessed by Paul James.
“The biggest difference with this album is we’re at a very unique time in our lives as a family,” says Konrad. “I think foremost that was the biggest difference with where the material was coming from. The writing style, the approach with what we wanted to record, and how we wanted to record was very different. I think that in itself opens up another channel for listeners. And for me as a musician, I wanted to get to another element within the music, another way to hear the music, sing the music, and write the music because that the whole reason we do it to begin with because it’s fun that way. And it’s going to keep developing in a different way. Our next record is going to be different than how we put this one out. It’s going to be a different style. It’s just bound to be the case.”
“In starting, the only goal an artist should have is what can you write, and what can you share. That should be the only goal. Nothing else. But when that feels solid, when you feel confident in what you’re writing and sharing, then the other pieces—the tools and the management of it—how to manage that and share it with a wider audience come into play. We didn’t have the intention of contacting NPR or Billboard necessarily. They were ideas, but all of a sudden, they’re contacting us. That in itself I think is an amazing accomplishment and a coincidence all happening at the same time around this release.”
Possessed by Paul James usually performs as a one man band, but There Will Be Nights When I’m Lonely features a full band sound on many tracks, while still respecting his live performance with many stripped-down songs as well. Appearing on the album with Konrad were world-renown steel-guitar player Lloyd Maines, Texas music Hall of Famer and harmonica player Walter Daniels, Cary Ozanian and Darren Sluyter from The Weary Boys, and members of Austin-based band East Cameron Folkcore. Watler Daniels, and Cary and Darren from The Weary Boys joined Possessed by Paul James on stage November 2nd during the CD release party at Antone’s in Austin, TX.
Possessed by Paul James’s music has been described by many as more of a life-changing event than a musical experience. He channels the spirit of music through himself like none other on stage, and leaves crowds staggered. A titan of the deep blues scene, a well-respected songwriter, a musician known equally for his prowess as a singer, fiddler, banjo and guitar player, and a leader of independent roots music, Possessed by Paul James draws from blues, country, folk, and punk rock, in a wild and raucous show that touches the very soul.
There Will Be Nights When I’m Lonely was recorded at Burns Audio in Austin, TX by Grammy Awarded engineer Cris Burns, and features contributions by world-renown producer and steel-guitar player Lloyd Maines, legendary harmonica player Walter Daniels, Cary Ozanian and Darren Sluyter from The Weary Boys, and members of Austin-based band East Cameron Folkcore. Mastered by Jim Diamond (The White Stripes, The Fleshtones & more) and recorded in the spring and summer of 2013, There Will Be Night’s When I’m Lonely showcases Possessed by Paul James’s creative brilliance with more attention and effort than ever before, while taking great care to not suffocate, but enhance the magic that has made him one of the most coveted live solo performers throughout The United States and Europe.
By day Possessed by Paul James, aka Konrad Wert is an elementary school teacher working with developmentally disadvantaged children, and was awarded Teacher of the Year honors at his school last year, illustrating how music is just one way this gifted musician can touch lives.
There Will Be Nights When I’m Lonely can be streamed in its entirety below, but folks touched by the music are encouraged to per-order the album or pick it up once it is released October 29th through Hillgrass Bluebilly Records. He can also be found on American Songwriter’s November Sampler.
Texas singer/songwriter, one man band, multi-instrumentalist, Teacher of the Year, and dedicated husband and father Possessed by Paul James has announced that he will be releasing his next album There Will Be Nights When I’m Lonely on October 29th through Hillgrass Bluebilly Records. The follow up to his 2010 Independent Music Award-winning Feed The Family features 13 brand new original tracks recorded in Austin, TX.
Nights When I’m Lonely was recorded at Burns Audio by Grammy Awarded engineer Cris Burns, and features contributions by world-renown producer and steel-guitar player Lloyd Maines, legendary harmonica player Walter Daniels, Cary Ozanian and Darren Sluyter from The Weary Boys, and members of Austin-based band East Cameron Folkcore. Mastered by Jim Diamond (The White Stripes, The Fleshtones & more) and recorded in the spring and summer of this year, Night’s When I’m Lonely showcases Possessed by Paul James’s creative brilliance with more attention and effort than ever before, while taking great care to not suffocate, but enhance the magic that has made him one of the most coveted live solo performers throughout The United States and Europe.
Possessed by Paul James is a titan of the deep blues scene, a well-respected songwriter, a musician known equally for his prowess as a singer, fiddler, banjo and guitar player, and a leader of independent roots music. Drawing from blues, country, folk, and punk rock, Possessed by Paul James’s music has been described by many as more of a life-changing event than a musical experience. He channels the spirit of music through himself like none other on stage, and leaves crowds staggered.
By day Possessed by Paul James, aka Konrad Wert is an elementary school teacher working with developmentally disadvantaged children, and was awarded Teacher of the Year honors at his school last year, illustrating how music is just one way this gifted musician can touch lives.
There Will Be Nights When I’m Lonely can be pre-ordered now through the link below. It will also be available for pre-order on iTunes on October 1st.
- Songs We Used To Sing
- Back Down Here On Earth
- Where Does All The Time Go
- There Will Be Nights When I’m Lonely (Intro)
- There Will Be Nights When I’m Lonely
- Soy Muriendo
- 38 Year Old Cocktail Waitress
- 40 Days & 40 Nights
- Sweet But Bitter Life
- Pills Beneath Her Pillow
Former Dixie Chick Natalie Maines has a knack for allowing her words to precede her. She left country after her quote about George W. Bush torpedoed the trio’s career, and ever since she’s been lobbing grenades back in country’s direction, including yet another in a new Rolling Stone article that represents her as “declaring war on Nashville.” Natalie says of her former genre, “I just didn’t like how blatant country music was. Nothing seemed poetic or subtle.”
The problem is not Natalie Maines’ post-country comments themselves. Many of them are completely true, and that’s why they upset and scare so many. The problem is the collateral damage they cause because she doesn’t offer any distinction between mainstream radio country, and the rest of the genre that represents tremendous creativity, subtly, open-mindedness, and sonic innovation.
Many of Natalie’s sentiments are ones that Saving Country Music makes on a regular basis to the point of being redundant, but not without qualifying where they are being directed, like at the money changers on Music Row for example, or a speicific artist or a specific song. Natalie on the other hand seems to be lumping all of country music together and then setting it on fire, including a remarkable and inspiring new wellspring of female talent in the form of artists like Kellie Pickler, Ashley Monroe, Caitlin Rose, Kacey Musgraves, and others that are starting to inject new life into country, and deconstruct many of the mores that led to the destruction of The Dixie Chicks in the first place.
Specifically to the “War on Nashville,” lumping Nashville in with the mainstream country music industry is an outmoded and unhelpful way of couching things. It discounts the burgeoning east Nashville scene, the contributions to music from artists of other genres, and the independent music role models like Jack White that now call the city home.
One of the most important elements for artists in any genre is authenticity, and the more anti-country statements Natalie makes, the more it erodes the legacy of The Dixie Chicks and the meaning behind their songs, whether Maines’ heart was into the music in the first place, or not. It’s not that Maines doesn’t have the benefit of perspective. Her father Lloyd Maines has worked with many creative and heartfelt independent country artists over the years as a producer and steel guitar player. The Dixie Chicks hit “Long Time Gone” written by Darrell Scott tackled how Nashville had become too polished and had lost touch with its roots.
Maines has every right to carry a grudge after the way The Dixie Chicks were black balled and battered with death threats. But I’m afraid that she’s now beginning to identify herself with conflict. However right Natalie was, as soon as you believe that you’re fundamentally a better person than anyone else, you tend to cease to be. Natalie Maines is justified in being angry at a lot off different people for a lot of reasons. But the artists and entities of country music that had nothing to do with a conflict a decade ago and are trying to turn the tide of mainstream country and tackle the very same criticisms Natalie is making, need help and inspiration from some one like Natalie Maines, not a berating.
Wayne Hancock has more handles than a chester drawers: The Train, The King Of Juke Joint Swing, The Father of Underground Country, The Viper of Melody. He deserves every single one of them, yet none of them nor all of them combined seem to do justice to the enjoyment and influence his music has dispensed over the years.
A new Wayne Hancock album is like a gift from the country music gods; the same gods that bestowed upon him the capacity to be the closest living thing you can find to Hank Williams today (according to Hank Williams III among others), yet still be a wholly unique artist who finds himself in the very exclusive ranks of true music originators–those rare musical souls who’ve germinated their own genres and genealogy trees full of new artists inspired by their work.
Ride is probably Wayne Hacock’s most personal album to date, released after what might be the most tumultuous period in his career. Immediately after the street date of his last album in 2009 Viper of Melody, Hancock lost his band in the aftermath of a skirmish between his guitar player and steel player. This set to spinning a revolving door of touring players that still has yet to fully settle, though has showcased some extraordinary talent along the way. Then there was the cancelling of some tour dates and a rehab stint, then a separation from his wife. Then another rehab stint. All of this drama is contained in Ride in both candid and veiled references.
“I had a good gal, that I loved so. We got married, not to long ago. But then my drinking got in the way. So she left me, a year ago today,” Wayne says in “Best To Be Alone.”
Wayne Hancock has a track record since 1995 of only putting out quality releases. Go ahead, take the magnifying glass and the tweezers out and poke around his discography all you want. You may not sit right with his style, but Wayne is a master at what he does. By featuring top shelf players and a fairly straightforward methodology, Wayne knocked out Ride in 1 1/2 days; jaw dropping for even some of the best performers. People of note joining Wayne on the recording are long-time producer Lloyd Maines, and Bob Stafford, also known as “Texaco” that you can hear Hancock calling out to Bob Wills-style in some of his most legendary recordings.
Ride continues Wayne’s trend of stellar albums, but for the first time you see some slight chinks in the armor. The very first time I heard the title and opening track “Ride,” I could hear a lack of energy in Hancock’s voice that I had never heard from him in the recorded format. There’s nothing wrong with Wayne’s voice, you just don’t feel the same passion you know he’s capable of. This again shows up in the second song “Low Down Blues,” a track he says he wrote the day before going into the studio. I don’t mean these songs capture the depressed emotion of the story, they just simply sound a little uninspired. An artist must be balanced not only against their peers, but against themselves, and on these first few tracks, Wayne feels tired; a little un-Wayne Hancock.
Wayne pulls it out though, at the same time validating the tired hypothesis for the first few songs when he offers a truly inspired performance on the gospel-esque “Lone Road Home.” From there on, you re-discover the Wayne Hancock you know and love, with a bounce in his voice and bounding rhythms that are hard not to be compelled by. Another Wayne Hancock wonderment is his ability to pen instant classics, and that’s what you get with the sultry, jazzy “Gal From Kitchen’s Field” and the fun “Cappuccino Boogie.”
On Ride, Wayne starts by showing a little wear on the tires, but then rallies to prove he’s got plenty of tread left. He’s not just The Viper of Melody, or the King of Juke Joint Swing, he’s Wayne “The Train” Hancock by God. And even if he hangs up his guitar tomorrow, he will still go down as one of the most influential artists in American music, a true forefather of Americana, and one of the originating sparks of the roots music revolution.
1 3/4 of 2 guns up.
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If he’s not playing music, there’s no other place Wayne “Train” Hancock would rather be than riding on the back of his 2006 Harley Davidson Super Glide motorcycle. The new album Ride out 2-26 from the “King of Juke Joint Swing” in many ways is a nexus between these two passions, and a very personal work with songs reflecting the current state of his life and career. Wayne spoke to Saving Country Music on the eve of the release of Ride; an album 3 years in the making.
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Trigger: You’ve had a lot of, let’s just say inspiration and material to write about in your life since you released your last album Viper of Melody. There’s been some turnover in your band, a separation from your wife, a couple of stints in rehab, and these events are woven into the songs of Ride. Would you say this is your most personal album yet?
Wayne Hancock: It could be man. Most of the songs I write come from the heart, just singing about my situation. There’s some songs I wrote on the album a long time ago. Me and my wife are separated. A lot of people think we’re divorced. We’re not divorced as of yet. But we’re good friends. We live in separate states. The song “Ride” itself, I started riding with an MC (motorcycle club) out here in Texas. Got myself a bike. Marriage was going to hell. Wife was moving out. And it had been three years since my last album, which is a long time. I hadn’t really had any inspiration up until that time to write anything. Cause all I wanted to do was to get on my bike and ride and kind of forget about everything. With my wife being gone, I started writing songs that were more about myself. So I guess yeah, to save a lot of words it probably is more of a personal album than the other ones.
Trigger: Was this a hard album to write seeing how personal the subject matter of the material was? Or was it cathartic?
Wayne Hancock: No, it was easy. “Low Down Blues” was written the day before I went into the studio. The studio was really easy. Most of the players I was using, I’ve known them for almost 20 years. I had a good band. I pulled back on my drinking. I didn’t do any drinking during the album making. Just had a clearer head.
It only took a day and a half to cut the album. I was working with Lloyd Mains, and the way I like to record, everybody is live and at one time. Any more than two days in a studio is a waste of time. I’d rather be out touring, playing in front of somebody. We do 3 or 4 takes of the same song, and then move on. I think “Ride” was only two takes. I’ve heard about bands being in the studio for six months. I can’t imagine cutting an album in six months. What a waste of good time. What’s fun about this music is because we don’t play arrangements, everyone just kind of freestyles. You hear me calling the players names because if I don’t call their name, they don’t play, just like it is on stage.
Trigger: Your sobriety has been a theme in your music throughout time. “Double ‘A’ Daddy” is one of your most famous songs. What is the most difficult part about being a musician and staying sober?
Wayne Hancock: It’s been a lot easier lately. I don’t know if I’m just getting older and starting to figure things out. What’s made it easier for me is I’ve had guys in the band that were bad alcoholics. I got rid of all those guys. That’s one thing I did. And if I go to a bar, I don’t go in there unless I’m going in to play. Hanging out in a bar, sometimes you just want to drink. You’ve got to get out of the bar, go outside, do whatever it is you’ve got to do to beat that feeling. Walk around the block and get some coffee.
Trigger: Because of the diversity of influences in your music, you’ve found yourself in the center of many movements in music, like the swing revival in the late 90′s, the rise of underground country in the early and mid 2000′s, and maybe to a lesser extent the roots revival today with bands like Mumford & Sons. Where do you see your music in the grand scheme of things? Do you sit back and laugh when you see the popularity of music come and go and you don’t change anything but it seems to always be similar to what you’re doing?
Wayne Hancock: Yeah, it’s cool man. The myth of what it’s all supposed to be, I know it’s not. I’m not trying to be famous anymore. The titles that come along like Americana and the swing thing, everybody finds a part of a book that they like and then they tear that page out and then they repeat that page over and over again. Music is the same way. Whatever the Top 40 is, you always want to pray that one of them will actually have some kind of talent. But it’s a big joke, it’s like Spinal Tap. The first time I watched it I couldn’t get through the movie because it just made me sad. Because it’s that sad how the music business is. People laugh at it because it’s comedy but if you’ve been in the business and been around those people you know that’s not comedy, that’s real life. I’m glad if I could influence anybody to do anything. That makes me feel good. I feel like I’m doing my job.
Trigger: Is Ride a new beginning for Wayne Hancock?
Wayne Hancock: It certainly signifies a shift in my life. Everybody’s life evolves. I’m getting older. When I started I was in my late 20′s, early 30′s. I’ll be 50 in a couple of years. Isn’t 50 the new 30 (laughing)? I think if I keep making great albums overall I will probably be alright.
What do we mean when we say “country” music? Well take a listen to Mississippi native and Texas transplant Jason Eady‘s new album AM Country Heaven, and that should give you the strongest of all possible clues.
And what do people mean when they say “Texas” country? This album isn’t a bad example of that either. With the help from a virtual who’s who of Texas-based studio musicians, including Redd Volkaert and Earl Poole Ball from Austin’s legendary “Heybale” talent collective, and joined by steel guitar maestro Lloyd Maines, the Texas sound is all over this album. And regardless of whose name is on the front, AM Country Heaven was very much a collaborative effort between Eady and songwriter Kevin Welch.
With no mincing of the country style or mixing it with rock or punk or even taking the often gimmicky “neo-traditionalist” road, Jason Eady does his best to rage at the dying of the traditional country light by being as steadfast and straightforward with his country approach as possible. And the classic approach doesn’t just include the musicians and sonic structures, it is extended deeply into the themes and words of the songs, from the punchy country protest song “AM Country Heaven”, to the drinking and heartbreak songs that make up the body of this album.
I miss the days when the women were ugly and the men were all forty years old. Because you had to say something for the people to listen, now they just do what they’re told … They sing about Jesus and they sing about Jones and they sing of American pride. But they’re all too damn clean and polished like stones and they won’t sing about cheating or lies.
Well Jason will, and does in AM Country Heaven unabashedly.
Where I distance from a lot of other music writers and fans who have been heralding this album since its release is in the project’s originality.
Quite a few of these songs are built around themes and lines that have been used in country many times before. For example, when Clint Black a dozen years ago delivered the line about how “…it’s enough to drive a drinking man to stop and take a think,” it seemed so fresh and inventive. In 1999, Roger Wallace put out a great album called Hillbilly Heights whose lead off song was also called “Wishful Drinking” that since has become one of Roger’s signature songs (and as was pointed out in the comments, Adam Lee also published a “Wishful Drinking” song in 2010). So when you take that same lyrical turn and song title and pose it yet again here, it just lacks a potency. Does that mean that Jason Eady stole this element? Of course not. But to the well-seasoned country music ear who over over the years has built up a tolerance to such lines, there is no cleverness left to keep you engaged.
And similar things can be said said for AM Country Heaven‘s “Water Into Wine” written by Scott Copeland. The irony of using Jesus’s saintly Galilee trick to talk about partaking in the sin of drinking has been done many times before. “Man On A Mountain” is one of the best songs on the album, with its bluegrass approach and Patty Loveless‘ fantastic contribution in the duet, but how many times has this “Oh we’re lovers from two two different backgrounds, can we pull this off?” approach been done? Even the song “AM Country Heaven” one of the best selections on the CD is a song that’s been done a dozen times over the last dozen years, with Dale Watson and many others calling out Music Row’s dirty business.
Granted, not all the songs carry this burden. “Longer Walk In The Rain” is an excellent composition, maybe one of the best Eady’s ever penned. It’s not just classic country, it is a classic, period. But it’s a slow song amongst many other waltzes and ballads, and this exposes another issue with this album, which is a lack of energy or youth; the same argument made by many pop and mainstream fans that oppose classic country.
But just when I was beginning to feel burdened on how to get right with this album, I realized what Jason Eady was trying to do here. When somebody wants to make a classic country album, what do they do? They turn down the drums, they go to waltz time, they emphasize the steel guitar and fiddle, just as has been done here. But sometimes the lyrics and themes are an afterthought. Sometimes they carry a positive pop love story that’s so counter-intuitive to how classic country worked, or sometimes they over-glorifying whiskey, the devil, and cocaine, counter to country’s traditional values. Or sometimes the lyrics get hokey with “aw shucks partner” type outmoded anachronisms.
Jason Eady’s attempt on AM Country Heaven was to not rehash classic country themes in his songs, but pay them forward to a generation or an audience whose likely never heard them before. Hardcore country music fans may hear this stuff as cliche, but in a world dominated by cliche mainstream country radio, a song about wishful drinking is original to them.
In the end though I wish Jason would have stayed a little farther from such obvious themes and lines in some of the songs, and understood that in the underground and independent country world, the “hard country” approach is commonplace. Is it really a commentary on the caliber of an album when we tout how country it is, or is it a commentary on the current state of country music?
But I would never argue against this album and can’t name you a bad song on it. If you truly like country music, you should give it a long hard try because in the ideal world, Jason Eady’s AM Country Heaven would be in heavy rotation on the FM. And if it was, country music would be much better off for it.
1 1/2 of 2 guns up.
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Authenticity seems to be that elusive ingredient everyone is searching for in real country. Embedded in every real country music fan is this nagging idea that somewhere out there is a treasure trove of country music waiting to be discovered. Somewhere, someplace, there’s a lonely man plugging away in some honky tonk, sweat beading across his brow and a life’s worth of pain behind his songs, who couldn’t hide his authenticity if he tried; a true country legend waiting to be discovered.
Meanwhile an army of country artists attempting to channel that vibe through song and presentation clog the consciousnesses by only being able to re-create the envy of this authenticity at best; their scars simple cosmetic treatments without the stories to go with them, their accents effected, the fray in their voice a fraud. Hollywood casts the role over and over under the false notion that fiction is the only answer to this yearning for the authentic country legend still lurking in the shadows, when the whole time the man they’ve been looking for has been sitting right under their nose in a little town in Texas called “West”, carrying the name James Hand.
You could say he looks like Tommy Lee Jones and sounds like Hank Williams, but comparing artists with others is a tool I’ve found that only needs to be implemented when an artist lacks their own originality. I would just say James Hand is like James Hand, wholly unique, yet hauntingly familiar in the way his songs seem like they were written just for you and sound like old memories, and how his presence warms the soul. Or you could just listen to Willie Nelson who says it both succinctly and completely, “James Hand is the real deal!”
And the real deal is James Hand in the way his dark eyes seem to dam back 1,000 tears that instead come flowing out through his masterful songcraft. It is impossible to be more authentic than James Hand. But he doesn’t use the fact that his parents were rodeo folks and he spent years in that trade and trained horses for lots of his life as some country music commodity to trade for street cred. It simply was his life, and all he knew. He doesn’t use his stint in prison to bolster his bravado of how “Outlaw” he is, he uses it to show his humility as he did in an interview with NPR:
There are people in this business that play that up. “Aw man, I did this, and I did that.” Well, I want to tell you a little story about that. Everybody wants to know an Outlaw, but nobody wants to be an Outlaw. If a guy has a problem, he’s not gonna wear it on his sleeve because he doesn’t want anybody to know. If he’s an Outlaw he’s not gonna tell anybody because he doesn’t want anybody to know. The louder that people say they had a drug problem, or they went to prison, or that they’re an Outlaw, the less they probably did it, and the less that anybody with any kind of class wants to hear it.
Now if somebody asks me about it, I’ll be forthright and honest about it, yes. But if somebody doesn’t ask me about it, I don’t call a publicist and say, “Play this up.” Yeah, play this up because I went to prison and broke everybody’s heart in my family and a lot of my best friends.
A good place to get started with James Hand’s music is Rounder Records’ The Truth Will Set You Free! from 2006. It is a cornerstone of Texas country music and a proverbial lesson in country songwriting. Produced by Texas legends Ray Benson of Asleep At The Wheel and Lloyd Maines, and featuring Redd Volkaert and Will Indian on guitar, this is a timeless piece of Texas country music culture that culls years of songwriting from James Hand’s life and encapsulates it in his first major release.
James is currently in the studio working on a new album that will be out later this year.
In the first part of my interview with Texas songwriting legend Ray Wylie Hubbard, we talked about how he wasn’t proud of the end result of the movie Last Rites of Ransom Pride of which he co-wrote. In the second part we turned out attention to more positive things, namely his latest album A. Enlightenment B. Endarkenment (Hint: There is no C) that is up for Saving Country Music’s Album of the Year.
Though Hubbard is know as a songwriter first, I was amazed at the scope of the production of Enlightenment, of which Ray had a heavy hand in. Ray’s also been producing albums for other artists lately, maybe becoming just as well-known and sought after for his studio work as his mastery of lyric writing. And at the same time, Ray is helping define the nexus between country and blues music for our generation. For a 63-year-old, he has an astounding amount of potency, and a wealth of fresh ideas.
Triggerman: How old are you Ray Wylie?
Ray Wylie Hubbard: I guess I’m getting old enough where I forgot how old I was. I think I’m 64. No, 63.
Triggerman: Here’s some lyrics from your new album : “She called me up one time and said let’s go get tattoos. I said well let me brush my teeth and find my shoes. She came down the street in a stolen Volkswagen. She smiled and said she decided on a crimson Chinese dragon.” So at 63-years-old, what are you doing writing lyrics like that?
Ray Wylie Hubbard: This album has a foot in both worlds. I feel very fortunate that I can write a fundamental hillbilly mountain gospel song about the Apocalypse, a song about resurrection, and get in a mindset where I can write it as I believe it. And also write songs like “Drunken Poet’s Dream” and “Opium.” I don’t know where it comes from. “Coming down the street in a stolen Volkswagen.” You can see that image and you can all of a sudden see this girl, this cool kinda sleazy girl, with a heart of gold though. You can see why this musician would love her and have respect for her, when maybe nobody else did.
Triggerman: A lot of times when artists get older they want to push, either they want to be more edgy, or maybe they just turn the distortion up on their guitar too loud, because they think that’s something that will keep them young and hip. What I was impressed with is that it doesn’t feel like that. It feels natural, like a progression. The other thing that’s interesting is the production. When you were younger you were known more as a singer/songwriter which is based heavily in lyricism.
Ray Wylie Hubbard: I’m fortunate to have worked with Lloyd Maines and Gurf Morlix, and from them, I think I learned grit, and groove, and tone and taste. Even if you’re gonna take a 1×12 and put it on two bricks and stomp on it with a combat boot like we did on “Enlightenment” it still has to sound cool, you know? It’s got to sound right, and I’m a great believer in tone. I can use an old Bell & Howell amp from the 50′s that they used to use to show movies with, or an old Supro with a burned out speaker. Because if you look back, the records that I like were old guys that didn’t put on new drum heads or change strings when they went to play, they just played with what was available, but they had a tone that is just beautiful. I think I care. I care about trying to write really good, unique songs that sounds sonically just cool. And playing with Gurf and George Reiff and Rick Richards makes it so easy.
Triggerman: You’re talking a lot about gear. I wonder how accessible it is, but in the album you talk about playing a lipstick pickup through a Fender Tweed. Or on another song you’re talking about how you’ve got a French Harp but it’s in the key of ‘C’ but the song is in the key of ‘G’. The way I kind of explain Ray Wylie to people is that back in the day, he was a musician that other musicians would listen to. So when you put those gear references in there is that for your own enjoyment? Do you chuckle thinking about other musicians? Or do you write what you know about?
Ray Wylie Hubbard: I have this incredible freedom that I can write about whatever I want to write about. I don’t have to worry about writing a hit song. I couldn’t if I tried, you know. That freedom, it also gives you the chance to be fearless in what you write about. I think to have that freedom to be fearless, just write not thinking about the future of the song, just put it in there. Well, nobody is going to know what a lipstick pickup is. Well, that’s not my problem. (laughing) Young kids come up to me and ask me about songwriting, and one of the first things I say is read The Grapes of Wrath, just don’t listen to “The Ghost of Tom Joad.” Go back and read, and find out where that came from. The deeper the roots, the stronger the branches.
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On Thursday night I had the pleasure of seeing Ray Wylie perform at Suzanna’s Kitchen in Wimberley, TX with his long-time drummer Rick Richards. Sitting in for the last few songs of the set was fiddler Ruby Jane.
When I first caught wind that a movie written by legendary Texas songwriter Ray Wylie Hubbard was in the works, and that it starred Kris Kristofferson and Dwight Yoakam, my ears perked to say the least. But as the movie neared release, it was clear something about Last Rites of Ransom Pride was off. Information about the film was sketchy at best, and despite my best efforts to obtain more, emails and phone calls weren’t returned.
Then when it came to the movie release, there seemed to be all kinds of drama and confusion. First it was announced that it would be first motion picture released solely online. Then all of a sudden, almost on accident I discovered a dozen or so poorly-promoted short-run screenings had been set up around the country, and was in luck that one was in driving distance. The screening wasn’t promoted at all, and was attended by only three people. Despite the star power and intriguing trailers, something was clearly amiss behind-the-scenes of Last Rites.
Interested to find out the whole story, I reached out to the Ray Wylie Hubbard camp, and was granted an exclusive interview from Ray to discuss for the first time the background of Last Rites of Ransom Pride, and why the project has had such troubles.
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Ray Wylie Hubbard: In my camp we didn’t talk about it. And it could kinda make you curious, here it was, I wrote this movie with Tiller Russell, with a great cast. And the reason was I got my heart broken. And the movie, in my opinion, did not turn out very good, because of a number of reasons.
I met Tiller Russel through Charles Bowden whose a writer. Tiller called me up and wanted to do a video for a song I wrote called “Resurrection.” So I flew out there, met him, and we went out to the Salton Sea and shot the video. Then we started talking about movies, and we wrote The Last Rites of Ransom Pride together. I flew out there (LA), he flew out here (Austin), and we wrote the screenplay and he took it to a producer out there who said it was really good. Tiller said “well I want to direct it, and Ray is gonna score it,” and he (the producer) said, “In order to do that, you have to shoot it independent, and you need to shoot 8 to 12 minutes of something. So I called up Jack Ingram, and got Gary Busey and Taryn Manning, and we shot a short in a day out there where they filmed The Alamo. Then we went around to Houston and Dallas to these rich people’s houses and gave them the pitch.
So they raised $2.9 million dollars here in Texas, with no help from the Texas film commission. New Mexico offered some incentives, but Nomadic Pictures out of Canada said, “Will give you another million if you shoot it in Canada,” so that gave us 4 million. We were scripted at 6 million so we had to cut some things out. We had to go from four bad guys to two bad guys, stuff like that. I sent the script to Kristofferson, he said “Yeah I’ll do it.” Then somehow Dwight got it, and I gave it to Earl Brown from Deadwood. So they went up there and filmed it.
Ray Wylie Hubbard:I was there for the first 8 days.
I was music supervisor. I had tried to convince Tiller and the production company that if I could get Hayes Carll, Jack Ingram, Cody Canada (from Cross Canadian Ragweed), and Randy Rogers in this scene, they didn’t even have to speak, but if they were over there, then I could use them to do a soundtrack album, and I thought it was a brilliant idea. Tiller said no. So we started butting heads. Now instead of being my screenwriting partner, he was the director, and I was the music supervisor. We could have gone to a record label and said we had the first Americana movie ever made. So at that point I had lost any influence I had over Tiller.
Triggerman: So you were kind of marginalized, from a creator and originator of this film.
Ray Wylie Hubbard: The script was really strong enough to get these actors to sign on. They wouldn’t have signed on if they didn’t like the script. When I was ready to score the picture, Tiller said that because of the Canadian laws, they had to get a Canadian to help. So I met this guy, great guy, great keyboards, but when they sent me part of the movie with this score on it, I hated it. I hated the score and I hated the editing. I said, “I can’t approve that.” As music supervisor, that means I would approve that, and that thing is like The Jonas Brothers trying to do “Sympathy for the Devil.” So we had a horrendous fight over the phone. I said, “Tiller, this is not the movie. What happened to this thing that I stood in these people’s living room and told them I was gonna score and how it was gonna be and we raised money on what I said.” So we parted ways.
At that point, I started to pull all of my songs out of the movie, and Judy (Ray’s wife) convinced me not to. She said you need to honor your contract. I haven’t seen the whole movie. I just run through it to see what they did to my songs, and it broke my heart. Then I read the reviews, and the reviews, the consensus was that it was probably pretty strong on paper, but the editing, the movie came across as cheesy, and I’d have to agree with them.
Triggerman: So you’re not happy with the score. Are you not happy with what they did with your script as well?
Ray Wylie Hubbard: I thought the editing and the score ruined the rest of it. I think the dialogue is good, the storyline was good. It just seems like they kind of got in there and didn’t know what they wanted to do. They didn’t know if they wanted to be “Kill Bill” or “Appaloosa.” It’s painful in that it could have been powerful. It could have been a really powerful movie, with the score just being simple and dirty, and the soundtrack album could have been great.
At some point along the way decisions were made based on fear, not on art. I wrote the script with the music. I really have a lot of respect that the movie even got made. But from where I am, we could have at least got a triple, and we didn’t even get a base on balls, we struck out. And then Tiller called me up and told me he was wrong because he never even gave me a chance to come to the plate and swing. I will tell you that Tiller called up about a month ago he said “I was wrong.”
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I reached out to the co-writer and director for Last Rites Tiller Russell, who sent me this statement:
“I think Ray is a brilliant writer. And collaborating with him on the screenplay for Ransom was a moving, memorable experience. I’ll never forget it. I’m saddened by his response to the film. But making a movie is a complex undertaking and a crazy process. We had our differences when it went from script to screen. I suppose time will tell about the merits of it. If you’re curious, please see it yourself. For my part, I will always have love and respect for Ray.”
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