photo credit: Alisa B. CherryRay Wylie Hubbard is the ideal example of an artist whose popular following is based not on glamor or gimmickry, but rather the fact that he’s simply a down-home guy. At age 74, he’s not about to abandon that unpretentious persona and be anyone but himself. Some 45 years into a prodigious career that’s yielded 18 albums, an autobiography and the aspect and admiration of everyone from his pal Willie Nelson to Ringo Starr and Joe Walsh — both of whom make guest appearances on his latest album, Co-Starring — he’s as vital as ever, still making music with the same enthusiasm he’s evidenced over the entire course of his career.
That was evident when he made his return to The Shed in Maryville Tennessee, a venue that welcomes him every year, save 2020 when Covid kept him away. Consequently, this particular performance was like a homecoming of sorts, an opportunity for Ray Wylie and his two bandmates — son Lucas Hubbard on some sizzling guitar and drummer Kyle Schneider keeping up the pace via a series of shuffles and boogie-style beats. Opener Dallas Moore warmed up the crowd with a solo performance of redneck rambles and from that point on, the pace never slackened.Still, it was Ray Wylie Hubbard that the crowd was there to see, so it was only natural that an adoring audience tended to whoop and cheer with every introduction. Although Hubbard famously eschews any prepared set list, he does pack the show with the familiar favorites. His signature song “Snake Farm” was dispensed with early on and then replayed as the third and final encore. Other highlights included ”Mescaline,” “Tell the Devil I’m Getting’ There as Fast as I Can,” his classic cover of “John the Revelator,” “Wanna Rock and Roll,” and “Mr. Musselwhite’s Blues,” “Mambo John,” and “Desperate Man.” Hubbard prefaced the latter by relating how he once went to a fortune teller and when he asked about his future, she told him he didn’t have one.Nevertheless, the rapport he has with his fans ought to be enough to convince anyone who witnesses a Ray Wylie performance that he’s still got plenty of octane to run on. He eschews the usual attempts at adulation by his own admission.“You know I’m looking for applause when I put down my guitar, walk away, and then I go back, pick up my guitar and put it down again.” At least he’s honest, but even so, after the set ended, he wasted little tim returning to the stage to share more music. Likewise, when he encouraged the audience to sing along to the crowd favorite “Up Against the Wall Redneck Mother,” he wasn’t shy about admonishing them when the chorus went off the rails.“Tempo, people!” he insisted. “I have some mercy for sale back there but you might be better served by investing in a metronome and a pitch pipe.”
Of course, Ray Wylie isn’t as particular as he appears. There’s no hint of snobbery but plenty of modesty and humility instead. “When you’re my age, you start thinking about mortality a lot,” he noted before launching into the slow stride of “Fast Left Hand,” a song recorded with the Cadillac Three and included on the Co-Starring album. “I can only hope that God grades on a curve.”Still, it’s apparent that Ray Wylie is enjoying his time on earth. His unrepentant attitude is evident in his gritty, down home delivery and a decided Everyman attitude. “I have the ability to count the number of people in the audience and multiply that by the cover charge,” he joked, eschewing any notion that he was a wealthy rocker. Nevertheless, it’s clear that he’s true to the cause. The lyric to his feisty “Wanna Rock & Roll” say it all:I wanna rock & rollWanna hoochie cooShake that thingBaby, love me do”
Naturally, The Shed crowd loved it, and they clearly embraced him as one of their own. He may not be going out on the longer tours like he used — this particular jaunt consisted of a mere five dates — but that hasn’t affected his prolific prowess. Prior to the show he mentioned he hopes to have a new album out at the beginning of the year. For now though, it’s good to see he’s back in a groove following an intermittent lay-off doing the pandemic. He’s still keeping his promise to his public and giving the devil his due at the same time. As that song for Satan suggests, he’s aiming to get to wherever he’s going as fast as he can.