If we were at all inclined to occasionally make comments that are tongue-in-cheek then we might suggest that Diane Hubka is an artist who made good in the end. And for the right reasons. It’s a story that does involve that guy who we prefer not to name. Diane Hubka has had a career as a jazz singer she fell for the style in college while taking guitar lessons from “a jazz guy,” she has said. That’s where she first heard influential vocalist Carmen McRae sing. “I knew then I had to be a jazz singer.” Hubka said.
She moved to Washington D.C., where she soaked in the city’s jazz scene, and then to New York City, where she studied voice, piano and guitar, received a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and became an integral part of the city’s jazz scene for two decades. “I really do believe in on-the-job training when it comes to music,” she said. “There’s something about playing in front of an audience that’s so rewarding. It ups your game.”
Hubka recorded three albums in the Big Apple, including one with legendary saxophonist Lee Konitz, before moving to Los Angeles in 2005, where she recorded three more albums, and even made it big in Japan, touring the country multiple times. In early 2017, however, everything changed. Upset by the outcome of the U.S. Presidential election, Hubka turned away from a lifetime of jazz and went in a new direction – one that just felt right – as she explains “I wanted to sing protest songs, and union songs,” she said. “And I think I was just ready to try something different. After all those years playing jazz, I suddenly felt a calling to get back to my acoustic and folk roots.”
The result is the Sun Canyon Band and the album ‘You Never Can Tell‘, a blend of breezy Americana, Western swing and California folk-pop. The album is split between originals (written by Hubka and Rick Mayock) and covers of classics by artists like Bob Dylan, Randy Newman, Chuck Berry and Guy Clark, and it features the playing of legendary English guitarist and mandolinist Albert Lee. And there is also today’s song – whose presence Hubka explained to Americana UK: “I wanted to include a traditional folk song on the album, and was inspired by all the versions of ‘Shady Grove’ that I listened to, from Jeanne Ritchie, Doc Watson and Ricky Skaggs to the unique version by Taj Mahal. I ended up interpreting the version by the Grateful Dead, but kept one line referencing “Goin’ back to Harlan” as in Harlan County, KY. I love its infectiously joyous melody, rhythm and lyrics. My favourite verse is: “I wish I had a needle & thread / fine as I could sew / I’d sew my true love to my side / and down the road I’d go!” I played rhythm guitar on my 1964 Martin nylon-string folk guitar, and the whole band plays on the song, with excellent solos from Albert Lee and Rick Mayock on guitars, and Joe Caccavo on banjo. And carrying the dancing rhythm section was bassist/co-producer Chad Watson and drummer Lynn Coulter.”