Hubbard, Ray Wylie
Ray Wylie Hubbard
In the early-to-mid-1970s, Ray Wylie Hubbard joined country music “outlaws” Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson as part of the progressive country vanguard on the Texas music scene. Unlike the clean-cut crooners from Nashville, these Austin and Dallas cowboys grew their hair long and added a healthy dose of rock ‘n’ roll to their music. “You could say,” wrote Mario Tarradell in the Dallas Morning News, “Ray Wylie Hubbard was a product of a turbulent time.” While Hubbard had little luck with the major recording studios, he nonetheless rose to cult status as a songwriter after Jerry Jeff Walker recorded his “Up against the Wall, Redneck Mother” in 1973. “And while that song certainly helped launch his career,” noted David Goodman in Modem Twang, “its immense popularity has tended to obscure the depth and complexity of Hubbard as a songwriter and musician.”
Although Hubbard will always be associated with the Texas outlaw movement, he was born in Soper, Oklahoma, on November 13, 1946. His father, Royce Hubbard, was a teacher and principal, and a job opportunity brought the Hubbard family to Dallas in the mid-1950s. “I had a dog and a BB gun. I used to eat poke salad, the whole trip,” Hubbard told Anita Creamer of the Dallas Morning News. “We lived on a little bitty farm that had chickens and roosters and pigs and fishing holes. Coming to Dallas was quite a shock.” Hubbard attended Adamson High School with a number of budding musicians who would later be active on the Texas music scene, including Michael Martin Murphey, B. W. Stevenson, and Larry Croce. Hubbard graduated in 1965 and enrolled as an English major at the University of Texas and North Texas State University. During the summers he played folk music with Rick Fowler and Wayne Kidd in Red River, New Mexico, as the Three Faces West. “For the next seven years,” Tarradell wrote, “Mr. Hubbard’s life was consumed by all-night gigs.”
Although Hubbard recorded little during this time, he soon became well known when his self-penned “Up against the Wall, Red Neck Mother,” was recorded by Jerry Jeff Walker in 1973 and became a hit. Intending the work as a meaningless ditty, Hubbard had not even written a second verse when Walker phoned him from the studio. “I made up a second verse on the phone,” he recalled to Irwin Stambler and Grelun Landon in The Encyclopedia of Folk, “so the song makes no sense to me whatever.” While the song was responsible for a number of royalty checks over the years, Hubbard grew tired of singing it. “For a long time,” Hubbard explained to Bill Craig of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, “’Up against the Wall’ was just a throwaway piece. Then Jerry Jeff cut it and it became a honky-tonk anthem. I’ve made peace with it, but it was kind of difficult for a while.”
In the early 1970s Hubbard formed the Cowboy Twinkies, a band that combined a potent mixture of country and hard rock and which some have described as the first cowpunk group. The band disregarded country music etiquette and upset traditionalists by adding songs like Led Zeppelin’s “Communication Breakdown” to their sets. After a contract with Atlantic produced no recordings, the group completed its only album, Ray Wylie Hubbard & the Cowboys Twinkles, for Warner Bros. in 1975. Hubbard was so dissatisfied with Warner Bros.’ production of the album, however, that he refused to tour to support it. “It was really heartbreaking, because we really had a good band,” he told Alan Sculley of the Allentown Morning Call. “But the record was not representative of what we were doing.”
Hubbard recorded Off the Wall for Willie Nelson’s Lone Star label in 1978 and then regrouped by hiring several members from Jerry Jeff Walker’s Lost Gonzo Band. Although two live albums followed, the end of the Austin/Dallas progressive country scene relegated Hubbard and many of his colleagues to the small barroom circuit. The progressive country lifestyle began to fade away, as adherents grew up, concentrating on careers and family matters rather than drugs and the outlaw counterculture.
By the late 1980s Hubbard’s career was at a standstill and the musician was hopelessly mired in substance abuse. “I started out with beer and amphetamines…,” he admitted to Tarradell. “I always came back to alcohol, but I did cocaine and psychedelics, amphetamines, downers, nitrous oxide.” Hubbard became even more
Born on November 13, 1946, in Soper, OK; son of Royce (a teacher) and Helen Petty (an employee of Western Union) Hubbard; married D’Ann Griffin; divorced; married Judy K. Stone, February 18, 1989; children: (with Griffin) Cory, (with Stone) Lucas Cole.
Joined and performed with Three Faces West with Rick Fowler and Wayne Kidd, c. 1966-68; formed Cowboy Twinkies, early 1970s; wrote “Up against the Wall, Redneck Mother,” which became a hit for Jerry Jeff Walker, 1973; released Ray Wylie Hubbard and the Cowboy Twinkies, 1975; signed with Willie Nelson’s Lone Star label, recorded Off the Wall, 1978; released Something about the Night, 1980, and Caught in the Act, 1984; resumed recording after eight-year hiatus with Lost Train of Thought, 1992.
Addresses: Record company —Rounder Records, One Camp Street, Cambridge, MA 02140, website: http://www.rounder.com.
distraught after the death of his father. “After my dad died,” he told Creamer, “I got real depressed, and I was drinking a lot.” When he turned 41, Hubbard decided to enter a 12-step program and get his life back on track. After a week off alcohol and cocaine, however, he began to lose his resolve. Fortunately, a meeting with fellow musician Stevie Ray Vaughan helped Hubbard stay the course. “I’d met him only once before, when we were both trashed,” Hubbard told Michael Corcoran of the Austin American-Statesman, “but he’d been sober about 14 months when I ran into him again, so he sat down with me and talked about some of the things he’d been going through.” Hubbard worried that he’d lose his inspiration without drugs and alcohol, but Vaughan convinced him that getting clean would actually make him a better artist.
In 1989 Hubbard slowly began to rebuild his career. He started taking guitar lessons to learn more intricate fingerpicking. “See,” Hubbard told Corcoran, “I was hearing these songs in my head, but I couldn’t get my guitar to play ‘em.” He regained his musical direction in 1992 when he finished the self-released Lost Train of Thought after an eight-year absence from the recording studio. His second wife, Judy Hubbard, began Manáging his career, winning him contracts with Dejadisc and later, Philo. Next Hubbard recorded Loco Gringo’s Lament, an album Jack Leaver of All Music Guide called “deeply introspective and honest.” “[B]eginning with Loco Gringo’s Lament,” noted John T. Davis in the Austin American-Statesman, “Hubbard’s writing became deeply spiritual, dense with allegory and allusion, his musical landscape stalked by preachers with a pistol in one hand and a Bible in the other.”
Commenting on the 1990s, Jim Caligiuri noted in the Austin Chronicle that “Hubbard has become one of the best singer-songwriters of our time. Since 1992, he’s released a series of albums, each more impressive than the last.” His 1997 album Dangerous Spirits was followed by Crusades of the Restless Nights in 1999 and Eternal & Lowdown in 2001. “I feel like each time I go in,” Hubbard told Sculley, “I’m trying to make a better record with better songs. It’s still a learning process.” His most recent recordings also triggered a renaissance in Hubbard’s career, resulting in prestigious jobs at venues like the Philadelphia Folk Festival. While he knows that folk festivals and renewed critical attention will not necessarily make him a star, he remains satisfied with his cult status. “The … idea of success is to … have these songs written that I feel good about…,” Hubbard told Tarradell, “and have these players… make the record be as good as we can. I can go up to somebody and go, ‘Here’s my record.’ I don’t have to say, ‘Here’s my record’ and wince. That’s success for me.”
Ray Wylie Hubbard & the Cowboy Twinkies, Warner Bros., 1975.
Off the Wall, Lone Star, 1978.
Something about the Night, Renegade, 1980.
Caught in the Act, Waterloo, 1984.
Lost Train of Thought, Misery Loves Company, 1992.
Loco Gringo’s Lament, Dejadisc, 1994.
Dangerous Spirits, Philo, 1997.
Crusades of the Restless Nights, Philo, 1999.
Eternal & Lowdown, Philo, 2001.
Goodman, David, Modern Twang: An Alternative Country Music Guide & Dictionary, Dowling Press, 1999.
Stambler, Irwin, and Grelun Landon, The Encyclopedia of Folk, Country & Western Music, St. Martin’s Press, 1983.
Walters, Neal, and Brian Mansfield, editors, MusicHound Folk: The Essential Album Guide, Visible Ink Press, 1998.
Allentown Morning Call, August 22, 1999, p. F01.
Austin American-Statesman, July 22, 1999, p. 8; July 9, 2001, p. E1.
Austin Chronicle, June 29, 2001.
Dallas Morning News, June 12, 1988, p. 12; July 18, 1999, p. 1E.
Richmond Times-Dispatch, April 19, 2001, p. D-15.
“Ray Wylie Hubbard,” All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (March 27, 2002).
—Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.
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