Day for Knight

Ray Wylie Hubbard is no longer up against the wall, redneck mother

"I really liked that vagabond troubadour idea," he explains. "This friend of mine got Dylan's first album and hated it, and I really loved it, so I traded him for it. I would sit there listening and was just amazed."

One night in Red River during a picking party, Hubbard was sent out on a beer run. "There was this real hardcore country bar there called the D-Bar-D. I went into there to get the beer. It was this real tense situation. I came back to the jam session, and just started goofing around with this song." It was just a little joke for the coffeehouse gang about the folks in the bar across the way, those redneck mothers. "I think I started writing it about me -- I was born in Oklahoma. I'd heard this term, 'up against the wall.' It was what I'd like to have said. It's so vague to me. Even back then, when I first wrote it, it was such a throwaway."

But as Merle Haggard learned with "Okie From Muskogee," sometimes throwaway parodies -- in Haggard's case, a joke to amuse the band on the bus -- can take on a life all their own. "It was kind of an answer to 'Okie From Muskogee,'" Hubbard says. "Bob Livingston, the bass player, was up there in Red River at the time. The way I heard it, Jerry Jeff [Walker] was at the Broken Spoke [in Austin] and broke a string, and said, 'Bob, sing a song.' And Bob sang 'Redneck Mother.' It was so weird. It just got everyone's attention."

Who you gonna call? The Dallas Hunger Busters, from left (at microphones): Steve Parkess, Craig Taylor, Hubbard, and Donnie Ray Ford.
Who you gonna call? The Dallas Hunger Busters, from left (at microphones): Steve Parkess, Craig Taylor, Hubbard, and Donnie Ray Ford.

By the time Walker cut the song on his landmark ¡ Viva Terlingua! album, record companies were gambling on progressive country to be a coming thing, and Hubbard was able to land not one, but two major-label deals for the Cowboy Twinkies, the band he'd started with a young Okie guitar player he'd met in Red River, Terry "Buffalo" Ware. The first deal with Atlantic Records went south after Hubbard and the Twinkies fled Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Alabama in the middle of the night after reaching an impasse with onetime Bob Dylan producer Bob Johnston. A subsequent signing with Warner Bros. resulted in an album recorded in Nashville, which was then sweetened and overdubbed for country radio consumption after the band left town.

"The first time I heard the album, we got a cassette of it, and we were out in the van in my driveway, which was the only cassette player I had that worked," he recalls. "It turned out so badly that we actually started crying, all four of us. About that time my mother came home from work. She walked up the driveway, and she knocked on the window. We rolled down the window, and we all had tears in our eyes. She asked, 'What are you doing?' 'We're listening to our new record.' There was nothing we could do about it.

"It just really broke our hearts. It was one of those things where I kinda withdrew. I was really plagued with fear and doubt and resentment the whole time. Basically after that, I just kinda drank a lot, did a lot of drugs, had a bunch of bands, and traveled. And did that for about 15 years."

During those years, Hubbard played first with the Cowboy Twinkies, then the Lost Gonzo Band, and later was backed by a group featuring Dallas guitar legend Bugs Henderson. He put out some albums and tapes on his own Misery Loves Co. label that he fails to even mention today.

"I was a working musician. Didn't really pursue recording," he says. "I was resentful and couldn't quite figure out why I wasn't doing well. I refused to go up to Nashville. Nashville didn't really seem to notice I had a resentment against them. They just went along without me. I could go play honky-tonks, but I was always kind of struggling."

Hubbard was able to survive in a bar band by going the redneck mothers in the audience one better. "We would do anything back then for a laugh," recalls Ware of his days with the Cowboy Twinkies. "One time we were opening for Waylon Jennings at the Sportatorium, and we went and got these siren helmets from Radio Shack. We came out onstage with these helmets on with the lights flashing, and people didn't know what to think. We really were fearless."

Or maybe just full of nervous bravado. "My career was like drinking and music," Hubbard says today. He's reluctant now to play the songs he did in the old days, and he winced at a recent Austin show when calls came from the audience for "Oak Cliff Surfer Girl," a talking surf-rock blues based on an actual prom date of his teen years. When he played Gruene Hall last Memorial Day, and the place was jammed with well-lubricated young bucks and betties anxious to hear the guy who wrote "Redneck Mother" for current frat boy fave Jerry Jeff Walker -- forcing Hubbard to sing Gary P. Nunn's "home with the armadillo" song, "London Homesick Blues" -- he later was quick to apologize for the "miserable" gig. Even though his honky-tonk years were peppered with blackouts, he treats his musical legacy from those days as something he wishes he could also forget, doing his best to gloss it all over in interviews.

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