By Kelly Dearmore
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By Anna Merlan
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"After that first year, it was kind of amazing to me. I was 43, and some real crucial things happened that turned my life around. After I got clean and sober, then I got to the point where I didn't know what I was going to do. I looked back over my history. I wasn't really a songwriter; I'd written 'Redneck Mother,' and Jerry Jeff did it. I really wasn't like a real musician; I just played guitar. I wasn't really like a performer; but I could get up on stage. In this period of time since high school, I'd always had a band and had just been kinda the singer. And I'm not really a great singer. So I just kinda sat around, like, well, what am I going to do now? I was pretty much dead in the water as far as pretty much any career."
Hubbard also explored how his fears and low self-esteem had held him back, locking in with the line about how "our fears are like dragons guarding our most precious treasures" when he read Rainer Maria Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet. He overcame his embarrassment with his rudimentary guitar skills and started to take lessons. He abandoned his resentment of Nashville and played a showcase for some record labels there.
Even though he didn't get signed, "I drove back, and had this most incredible feeling. The deal wasn't to get a record deal. The deal was to get over the fear and doubt. That was the accomplishment. So then I got back, and it was like, wham...now I know what I have to do, and have to do it myself. So I went in and did Lost Train of Thought."
He played South by Southwest and was offered the chance to record again by some independent labels. He cut Loco Gringo's Lament for the San Marcos-based Dejadisc imprint, and made a record that was as much an epiphany for him as it was for the listener. "It was the first time I could take it and hand it to someone, and say, here it is," he says proudly. "And whether they liked it or hated it, it didn't matter, because I knew that I was finally able to get it the way it sounded it my head, the way I wanted it to sound.
"The songs were strong, the playing was good, and it sounded like a record," he continues. "I don't know any other way to explain it, but when I finally got it and listened to it by myself, I thought back to all the sordid, underfunded projects and dead ends, and I finally realized that this was it -- being clean and sober and making this record was exactly what I started out trying to do back in high school. The record came out and validated everything I knew that I hopefully was capable of. I always hated it back in school when they said, 'Ray has a lot of potential if he would only apply himself.'"
At the end of a live concert broadcast on Austin's KGSR-FM a few weeks ago, Hubbard introduced his encore song -- a sublime rendition of the late Townes Van Zandt's "Snowing on Raton" -- with a talk about the "holy trinity of Texas singer-songwriters: Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, and Billy Joe Shaver." Although Van Zandt can hardly be replaced, ever since Loco Gringo's Lament, Hubbard has been writing songs and making records with the sort of eloquence and grace that qualify him for that pantheon's empty space. You can find it in songs like "The Real Trick," in which his dour observations still bear a glimmer of hope, one that almost acts as a counterpoint to Van Zandt's fateful sense of doom: "We are all lengthening shadows cast by a sinking sun / So we need to find this reason to believe in something / Or someone but it is hard to believe with just faith alone / We feel betrayed by life when the life we betrayed was our own."
As the interview winds down, Lucas is trying to drown the fire ants throughout the yard with a garden hose. Judy is inside tending to the final details surrounding the release of Crusades of the Restless Knights and working on booking the tours to follow. And Ray, well, he's simply looking forward to tomorrow, something he never much did all those forgotten yesterdays ago.
"I feel very comfortable with the future, which is something I've never been before," Hubbard says. "There was always this fear of impending doom. Well, now, I'm OK."