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Ray Wylie Hubbard's making up for lost time. After frittering away his youth chasing women and a never-ending buzz, Hubbard got sober (with Stevie Ray Vaughan's help), then got to work.
Over the last 17 years he's released eight uniformly terrific studio albums traversing the Texas country landscape from parched ballads and sultry blues to country-rockers and his preferred style, country-folk, all united by their rich storytelling flavored with Hubbard's hard-won, world-weary wisdom and wit.
"Those days in my 20s and 30s were fun at the time, and I got to meet a bunch of great musicians, but having fun and all this other stuff—songwriting was secondary to that. I was more into the lifestyle of a wild visionary than learning the craft of it," Hubbard says with a chuckle.
While his craftsmanship's earned him plenty of critical plaudits, making music alone hasn't been enough to satisfy his creative urges lately. Hubbard just finished hosting his third annual Grit 'n Groove Fest in New Braunfels last month, where Joe Walsh, Chris Robinson and The Gourds, among others, made appearances. He's tried his hand at producing, too, first with Band of Heathens' 2008 self-titled effort, and, more recently, with Charlie Shafter and Lincoln Durham's latest. He even helped put together the movie The Last Rites of Ransom Pride with documentary producer Russell Tiller, before the suits got a hold of it and eased him out.
Not to be discouraged, Hubbard's currently working on a potential TV pilot set in a country bar and tentatively titled Tomb Street. He describes it as a cross between Cheers, The Big Lebowski and Blue Velvet. And he's more than halfway through writing his memoir. Last but not least, he's planning on heading into the studio in August to record his next album, the follow-up to 2010's darkly redemptive A. Enlightenment B. Endarkenment (Hint: There is No C). Several of that album's tracks, such as "Black Wings," "Opium" and "The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse," were originally intended for the Ransom Pride score, but Hubbard took them for himself when he got kicked off the project.
He describes his latest songs as "greazy" and relates how one of the songs is driven by the sentiment that "the days I keep my gratitude higher than my expectations are really good days"—sound advice for anyone. He figures his son Lucas will probably play on it, and may join his band for a while on guitar now that he's graduated high school. (He'll be attending Texas State University in the fall.)
These days, the proud father says, people seem as excited to meet Lucas as they are Ray.
"People come up and brush past me to talk to him," Hubbard says. "All these old roots rockers will come up to him and refer to him as the future of classic rock."
And that's fine by him. Hubbard, a graduate of both Adamson High School in Oak Cliff and the University of North Texas, knows firsthand how fleeting such admiration can be. Even as he's been busy building another legacy for himself, he knows that many still know him as the guy who penned Jerry Jeff Walker's 1973 hit, "Up Against the Wall Redneck Mother."
Clearly, F. Scott Fitzgerald didn't have Ray Wylie Hubbard in mind when he suggested there were no second acts to American lives. The only question left is what on earth he has in mind for an encore.