Ray Wylie Hubbard

When F. Scott Fitzgerald issued his classic conclusion that ‘There are no second acts in American lives,’ he failed to envision the career of legendary Texas troubadour Ray Wylie Hubbard. A willing conspirator in the late seventies Cosmic Cowboy revolt that ushered in the mythical Outlaw era, Hubbard was a catalyst in the cultural upheaval that led to the peaceful coexistence of Lone Star music enthusiasts who comprised each end of the social and political spectrum of that troubled time. In the stellar company of iconic colleagues like Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Doug Sahm and Jerry Jeff Walker, Ray Wylie Hubbard was an architect of the musical legacy that continues to inspire subsequent generations of up-and-coming Texas talent.

Yes, Hubbard is a Texas singer-songwriter, complete with the classic trifurcated handle, fundamental chapter of the canon in his song catalog (“Redneck Mother”), and enough wild hairs in his past to qualify him as a legend. But along the way, his attention began to leave matters extraneous to his art and soul by the wayside and focus on the beauty and potential to be found in the blank canvas of, in his case, the yet to be written and recorded song. The result has been one of the most satisfying musical and lyrical journeys to witness over the last two decades. In the years that followed he evolved into a writer of uncommonly honest portraits of life, alternately mixing deep personal sagas with poignant character studies of those traveling on the dark side of the road.

If one wanted to describe the sound of Ray Wylie Hubbard, one could call it American music, born from the time­ honored traditions of folk, country, and roots rock.

Whether or not you subscribe to the adage that the devil always has the best music, you can take it on faith that anytime he pops up for a cameo in a Ray Wylie Hubbard song, the results are gonna be pretty damned entertaining. And as any fan of the Hubbard cannon knows, Old Scratch pops up in his songs a lot — nearly as often as all of Hubbard’s wise-cracking black birds, lyrical and musical nods to Lightnin’ Hopkins, bad-ass women (usually Hubbard’s own wife, Judy), and a myriad of other grifters, ruffians, and scrappy cats of the gnarly and general lowdown variety. Somewhere or other on just about every Ray Wylie Hubbard album, the devil always gets his due — and he’s now even worked his way up to top billing on the acclaimed songwriter’s latest, Tell the Devil I’m Getting There as Fast as I Can (2017 on Bordello Records through Thirty Tigers).
Now, don’t get the wrong idea here. Hubbard’s not some faddish heavy metal occultist on an Aleister Crowley kick; “I don’t really go that far or study it or anything,” he says with a chuckle. Nor is he under the spell of any liquid, powder, or other chemical that a tee-totaling churchgoer might flag as the devil’s influence: Hubbard shook off all of that stuff 30-some-odd years ago, when the wayward ’70s progressive country refugee stumbled out of his honky-tonk fog and discovered that both his life and art were a helluva lot greener on the sober side of the fence. What it really comes down to is the fact that there’s just something about the cut of the fallen angel’s jib that’s tickled Hubbard’s muse ever since 1999’s uproarious “Conversation With the Devil.” And much like his sheepish excuse in that song that “I never used the cocaine to get high, I just liked the way it smelled,” Hubbard just gets a kick out of hearing — or rather, making — the wily (Wylie?) fiend talk.
“You kind of give him a personality, you know?” offers the 70-year-old Oklahoma-born troubadour from his log-cabin Shangri-la in Wimberley, a Texas Hill Country hamlet just outside of Austin.
And because he’s an equal opportunity kind of deity casting agent, Hubbard has just as much fun playing around with the voice of the devil’s arch nemesis, as heard here on the album-opening “God Looked Around.” The Biblical story of creation has been recounted many times over the ages, but only in Hubbard’s hands does it stomp like a prison field holler with the Almighty mumbling “Well shucks, let there be light” and “well there it is, for what it’s worth.” You better believe he sticks to the whole Original Sin and kicked-out-of-Eden plot, though, and not just to land his punch line about why all snakes “to this day they slither and hiss.”
Hubbard sings about getting “perplexed and overwhelmed” anytime he attempts to “unravel the sacred,” but his big-picture focus and artistic sense of direction has never felt truer. Although Tell the Devil I’m Getting There as Fast as I Can isn’t a concept album, per se, its songs fit neatly together to chart a Dante-esque journey from Paradise Lost all the way to the final reckoning. “There’s a definite beginning, middle, and end to this record,” says Hubbard, who’s joined on that last song by the ever-exquisite Patty Griffin. “It starts with ‘Genesis,’ and at the ending, there I am trying to plead my case before the court of heaven, hoping I’ve got a good lawyer.”
That wry Ray Wylie wit, which filled every page of his compulsively readable and hair-raisingly candid 2015 memoir A Life … Well, Lived, can be found in spades here, too, along with heaps of the patented “grit ’n’ groove” that’s been a Hubbard hallmark and one of the most oft-imitated but never-equaled signature sounds in all Americana, going back to 2001’s Gurf Morlix-produced Eternal and Lowdown and especially since his vicious “Snake Farm” first reared its lethal head in 2006. Produced by Hubbard himself at The Zone in Dripping Springs, Texas, with his lead-guitar playing son Lucas and drummer Kyle Schneider joined by Jeff Plankenhorn (Dobro and mandolin), Bukka Allen (B3 organ), and both studio owner Mike Morgan and engineer Pat Manskee on bass,
Tell the Devil does more than just stomp, slither, hiss and howl; it also heralds Hubbard’s return to the folk-poet mysticism that illuminated the first decade of his artistic rebirth back in the ’90s, proved the reformed Cowboy Twinkie had a lot more to offer the world — and his legacy as a serious songwriter — than just his seemingly immortal ’70s anthem “Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother.” Of course, Hubbard’s Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan-planted folk roots go back a lot farther than even his progressive country days, and as he insists with a good-natured laugh, that guy “never really went away — he just kind of got sidetracked for awhile.” Regardless, the “Long Black Veil”-esque ghost story “House of the White Rose Bouquet” is unlike any song Hubbard’s shared on record in nearly two decades, while the surreally psychedelic “The Rebellious Sons” is, by his own admission, completely different from anything else he’s ever done, period.
“I’ve always had this idea that I needed to do something like ‘All Along the Watchtower,’” says Hubbard, who as a Jimi Hendrix and 13th Floor Elevators fan was most assuredly not one of those early Dylan disciples who bailed when the Bard went electric. “So I basically sat down with the intent to write this mythological, Holy Grail/Games of Thrones kind of thing, and then I had the guys from the Bright Light Social Hour come in, because I knew they’d be perfect for it.” The Austin-based psych-rock band had previously called Hubbard out of the blue back in 2015, inviting him to join them onstage for their own album-release blowout so they could jam together on his 2003 anthem “Screw You, We’re From Texas.” “That was trippy,” recalls a beaming Hubbard, who was so impressed with the band’s intensity that he ended up re-recording that song (along with a couple of gems from his back pages) for a retrospective album he aims to release later this year.
More recently, Hubbard was also invited to sing one of his songs at a sold-out arena show by mainstream country sensation Eric Church, who had name-dropped Hubbard in the title track to his 2015 smash album Mr. Misunderstood. To return the favor, Hubbard invited Church to sing with him on Tell the Devil I’m Getting There as Fast as I Can’s title track — right alongside none other than Americana queen Lucinda Williams. The unlikely trio came together piecemeal via bouncing tracks between different studios, but the end result, with all three voices coming together by the end of the song like a rock ’n’ roll benediction, is pure magic.
“I can’t remember if it was Gurf (Morlix) or George Reiff, but one of those guys told me once that on every record I need to have a rock ’n’ roll anthem, so I always try to do that,” says Hubbard, referring to two of the three record producers (the third being Lloyd Maines) that he remains forever indebted to for helping him rebuild his career, one album at a time, ever since going sober three decades back. “So, ’Tell the Devil’ is kind of my rock ’n’ roll anthem here. It’s got an old gnarly guitar and slide on it, but I really love that it’s also got that ‘Maggie May’ instrumentation thing going on, with mandolin and Hammond B3 together; in fact, Bukka came in and did an Ian McLagan thing on it that was just great. And then of course we got Eric singing his part, and finally Lucinda put her
Lucinda low-down cool on it!”
All that’s missing, it seems, is the devil himself; unlike his starring role in the earlier “Lucifer and the Fallen Angels,” he’s really only mentioned here in passing. That’s because this song’s about a very different kind of funky old cat.
“It’s one of those Bob Seger ‘Turn the Page’ type road songs,” explains Hubbard. “But it’s kind of a love song in a way, too. It’s about this old guy who lives and dies rock ’n’ roll — that whole deal where you’re in it and you ain’t ever gonna get out of it — and it’s about the woman he loves who can out-cuss any man.” He pauses a beat before stating the obvious with a chuckle: “So yeah, it’s pretty much all based on truth.”

Whether or not you subscribe to the adage that the devil always has the best music, you can take it on faith that anytime he pops up for a cameo in a Ray Wylie Hubbard song, the results are gonna be pretty damned entertaining. And as any fan of the Hubbard cannon knows, Old Scratch pops up in his songs a lot — nearly as often as all of Hubbard’s wise-cracking black birds, lyrical and musical nods to Lightnin’ Hopkins, bad-ass women (usually Hubbard’s own wife, Judy), and a myriad of other grifters, ruffians, and scrappy cats of the gnarly and general lowdown variety. Somewhere or other on just about every Ray Wylie Hubbard album, the devil always gets his due — and he’s now even worked his way up to top billing on the acclaimed songwriter’s latest, Tell the Devil I’m Getting There as Fast as I Can (2017 on Bordello Records through Thirty Tigers).
Now, don’t get the wrong idea here. Hubbard’s not some faddish heavy metal occultist on an Aleister Crowley kick; “I don’t really go that far or study it or anything,” he says with a chuckle. Nor is he under the spell of any liquid, powder, or other chemical that a tee-totaling churchgoer might flag as the devil’s influence: Hubbard shook off all of that stuff 30-some-odd years ago, when the wayward ’70s progressive country refugee stumbled out of his honky-tonk fog and discovered that both his life and art were a helluva lot greener on the sober side of the fence. What it really comes down to is the fact that there’s just something about the cut of the fallen angel’s jib that’s tickled Hubbard’s muse ever since 1999’s uproarious “Conversation With the Devil.” And much like his sheepish excuse in that song that “I never used the cocaine to get high, I just liked the way it smelled,” Hubbard just gets a kick out of hearing — or rather, making — the wily (Wylie?) fiend talk.
“You kind of give him a personality, you know?” offers the 70-year-old Oklahoma-born troubadour from his log-cabin Shangri-la in Wimberley, a Texas Hill Country hamlet just outside of Austin.
And because he’s an equal opportunity kind of deity casting agent, Hubbard has just as much fun playing around with the voice of the devil’s arch nemesis, as heard here on the album-opening “God Looked Around.” The Biblical story of creation has been recounted many times over the ages, but only in Hubbard’s hands does it stomp like a prison field holler with the Almighty mumbling “Well shucks, let there be light” and “well there it is, for what it’s worth.” You better believe he sticks to the whole Original Sin and kicked-out-of-Eden plot, though, and not just to land his punch line about why all snakes “to this day they slither and hiss.”
Hubbard sings about getting “perplexed and overwhelmed” anytime he attempts to “unravel the sacred,” but his big-picture focus and artistic sense of direction has never felt truer. Although Tell the Devil I’m Getting There as Fast as I Can isn’t a concept album, per se, its songs fit neatly together to chart a Dante-esque journey from Paradise Lost all the way to the final reckoning. “There’s a definite beginning, middle, and end to this record,” says Hubbard, who’s joined on that last song by the ever-exquisite Patty Griffin. “It starts with ‘Genesis,’ and at the ending, there I am trying to plead my case before the court of heaven, hoping I’ve got a good lawyer.”
That wry Ray Wylie wit, which filled every page of his compulsively readable and hair-raisingly candid 2015 memoir A Life … Well, Lived, can be found in spades here, too, along with heaps of the patented “grit ’n’ groove” that’s been a Hubbard hallmark and one of the most oft-imitated but never-equaled signature sounds in all Americana, going back to 2001’s Gurf Morlix-produced Eternal and Lowdown and especially since his vicious “Snake Farm” first reared its lethal head in 2006. Produced by Hubbard himself at The Zone in Dripping Springs, Texas, with his lead-guitar playing son Lucas and drummer Kyle Schneider joined by Jeff Plankenhorn (Dobro and mandolin), Bukka Allen (B3 organ), and both studio owner Mike Morgan and engineer Pat Manskee on bass,
Tell the Devil does more than just stomp, slither, hiss and howl; it also heralds Hubbard’s return to the folk-poet mysticism that illuminated the first decade of his artistic rebirth back in the ’90s, proved the reformed Cowboy Twinkie had a lot more to offer the world — and his legacy as a serious songwriter — than just his seemingly immortal ’70s anthem “Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother.” Of course, Hubbard’s Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan-planted folk roots go back a lot farther than even his progressive country days, and as he insists with a good-natured laugh, that guy “never really went away — he just kind of got sidetracked for awhile.” Regardless, the “Long Black Veil”-esque ghost story “House of the White Rose Bouquet” is unlike any song Hubbard’s shared on record in nearly two decades, while the surreally psychedelic “The Rebellious Sons” is, by his own admission, completely different from anything else he’s ever done, period.
“I’ve always had this idea that I needed to do something like ‘All Along the Watchtower,’” says Hubbard, who as a Jimi Hendrix and 13th Floor Elevators fan was most assuredly not one of those early Dylan disciples who bailed when the Bard went electric. “So I basically sat down with the intent to write this mythological, Holy Grail/Games of Thrones kind of thing, and then I had the guys from the Bright Light Social Hour come in, because I knew they’d be perfect for it.” The Austin-based psych-rock band had previously called Hubbard out of the blue back in 2015, inviting him to join them onstage for their own album-release blowout so they could jam together on his 2003 anthem “Screw You, We’re From Texas.” “That was trippy,” recalls a beaming Hubbard, who was so impressed with the band’s intensity that he ended up re-recording that song (along with a couple of gems from his back pages) for a retrospective album he aims to release later this year.
More recently, Hubbard was also invited to sing one of his songs at a sold-out arena show by mainstream country sensation Eric Church, who had name-dropped Hubbard in the title track to his 2015 smash album Mr. Misunderstood. To return the favor, Hubbard invited Church to sing with him on Tell the Devil I’m Getting There as Fast as I Can’s title track — right alongside none other than Americana queen Lucinda Williams. The unlikely trio came together piecemeal via bouncing tracks between different studios, but the end result, with all three voices coming together by the end of the song like a rock ’n’ roll benediction, is pure magic.
“I can’t remember if it was Gurf (Morlix) or George Reiff, but one of those guys told me once that on every record I need to have a rock ’n’ roll anthem, so I always try to do that,” says Hubbard, referring to two of the three record producers (the third being Lloyd Maines) that he remains forever indebted to for helping him rebuild his career, one album at a time, ever since going sober three decades back. “So, ’Tell the Devil’ is kind of my rock ’n’ roll anthem here. It’s got an old gnarly guitar and slide on it, but I really love that it’s also got that ‘Maggie May’ instrumentation thing going on, with mandolin and Hammond B3 together; in fact, Bukka came in and did an Ian McLagan thing on it that was just great. And then of course we got Eric singing his part, and finally Lucinda put her
Lucinda low-down cool on it!”
All that’s missing, it seems, is the devil himself; unlike his starring role in the earlier “Lucifer and the Fallen Angels,” he’s really only mentioned here in passing. That’s because this song’s about a very different kind of funky old cat.
“It’s one of those Bob Seger ‘Turn the Page’ type road songs,” explains Hubbard. “But it’s kind of a love song in a way, too. It’s about this old guy who lives and dies rock ’n’ roll — that whole deal where you’re in it and you ain’t ever gonna get out of it — and it’s about the woman he loves who can out-cuss any man.” He pauses a beat before stating the obvious with a chuckle: “So yeah, it’s pretty much all based on truth.”

When F. Scott Fitzgerald issued his classic conclusion that ‘There are no second acts in American lives,’ he failed to envision the career of legendary Texas troubadour Ray Wylie Hubbard. A willing conspirator in the late seventies Cosmic Cowboy revolt that ushered in the mythical Outlaw era, Hubbard was a catalyst in the cultural upheaval that led to the peaceful coexistence of Lone Star music enthusiasts who comprised each end of the social and political spectrum of that troubled time. In the stellar company of iconic colleagues like Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Doug Sahm and Jerry Jeff Walker, Ray Wylie Hubbard was an architect of the musical legacy that continues to inspire subsequent generations of up-and-coming Texas talent.
Yes, Hubbard is a Texas singer-songwriter, complete with the classic trifurcated handle, fundamental chapter of the canon in his song catalog (“Redneck Mother”), and enough wild hairs in his past to qualify him as a legend. But along the way, his attention began to leave matters extraneous to his art and soul by the wayside and focus on the beauty and potential to be found in the blank canvas of, in his case, the yet to be written and recorded song.
The result has been one of the most satisfying musical and lyrical journeys to witness over the last decade or so. In the years that followed he evolved into a writer of uncommonly honest portraits of life, alternately mixing deep personal sagas with poignant character studies of those traveling on the dark side of the road. If one wanted to describe the sound of Ray Wylie Hubbard, one could call it American music, born from the time honored traditions of folk, country and roots rock.

 

When F. Scott Fitzgerald issued his classic conclusion that ‘There are no second acts in American lives,’ he failed to envision the career of legendary Texas troubadour Ray Wylie Hubbard. A willing conspirator in the late seventies Cosmic Cowboy revolt that ushered in the mythical Outlaw era, Hubbard was a catalyst in the cultural upheaval that led to the peaceful coexistence of Lone Star music enthusiasts who comprised each end of the social and political spectrum of that troubled time. In the stellar company of iconic colleagues like Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Doug Sahm and Jerry Jeff Walker, Ray Wylie Hubbard was an architect of the musical legacy that continues to inspire subsequent generations of up-and-coming Texas talent.
Yes, Hubbard is a Texas singer-songwriter, complete with the classic trifurcated handle, fundamental chapter of the canon in his song catalog (“Redneck Mother”), and enough wild hairs in his past to qualify him as a legend. But along the way, his attention began to leave matters extraneous to his art and soul by the wayside and focus on the beauty and potential to be found in the blank canvas of, in his case, the yet to be written and recorded song.
The result has been one of the most satisfying musical and lyrical journeys to witness over the last decade or so. In the years that followed he evolved into a writer of uncommonly honest portraits of life, alternately mixing deep personal sagas with poignant character studies of those traveling on the dark side of the road. If one wanted to describe the sound of Ray Wylie Hubbard, one could call it American music, born from the time honored traditions of folk, country and roots rock.

 

When it comes to down ’n’ dirty roots ’n’ roll, nobody in the wide world of Americana music today does it better than Ray Wylie Hubbard. Except, it seems, for Hubbard himself. After riding a decade-long career resurgence into the national spotlight with 2012’s acclaimed The Grifter’s Hymnal and his first ever appearance on the Late Show With David Letterman (“I didn’t want to peak too soon,” quips Hubbard, 68), 

From his humble beginnings as an Oklahoma folkie in the ’60s to his wild ride through the ’70s progressive country movement, and onward through the honky-tonk fog of the ’80s to his sobriety-empowered comeback as a songwriter’s songwriter in the ’90s, Hubbard was already a bona fide legend by the time he really found his groove right at the turn of the century. That’s when he finally felt confident enough in his guitar playing to dive headlong into his own inimitable take on the blues, a form he’d admired but steered clear of for decades, thinking its mysteries were beyond his grasp as a basic chord strummer.

“I used to go see Lightnin’ Hopkins and Mance Lipscomb and Freddie King, all those cats, but I never could play like them — I guess because I never took the time or effort to try — until I was in my 40s and learned how to finger pick,” says Hubbard. “Once I learned how to finger pick, I started going, ‘Oh, OK, this is how they did all that!’ Then I started learning open tuning, and then slide, and it was just this incredible freedom that gave all these songs a door to come through that wasn’t there before. It was like all of a sudden having this whole other language or a whole other set of tools to add to my arsenal.”

In lieu of drugs and alcohol, that language became Hubbard’s new addiction — and the title of his 2001 album Eternal and Lowdown somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy: 14 years further down the road, he’s still chasing hellhounds deep into the underbelly of the blues, with a Lightnin’ Hopkins gleam in his eyes and a Rolling Stone swagger in his boot steps.

“I really liked The Grifter’s Hymnal, and I think The Ruffian’s Misfortune is still kind of a part of that,” he offers, noting that he likes the way both titles would look just as fitting on a dusty old book jacket — or perhaps at the start of a silent movie — as they do on an album cover. But the similarities don’t end there. “This record is pretty much where I am as far as trying to make records that work on a couple of different levels, by laying down a groove with cool guitar tones and vicious nasty licks with lyrics that have a little depth and weight and even a little humor thrown in, too, as life is pretty much like that.”

Hubbard describes the process of getting those lyrics down just right — with every line and word weighted and measured with a poet’s discipline — as both “a joy and anguish.” But the actual recording this time around went down remarkably quickly, with most of the tracks nailed down live in two or three takes over the course of five days at the Zone studio in Dripping Springs, Texas, right up the road from the rustic Hill Country cabin Hubbard shares with his wife, manager, and record label president, Judy. Hubbard’s ferociously gifted 21-year-old son, Lucas — who’s been holding his own onstage with the old man since his late teens — shared lead guitar duties on the album with the equally talented Gabe Rhodes, swapping leads the whole way through. “I really wanted to have that Ron Wood/Keith Richards two-guitar vibe, you know?” explains Ray Wylie, who of course played a fair amount of guitar himself: namely, all of the slide and acoustic stuff. The bedrock is provided by bassist/co-producer George Reiff and drummer Rick Richards, whose “deep in the pocket,” just-behind-the-beat timing has been Hubbard’s not-so-secret weapon for years on both record and stage. Hubbard raves that Reiff and Richards make for such a potent groove machine that he’s had to share them on more than one occasion with friend (and poacher) Joe Walsh: “He called me up and went, ‘I don’t want to steal your band … but I’m going to steal your Snake Farm band,’” Hubbard recounts with a laugh. “Which of course is a high compliment to George and Rick.”

There’s a bit more to that particular story, which is but one of hundreds, if not thousands, of colorful anecdotes Hubbard could tell about his long and eventful career — some going even further back than the one about how he came to write “Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother,” which became one of the defining anthems of the entire progressive country era after Jerry Jeff Walker recorded it on his classic 1973 album ¡Viva Terlingua! He’s certainly got more than enough of them — and years of insight to match — to fill a book, which is something he finally got around to tackling after persistent prodding (and a bit of editing help) from friend and music writer Thom Jurek. After spending the better part of the last two years sifting through his memories and hashing them out on the page, Hubbard’s autobiography is off to the printer and due out this spring or summer right alongside The Ruffian’s Misfortune. It’s exceedingly Hubbard-ly title? A Life … Well, Lived.

His book may be finished, but Hubbard’s not done, well, living that life. And as long as he keeps his gratitude higher than his expectations (to borrow a line from The Grifter’s Hymnal’s “Mother Blues,” pointedly delivered by Hubbard himself and not some wiseacre Aesop’s crow), his fortune going forward should be pretty good.

“As I look back, I’ve had some amazing cool things happen, but I still feel like I’m moving forward,” he says. “I still enjoy it, and I think there’s still plateaus to reach. I don’t know what they’re going to be, because I haven’t really sat around thinking about it; when I wrote ‘Mother Blues’ for the last record, I wasn’t thinking, ‘I’ll put this album out and try to get on Letterman’ — he just heard the song on Sirius Radio and called up and asked for us. So who knows what will happen with this record? All I know is I feel very fortunate right now in that I’m playing gigs that are really fun to do. And as long as I can keep writing and performing new songs, I think I could keep doing this for awhile. I saw some show once where Pinetop Perkins was playing at 90 years old, and Judy said, ‘You’ve got another 20 years in you!’” 

When it comes to down ’n’ dirty roots ’n’ roll, nobody in the wide world of Americana music today does it better than Ray Wylie Hubbard. Except, it seems, for Hubbard himself. After riding a decade-long career resurgence into the national spotlight with 2012’s acclaimed The Grifter’s Hymnal and his first ever appearance on the Late Show With David Letterman (“I didn’t want to peak too soon,” quips Hubbard, 68), 

From his humble beginnings as an Oklahoma folkie in the ’60s to his wild ride through the ’70s progressive country movement, and onward through the honky-tonk fog of the ’80s to his sobriety-empowered comeback as a songwriter’s songwriter in the ’90s, Hubbard was already a bona fide legend by the time he really found his groove right at the turn of the century. That’s when he finally felt confident enough in his guitar playing to dive headlong into his own inimitable take on the blues, a form he’d admired but steered clear of for decades, thinking its mysteries were beyond his grasp as a basic chord strummer.

“I used to go see Lightnin’ Hopkins and Mance Lipscomb and Freddie King, all those cats, but I never could play like them — I guess because I never took the time or effort to try — until I was in my 40s and learned how to finger pick,” says Hubbard. “Once I learned how to finger pick, I started going, ‘Oh, OK, this is how they did all that!’ Then I started learning open tuning, and then slide, and it was just this incredible freedom that gave all these songs a door to come through that wasn’t there before. It was like all of a sudden having this whole other language or a whole other set of tools to add to my arsenal.”

In lieu of drugs and alcohol, that language became Hubbard’s new addiction — and the title of his 2001 album Eternal and Lowdown somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy: 14 years further down the road, he’s still chasing hellhounds deep into the underbelly of the blues, with a Lightnin’ Hopkins gleam in his eyes and a Rolling Stone swagger in his boot steps.

“I really liked The Grifter’s Hymnal, and I think The Ruffian’s Misfortune is still kind of a part of that,” he offers, noting that he likes the way both titles would look just as fitting on a dusty old book jacket — or perhaps at the start of a silent movie — as they do on an album cover. But the similarities don’t end there. “This record is pretty much where I am as far as trying to make records that work on a couple of different levels, by laying down a groove with cool guitar tones and vicious nasty licks with lyrics that have a little depth and weight and even a little humor thrown in, too, as life is pretty much like that.”

Hubbard describes the process of getting those lyrics down just right — with every line and word weighted and measured with a poet’s discipline — as both “a joy and anguish.” But the actual recording this time around went down remarkably quickly, with most of the tracks nailed down live in two or three takes over the course of five days at the Zone studio in Dripping Springs, Texas, right up the road from the rustic Hill Country cabin Hubbard shares with his wife, manager, and record label president, Judy. Hubbard’s ferociously gifted 21-year-old son, Lucas — who’s been holding his own onstage with the old man since his late teens — shared lead guitar duties on the album with the equally talented Gabe Rhodes, swapping leads the whole way through. “I really wanted to have that Ron Wood/Keith Richards two-guitar vibe, you know?” explains Ray Wylie, who of course played a fair amount of guitar himself: namely, all of the slide and acoustic stuff. The bedrock is provided by bassist/co-producer George Reiff and drummer Rick Richards, whose “deep in the pocket,” just-behind-the-beat timing has been Hubbard’s not-so-secret weapon for years on both record and stage. Hubbard raves that Reiff and Richards make for such a potent groove machine that he’s had to share them on more than one occasion with friend (and poacher) Joe Walsh: “He called me up and went, ‘I don’t want to steal your band … but I’m going to steal your Snake Farm band,’” Hubbard recounts with a laugh. “Which of course is a high compliment to George and Rick.”

There’s a bit more to that particular story, which is but one of hundreds, if not thousands, of colorful anecdotes Hubbard could tell about his long and eventful career — some going even further back than the one about how he came to write “Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother,” which became one of the defining anthems of the entire progressive country era after Jerry Jeff Walker recorded it on his classic 1973 album ¡Viva Terlingua! He’s certainly got more than enough of them — and years of insight to match — to fill a book, which is something he finally got around to tackling after persistent prodding (and a bit of editing help) from friend and music writer Thom Jurek. After spending the better part of the last two years sifting through his memories and hashing them out on the page, Hubbard’s autobiography is off to the printer and due out this spring or summer right alongside The Ruffian’s Misfortune. It’s exceedingly Hubbard-ly title? A Life … Well, Lived.

His book may be finished, but Hubbard’s not done, well, living that life. And as long as he keeps his gratitude higher than his expectations (to borrow a line from The Grifter’s Hymnal’s “Mother Blues,” pointedly delivered by Hubbard himself and not some wiseacre Aesop’s crow), his fortune going forward should be pretty good.

“As I look back, I’ve had some amazing cool things happen, but I still feel like I’m moving forward,” he says. “I still enjoy it, and I think there’s still plateaus to reach. I don’t know what they’re going to be, because I haven’t really sat around thinking about it; when I wrote ‘Mother Blues’ for the last record, I wasn’t thinking, ‘I’ll put this album out and try to get on Letterman’ — he just heard the song on Sirius Radio and called up and asked for us. So who knows what will happen with this record? All I know is I feel very fortunate right now in that I’m playing gigs that are really fun to do. And as long as I can keep writing and performing new songs, I think I could keep doing this for awhile. I saw some show once where Pinetop Perkins was playing at 90 years old, and Judy said, ‘You’ve got another 20 years in you!’”