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Ray Wylie Hubbard started his journey as a folk singer in his native Oklahoma before falling in with the wild and wooly outlaw Texas country scene of the ’70s — in large part by way of penning the immortal “Up Against the Wall (Redneck Mother),” which Jerry Jeff Walker recorded. Hubbard gigged constantly and recorded sporadically throughout the rest of the ’70s and ’80s, but it wasn’t until he stumbled out of his “honky-tonk fog” and into sobriety that his career as a songwriter’s songwriter began in earnest with 1994’s Loco Gringo’s Lament. He’s moved from strength to strength ever since, recording a handful of acclaimed albums with noted producers Lloyd Maines and Gurf Morlix and cementing his standing as one of the most respected artists on the modern Americana scene.
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), the iconoclastic Texas songwriter is back to continue his hot streak with The Ruffian’s Misfortune — his 16th album. 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.
“I used to go see Lightnin’ Hopkins and Mance Lipscomb and Freddie King, all those cats, but I never could play like them. 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. 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. The Ruffian’s Misfortune is his latest missive home from this leg of his long journey. Its message? Don’t wait up.
Hubbard has enough such chestnuts to fill a book, which is something he finally got around to tackling. Hubbard’s autobiography is out this 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 Hubbard himself) his fortune going forward should be pretty good.
Check out RWH on DAVID LETTERMAN!