Born in the tiny Oklahoma town of Soper, singer/songwriter Ray Wylie Hubbard moved to Texas as a kid and became one of its deans of songwriters, if by a rather circuitous route.
Ray Wylie Hubbard and John Fullbright
8 p.m. Friday-Saturday
The Blue Door
2805 N. McKinley
$25 advance, $30 door
He received his big break via Jerry Jeff Walker, who turned his track, “Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother,” into a hit in 1973. That inaugurated a 15-year stretch of good times and wild partying (or vice versa) for Hubbard that ended only when he got sober.
Now in the process of writing his memoirs, the 64-year-old countryrocker has had time to reflect on those crazy days.
“I wrote some songs and played and had some great gigs and a great time, but I look now as I’ve gotten older, what have I really contributed?” said Hubbard, who celebrates The Blue Door’s 19th anniversary with shows on Friday and Saturday. “I don’t feel like I really contributed a lot. Now that I got clean and sober and wrote these songs, I’m kind of giving something back.”
This time last year, he released his 14th studio album, the darkly redemptive “A. Enlightenment B. Endarkenment (Hint: There is No C),” whose title track describes fate’s capricious nature over a raw, sinister, bluesy drone. It sounds like one of Clint Eastwood’s spaghetti Westerns, but given an honest, sun-scorched, dusty-tumbleweed grime. Which was pretty much its inspiration.
A few years back, Hubbard and documentarian Russell Tiller wrote a Western, “The Last Rites of Ransom Pride,” “about a bunch of despicable people cussing and killing each other in Texas in 1912,” to hear him tell it. Released in 2009, it was a “really exciting and really heartbreaking” experience for Hubbard, who was eased out of his role writing the movie’s score after Hollywood suits got involved.
While disappointing, it provided a basis for the last album, giving him the songs “Black Wings,” “Opium” and “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse,” as well as an bluesy undercurrent that echoes the hardbitten resilience of those old-school outlaws.
Having worked with Texas mainstays Lloyd Maines and Gurf Morlix on previous efforts, Hubbard produced the disc himself, drawing heavily on the lessons they taught him.
“The thing I’ve learned from Lloyd and Gurf is four qualities: You got to have taste, even on guitar licks; it has to have tone and a groove; but it’s got to have a little grit to it, too,” Hubbard said.
He enjoyed the experience so much, he’s been trying his hand on the knobs for other acts, including Band of Heathens. He’s planning to go into the studio this year with roots rocker Lincoln Durham and folk rocker Charlie Shafter. Hubbard said Shafter’s songs recall the power of Townes Van Zandt.
But that’s not all. Beside the producing, memoir-writing, hosting a series of writing workshops with Kevin Welch, writing a TV pilot, and working this summer on a new album, Hubbard is also pulling together his third annual “Grit & Groove” music festival, scheduled for April 2 in New Braunfels, Texas, featuring James McMurtry and The Black Crowes, among others.
He’s not just giving back, but heaping on the goodness.