When Jerry Jeff Walker famously introduced the now-iconic song "Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother" on his seminal 1973 record Viva Terlingua record by saying, "This song is by Ray Wylie Hubbard," an eternal link was forged.
Though Hubbard's catalog is packed with praise-worthy gems, "Redneck Mother" and its writer are forever wed.
The following decades would see Hubbard flirt with national fame, survive the depths of addiction and resurge as a respected elder statesman for multiple generations of songwriters. Now, gritty blues-inflected roots-rock songs such as "Snake Farm," "Wanna Rock and Roll," and "Screw You, We're From Texas" have rightfully become staples of any proper Texas country playlist.
Hubbard turns 70 this week, and to celebrate, he's returning to the very neighborhood he spent much of his childhood in when he performs Nov. 10 and 11 at the Kessler Theater in Oak Cliff.
The past couple of years have seen Hubbard thriving in the midst of a creative boom thanks to his excellent 2015 album The Ruffian's Misfortune and the recent publication of his autobiography.
We caught up with Hubbard to chat about his early days in Oak Cliff, his son's musical future and how songs live forever.
Looking back on those dark days in the 1980's when you battled addiction, did you ever imagine returning to Oak Cliff to celebrate your 70th birthday?
Oh, no that's something I couldn't foresee or even have hoped for back then. I did grow up about eight blocks from the Kessler at Eighth Street and Adams, so it's nice to come back, and that theater is such a great venue.
I remember the seeing tornado that hit the [Kessler] theater in 1957 go by through the neighborhood.
But no, in my younger days, I never really thought past the day I was in at that time.
You released an autobiography last year. How much deeper did you have to dig into your own memories for a book, compared to songwriting?
First of all, the book didn't have to rhyme, so that was one thing in its favor. [He laughs.] My friend Thom Jurek deserves a lot of the credit for keeping me on track with the book. There would be times when I didn't want to talk about a certain something and he would say, "Oh yeah, we're going to talk about that, Ray." I did use some stream-of-consciousness in the book and mixed that in with stories of my growing up in Oak Cliff. I learned a lot about the process of writing a book, too. I tried to turn it into the publisher, and they said to me, "Where's the table of contents?" Any kind of writing for me is a combination of joy and anguish, and the book definitely fits into that equation.
The book deals directly with your life's story, but in your songs, you often write using characters and stories that aren't necessarily autobiographical. Was that type of vulnerability easy for you?
It was a different kind of deal. I've been telling people that the stories in the book are so close to the truth, even I've started to believe them. [He laughs.] But, yeah, in a song, I can get lost in a character and I can put on a white T-shirt and become Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire when I write. In a song, I can tell stories from different mindsets and different perspectives. But in the book, I had to put it all out there as is. There wasn't any dressing up or sugar-coating.
Oak Cliff has experienced rejuvenation in recent years, but what was Oak Cliff like when you lived there?
There was always a sort of Oak Cliff independence where it just felt like a separate entity apart from Dallas. Look at the music we had in Oak Cliff; there was Michael Martin Murphy, B.W. Stephenson, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimmie Vaughan. In Dallas, you had Boz Skaggs and Steve Miller. Now I love them, but they had a different vibe there and went to schools like St. Mark's [School of Texas]. They had the white guy blues, and that's great and all, but the Oak Cliff guys were more down-to-earth with more of a dirt-under-the-nails type of blues. I'm not saying one is better than the other, but there was a difference there.
I was a barefoot kid in overalls from Oklahoma, so I fit in more with the Oak Cliff crowd than I did in Dallas.
There were a couple of thugs I had to dodge from time to time, but my memories of Oak Cliff are all pleasant.
With you turning 70 soon, it must be nice to know that your songs will be heard for generations to come long after we're all gone.
Years ago, I don't remember where we were, maybe it was an old motel in Oklahoma City or something like that, I was talking to Kris Kristofferson and Stephen Bruton. Kris had all of these amazing songs and I only had "Redneck Mother." We were all laughing at how Kris would be remembered as a great poet and if I was lucky, I would only be known as the guy that wrote a song called "Redneck Mother," and Kris said, "Yeah, well William Blake couldn't even get published during his own lifetime," and I thought, "yeah, that's great! Maybe not for William Black, but it sure is for me."