SPRING LAKE — Ray Wylie Hubbard still has his "outlaw" sound, and often regales his audiences with his one and only genuine cult hit, Up Against the Wall (Redneck Mother), a song made famous by his longtime friend, Jerry Jeff Walker. But fans who have followed Hubbard over the years know that his musical vision goes beyond his ability to write novelty songs.
Hubbard, 67, comes from the old stock of Texas singer/songwriters that produced notable legends such as Walker, Billy Joe Shaver, Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark and, of course, Willie Nelson. His vivid, earthy, facts-of-life songs deal with everything from religion to snake farms to strippers and Les Paul guitars. And while the progressive country that typified his early career can still be heard, he admits that he has always connected more with blues than country.
"About 25 years ago, I rediscovered that blues groove that I always loved — John Hurt, Lightning Hopkins, Freddie King, good guitar players who had that stuff that could drive a song," Hubbard said by phone last week from his home in Wimberley, Texas. "I try to plug that into my own songs and see where it goes."
Hubbard, who will appear as the headliner Friday at the Sertoma Youth Ranch's Stringbreak Music Festival, has come a long way during his 40-plus-year career. Performing solo and with groups including Three Faces West, the Cowboy Twinkies and the Lost Gonzo Band, he honed the art and craft of songwriting. He also has wrestled with some bad habits, emerging as a survivor and as a mentor to others who have followed.
Of his own songwriting, Hubbard said he mostly looks to amuse himself first, and not worry whether the masses will ever discover his talent.
"That's probably why I could never write a radio hit," Hubbard said with a chuckle. "My singing range is pretty limited, too, so that leaves me out of what most people want to hear."
However, Hubbard is a pretty big deal these days on alternative country radio. His latest offering, The Grifter's Hymnal, spent more than two months on the Americana charts and landed in the eighth spot on a list of 100 noted alternative country recordings for 2012.
Hubbard said his recordings never revolve around making a pretty record. Rather, he concentrates on the basics and creating a sound that compels the listener to take note.
"You may not like the singer, which would be me, and you may not like the songs," he said, "but you cannot not like the tone and the groove and the licks."
Logan Neill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1435.