Forty-six years in the making, the long-awaited taping of the great Texas songwriter Ray Wylie Hubbard was worth the wait. One of the original Texas outlaws, Hubbard is arguably best known for his early ‘70s composition, the much-recorded anthem “Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother.” The Oklahoma native/longtime Lone Star resident relaunched his career in the nineties, and in one of music’s most remarkable second acts, has been prolifically recording critically-lauded work ever since. So we were thrilled to finally have the revered Texas troubadour on our stage for his first-ever headline appearance in a rousing performance that was livestreamed around the world.
Hubbard and his ace four-piece band, which includes his son Lucas on guitar, drummer Kyle Schneider, Bukka Allen on keyboards and Gurf Morlix on bass, kicked things off with the bluesy “Rabbit,” on which he declares that, while he doesn’t know what “between the devil and the deep blue sea” mean, “maybe it means I’m funky and cool – maybe it means I’m on Austin City Limits!” “So that’s what a smattering of applause sounds like,” said the jovial raconteur, noting the lack of a live audience due to the pandemic. The songwriter drove his band even deeper into the swamp with “Snake Farm,” the title track to his 2006 album. After band intros, Hubbard launched into “Drunken Poet’s Dream,” a co-write with Hayes Carll the pair performed together during Carll’s ACL appearance in Season 36. Hubbard then turned his attention to Co-Starring, his acclaimed recent major label debut, featuring guest appearances from titans Joe Walsh, Ringo Starr, Chris Robinson and more. He showcased a trio of tracks from the record in a row, including the bluesy grind of “Bad Trick,” a song penned with his wife Judy. He donned a 12-string for “Rock Gods,” a heartfelt tribute to Tom Petty and his peers who’ve entered the Pearly Gates, and a meditation on how death comes to us all. After those sobering thoughts, Hubbard led the band into the funky rocker “Fast Left Hand,” highlighted by earthy solos from Allen’s Hammond organ and the younger Hubbard’s guitar.
“If this is the first time you’ve seen me on Austin City Limits, you might get the idea that I’m an acquired taste,” Hubbard remarked. “So this song should weed you out.” That bon mot dropped, the singer/songwriter pulled out the outlaw swamp rocker “Mother Blues” from 2012’s The Grifter’s Hymnal – the story of a stolen Les Paul Goldtop, two romances rooted in an afterhours gig, and the wisdom of keeping your gratitude higher than your expectations. He and the band launched into his 2017 classic “Tell the Devil I’m Gettin’ There As Fast I Can,” a “kind of rock & roll fable” that, as Hubbard explained with a wink in the intro “hopes God grades on a curve.” Longtime drummer Schneider then thumped out the rumbling groove of an anthem, “Wanna Rock and Roll,” the album closer from 1992’s Lost Train of Thought, a tune later recorded by the red dirt rockers Cross Canadian Ragweed that earned Hubbard enough royalties “to buy a fence. That’s very important where I live.”
Hubbard ended the show with “Desperate Man,” a song he co-wrote with country superstar Eric Church (and the title track of Church’s 2018 LP) – a bluesy rocker that encapsulates as well as any his characters’ outlaw ethos. It was a great way to end a great show, and we can’t wait for you to see it when it airs early next year as part of our Season 46 on your local PBS station.