The Dallas-raised songwriter first made a name for himself by penning “Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother,” which Jerry Jeff Walker recorded in 1973 on Viva Terlingua . But he then struggled with alcohol, drugs, and relative obscurity until the nineties, when his album Loco Gringo’s Lament (1994) launched a string of acclaimed recordings. At 63, he’s just released his latest, A. Enlightenment B. Endarkenment (Hint: There is No C) (Bordello).
You started recording right out of high school, right? I was in a folk group called Three Faces West, but my own first album was the unfortunate Ray Wylie Hubbard and the Cowboy Twinkies .
Why unfortunate? The progressive country thing was exploding in Austin at that time, and everybody was getting record deals. We made this album, and the label said, “Country radio isn’t going to play this.” So they put girl singers and steel guitars on all the tracks, put rope letters on it—it was heartbreaking. I remember listening to it with the band in our van, and my mom came walking up the driveway. We were there with tears in our eyes, and she goes, “What are you doing?” And we say, “We’re listening to our new album.” [ laughs] And how can you tour for an album you hate? We waited out the contract for five years, and by that time the movie Urban Cowboy had come along and ruined things. It wasn’t about the music anymore; it was about line dancing and mechanical bulls. I did some other projects then—but to jump over a really uncreative period in my life, I got sober when I was 41, and I feel like my first real record was Loco Gringo’s Lament. That was the first record where I could hand it to someone and look them in the eye.
Yet your name was out there early for the hit on Jerry Jeff Walker’s album. Was it a mixed blessing to be