WIMBERLEY, Texas — When it comes to down ‘n’ dirty roots ‘n’ roll, nobody in the wide world of Americana music today does it better than Ray Wylie Hubbard. Except, it seems, for Hubbard himself. After riding a decade-long career resurgence into the national spotlight with 2012’s acclaimed The Grifter’s Hymnal and his first ever appearance on the Late Show With David Letterman (“I didn’t want to peak too soon,” quips Hubbard, 68), the iconoclastic Texas songwriter is back to continue his hot streak with The Ruffian’s Misfortune — his 16th album (and third on his own Bordello Records, via Thirty Tigers) — due out April 7, 2015.
From his humble beginnings as an Oklahoma folkie in the ’60s to his wild ride through the ’70s progressive country movement, and onward through the honky-tonk fog of the ’80s to his sobriety-empowered comeback as a songwriter’s songwriter in the ’90s, Hubbard was already a bona fide legend by the time he really found his groove right at the turn of the century. That’s when he finally felt confident enough in his guitar playing to dive headlong into his own inimitable take on the blues, a form he’d admired but steered clear of for decades, thinking its mysteries were beyond his grasp as a basic chord strummer.
“I used to go see Lightnin’ Hopkins and Mance Lipscomb and Freddie King, all those cats, but I never could play like them — I guess because I never took the time or effort to try — until I was in my 40s and learned how to finger pick,” says Hubbard. “Once I learned how to finger pick, I started going, ‘Oh, OK, this is how they did all that!’ Then I started learning open tuning, and then slide, and it was just this incredible freedom that gave all these songs a door to come through that wasn’t there before. It was like all of a sudden having this whole other language or a whole other set of tools to add to my arsenal.”