As the music industry and live events adapt to the new norms and regulations during this ongoing pandemic, music venues in Houston are slowly bringing back live music.
The Heights Theater is one of the city’s venues that have laid out a socially distanced plan to reopen their doors.
Ray Wylie Hubbard will be performing for a two-night show at the small venue on November 19 and 20.
“There’s a socially distanced, very protective consciousness about it, of how they are going to do it,” says Hubbard from his home in Wimberley, Texas. “We’ve had some offers to do some other shows but we said no. They just didn't feel safe, not only for me but for the audience, but the Heights they've given us the parameters in order to make it work and where everybody will feel safe and have a good time.”
Everyone can agree that this has been a rough year and Hubbard is no exception. “There's COVID, the oppressing state of you can't go out and do anything and there's kind of even some anger, but each day I try to find something that I'm grateful for and having that attitude of gratitude, just about certain things, helps so I don't end up under the bed,” laughs Hubbard.
It’s precisely this blend of honesty, humor and ability to not only notice but also appreciate the small things that have made Hubbard a favorite in Texas and beyond.
Born in Oklahoma, it was Hubbard’s “Up Against The Wall, Redneck Mother” that pushed his name into the singer songwriter circles when his friend and fellow cosmic cowboy, the recently deceased Jerry Jeff Walker covered it in his famous live album, ¡Viva Terlingua!
“Jerry Jeff was such a great songwriter but he was very generous to other songwriters. He recorded me for the first time and Gary Nunn and Guy Clark. With Jerry Jeff it was like, if the song fit him, it didn't matter who wrote it you know and so I always appreciated that fact about him.”
Hubbard sadly lost another friend and fellow renegade just after Walker’s death with the loss of Billy Joe Shaver. “Billy Joe, he was just fun to be around. He always treated me great, every time we would do a show together,” remembers Hubbard.
“Both of those guys were very influential and I feel very grateful not only to have known them, but be able to say they were my friends.”
“It's been a very horrific year anyway but then the ups and downs. We had Austin City Limits, the first time I've done it. It’s been on for 45 years and they asked me to finally do it which was an incredible joy and then the next evening I heard Jerry Jeff passed away and then all of a sudden Billy Joe.”
“It was a rough time, especially after the high of ACL, that didn't last as long as I had hoped,” laments Hubbard.
“It kind of validated yourself as a songwriter to have other songwriters acknowledge it. There was a brotherhood, and sisterhood too, brothers and sisters of songwriting,” says Hubbard reflecting on the movement he helped start with his friends and their songs.
Though some of his original gang may be gone, Hubbard hangs onto that spirit of camaraderie and storytelling that made the outlaw country movement so powerful. This summer, Hubbard released Co-Starring, his eighteenth album and first release on Big Machine Records out of Nashville.
Co-Starring features a guest on each track and Hubbard’s strength as a storyteller stretched out to his co-stars as each song seems to have the perfect band mates for the vibe.
The album starts out with the gritty rock and roller, “Bad Trick” featuring Ringo Starr, Don Was, Joe Walsh and Chris Robinson.
“With “Bad Trick” I got a Beatle, an Eagle, a Crow and a Was Not Was on the same track and that happened because of Ringo Starr.” Hubbard describes how he and his wife Judy were chatting with Ringo one night in Santa Fe and when Hubbard told Starr he was working on an album and Starr casually told him to reach out if he needed a drummer.
Hubbard thought it was a joke but when a mutual friend sent Starr the track, Hubbard got a text from the famous Beatle telling him to be in LA to record. “It was a real thrill of course to have him play drums on it and even to hang out with him, but to have him help getting these other cats on the song, it meant the world to me.”
“It wasn't something I sat down and planned like, I'm going to do a record with all these famous musician songwriters, it just kind of happened and sometimes that's the way it's best you know.”
Ironically, the first line of “Bad Trick” pokes fun at the Nashville scene where Big Machine Records is based and Hubbard admits a little tinge of nervousness when a crowded conference room started his record up on the speakers.
Hubbard was as surprised as anyone when the label offered him a deal this year and wanted to release Co-Starring. “They are a major player in the big leagues and they said, ‘We'd like to put this record out.’ and I said, ‘Why? I don’t sell a lot of records.’ and Scott Borchetta said, ‘Well, maybe we can remedy that.’”
“I was grateful for that and I've just been really, really happy with them. They’ve just been a joy to work with. They’ve done everything they said they'd do with this record. I’m an old cat but man, I got a record deal,” says Hubbard.
Co-Starring is heavy with female contributors like Pam Tillis, Paula Nelson, Elizabeth Cook and Ashley McByrde. In “Drink Till I see Double”, Hubbard, Nelson and Cook harmonize their poorly judged flirtations on what is sure to be a fuzzy yet memorable evening for the trio.
Hubbard has never shied away from celebrating women in his songs or his life. In his autobiography A life…Well, lived. Hubbard doesn’t try to save face describing his life long admiration for women and finally his loving marriage to Judy.
“There are songs about women that have been empowered you know. I've always liked the idea, it's like with Judy, she has yet to say the second thing that comes to her mind and I admire that. She just speaks her mind and she is self assured so I've always been drawn to and respected women song writers like that."
Hubbard hasn't ruled out writing a second book as so much more has happened in his life since he released his autobiography five years ago, but for now Hubbard is focused on his next album and making it through this time holding onto his health, family and most of all, with gratitude.
Hubbard had plenty to celebrate not only with new album, record deal and first Austin City Limits filming, set to air early next year, but also his induction last year into the Grand Ole Opry which he credits friend and Co-Starring guest Pam Tillis with being a major influence in getting him there.
“Somebody said to me, ‘72? Isn't that a little late to make your debut on the Grand Ole Opry?, and I said, ‘Man, I didn't want to peak too soon.”
Ray Wylie Hubbard will perform Thursday, November 19 and Friday November 20 at The Heights Theater, 339 W. 19th. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. $24-416.