Ray Wylie Hubbard celebrates 75th birthday with Hayes Carll at Paramount
If this is what Ray Wylie Hubbard is like at 75, I can’t wait until he turns 100.
The blues-country-rock troubadour, who celebrated his birthday Saturday night at the Paramount Theatre, just seems to get better with age. Though he wrote the Jerry Jeff Walker classic “Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother” in his 20s, Hubbard ultimately needed a lifetime to grow into the masterful songwriting and Texan-Yoda persona he’s gradually created over the decades.
At this point, Hubbard is a legitimate living legend. Songs such as the snarly “Snake Farm” and the joking/not-joking “Screw You, We’re From Texas” have eclipsed “Redneck Mother” as anthems that prompt hearty sing-alongs at his concerts. But he’s also dug deeper with ballads such as “The Messenger,” which closed an hourlong acoustic opening set that included a guest appearance from his good friend Hayes Carll.
Mostly he’s just hit a groove, and he shows no signs that he’ll get out of it any time soon. Rambling through the epic, autobiographical “Mother Blues” near the end of an hourlong electric set, he recalled how he met his wife Judy at a Dallas nightclub 30-odd years ago and then had a son, Lucas, who’s now 28 and plays guitar in his father’s band. The two Hubbards and longtime drummer Kyle Schneider lock in on Ray’s bluesy material with an intensity that’s precise yet fluid; it’s a big part of the reason Ray’s music is even stronger at 75 than it was when he turned 50.
The trio also blazed through other staples such as “Desperate Man,” co-written with country star Eric Church; “Name Droppin’,” which salutes fellow Austin musicians such as Jon Dee Graham and Scrappy Jud Newcomb; and “Bad Trick,” a song on Hubbard’s 2020 album “Co-Starring” that featured cameos from Beatles drummer Ringo Starr, Eagles guitarist Joe Walsh and others.
Though Starr wasn’t on hand for the occasion, he did send along a 75th-birthday gift, a book that Hubbard showed to the crowd at the end of a lively first set that featured Hubbard and Carll trading songs, stories, wisecracks and sincere sentiments. They recalled their first meeting two decades ago at the Old Quarter Cafe in Galveston, where then-24-year-old Carll opened a show for Hubbard.
“It was the coolest acoustic show I had ever seen,” Carll wrote Saturday afternoon in a social media post that he referenced from the stage Saturday night. He told the crowd that Hubbard has had a major impact on his life, recounting some of the observations he’d made in the social media post: “I’ve watched him offer encouragement, help, and advice to countless songwriters, singers and musicians. He has been a mentor to many, including me.”
Hubbard also recalled the pair’s second meeting, at Gruene Hall in New Braunfels. Carll spotted Hubbard in the crowd, so he started playing songs Hubbard wrote and jokingly claimed they were his own tunes. Not missing a beat, Carll closed his portion of Saturday’s set by saying, “Here’s a new one I just finished” — and went into Hubbard’s “Crimson Dragon Tattoo.”
Hubbard returned the favor in the electric trio set by playing “Drunken Poet’s Dream,” a song Hubbard and Carll co-wrote a dozen years ago. He also, inevitably, served up “Redneck Mother” for all the die-hard fans in the crowd who know the song “so well, so well, so well” (as they boisterously chant when prompted in the chorus).
Hubbard turned the final chorus of the song over to the audience, which chimed in with plenty of enthusiasm and volume, if not so much on-rhythm and on-key. Hubbard sympathized, suggesting that instead of getting T-shirts and records at the merch table after the show, “buy yourself a pitch pipe and a metronome. If I get this gig next year, we’ll nail it!”