Book Review: Ray Wylie Hubbard: A Life...Well, Lived

Ray Wylie Hubbard offers an engaging tale in his memoir.
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At 69 years old, Ray Wylie Hubbard is at the age when most men are at or near retirement, yet he is releasing some of the most vital music of his career. The Americana singer/songwriter, who has mixed country with blues, folk and rock and roll, has been making music for some 50 years now. He's written at least one classic, with "Up Against The Wall Redneck Mother," and counts a Beatle as one of his biggest fans. His song lyrics are well written and often humorous and his stories, particularly on his Facebook page (where he is very active) are engaging and entertaining. This is the type of guy who could talk about virtually anything and make it compelling.

His friend -- allmusic.com writer Thom Jurek -- thought so too and convinced Hubbard to write a book. A Life... Well, Lived is that book and at once the reader notices that it is different from the standard musician bio. Written with Jurek, the book mixes traditional chapters with the stream of consciousness-style vignettes Hubbard likes to post to his Facebook page. In addition, the lyrics to many of Hubbard's songs are included and often punctuate the stories he is telling.

And the stories Hubbard tells are fantastic. We learn about him being born in Oklahoma but being raised in Texas. We find out that, as a child, he made deals with God to avoid getting into trouble and, in one case, to avoid a particularly sensitive surgery. There are stories of getting kidnapped by Willie Nelson to play a beer festival and gigs where aging women put on a lingerie show in between sets. This is real life puppet show and Spinal Tap stuff. We also learn the power of an E chord without the third in it (and how to play it). In between the stories is sound music industry advice from someone who has seen it all first hand.

We also learn about a man who had been humbled by his misfortunes and addictions to drugs and alcohol. He attended Alcoholics Anonymous and had a spiritual awakening after getting sober (and some tough love from Stevie Ray Vaughan) and actually took guitar lessons -- at age 42 -- after years of playing and recording. Hubbard never gets preachy about getting sober or believing in God when maybe he didn't or wasn't sure before and that is part of his charm. He's helped sponsor people who needed help getting clean, but the book never really tells anyone how to live their lives. More than anything, we learn of his love for his family. His wife Judy wrote the excellent afterword for the book, and his son Dylan plays guitar in his band.

Hubbard's book should be required reading for anyone in a band, for anyone who likes stories so crazy they can't be made up and for anyone who likes stories of redemption. Hubbard often fought the powers that be in the music industry and his own personal demons and came out stronger than ever. When asked when, at age 66, he was too old to be making his first Letterman appearance, Hubbard said he "didn't want to peak too soon." One can argue the best is yet to come for Hubbard.