I’m not the biggest fan of Ray Wylie Hubbard’s music. I mean, I’m a fan, just not the biggest. Therefore, when I tell you that his economical, cleverly structured memoir, A Life…Well, Lived (Bordello Records, 174 pages, with Thom Jurek editing), is among the most compelling I’ve ever read, trust that this opinion is free of the starry-eyed bias that might pollute a diehard RWH devotee’s take. Absent even a single listen to a Ray Wylie Hubbard tune, this memoir will be touchingly resonant for anyone who’s fallen into a deep valley in life and wondered whether it’s worth the climb back out. In a way, it might be the most wittily irreverent motivational tome ever penned.
Hubbard grew up in Oklahoma and Texas, and parlayed his love of rock and rhythm into an intrepid touring career and a major-label record deal, the latter of which he foolishly squandered (Hubbard is refreshingly blunt and contrite about this episode when addressing it in the book). As a primary figure in Texas’ white-hot 1970s Americana scene, Hubbard and his band, The Cowboy Twinkies, were versatile, energetic, and unpredictable—especially when Hubbard was loaded on cocaine or booze, which he often was. After being good-naturedly kidnapped by members of Willie Nelson’s entourage and carted off on a hazy Midwestern tour, Hubbard thought hitching a ride back south with Jerry Jeff Walker would mellow things out a bit. As he came to learn, however, rockers with three names prefer to live life as though it’s a perpetual drag race.
Around the age of 40, Hubbard–divorced, depressed, delusional, and hooked on inebriation–found himself opening for lingerie models at a seedy club near Dallas’ Love Field. With the support of his pal Stevie Ray Vaughan, who’d just gotten clean, Hubbard entered Alcoholics Anonymous, where he met his future wife, a bodacious car-lot manager named Judy (she’d actually seen him play several times before, not that he’d remember). Before their first date, his car broke down, so he borrowed one. After picking Judy up, he realized he’d forgotten his wallet–so he finagled their way into a pro wrestling match and treated her to free backstage hors d’oeuvres for dinner. Somehow, he still managed to get laid.
Sober and with a strong woman by his side, there was still the matter of Hubbard’s career, which by that point was in shambles. Conceding that he didn’t really know how to play guitar, he took finger-picking lessons from a local teacher, and he’d set enough bridges ablaze in his blacked-out hell-raising days that Judy, acting as his manager, had to practically beg Ray’s way back into more respectable gigs. But slowly, Hubbard rose again—to the point where, in his sixties, he was invited to play before Letterman, Conan and Fallon’s televised audiences, and hopped onstage to sing with Ringo Starr.
A Life…Well, Lived, which intersperses song lyrics with road anecdotes and more traditionally organized chapters, is loose, uproarious, self-deprecating, piercingly honest, and incredibly inspiring. A lesser man might have taken stock of Hubbard’s situation at age 40 and kept right on hoovering mountains of blow until it buried him. But Hubbard didn’t do that. He humbled himself by getting better at what he loved, propelled by a woman who loved him back. Do yourself a favor and don’t skip Judy’s eloquent afterword; it makes it obvious that Ray’s not the only Hubbard who’s got a memoir worth writing.