In a modern music scene where even the "underground" acts are often carefully prefabricated and market-tested, Webb Wilder is, by all accounts, the real thing.
It’s all the more amazing an accomplishment considering that Wilder’s stage persona has its roots in an eponymous, totally fictional neo-noir detective character.
The Mississippi native, now living in Nashville, has quietly and persisently carved his own niche over his 20–year career as not only one of the last great evangelists of pure rock ‘n’ roll, but a filmmaker of some repute as well. Webb Wilder, Private Eye, the genesis of his eccentric rock ‘n’ roll persona, is a cable hit of some standing, and Aunt Hallie is a multiple award–winner.
"Alt.country" does not begin to describe Wilder’s music. Playing with a backing band of rotating members, his sonic profile combines the raunchy sound of the Georgia Satellites, the reverb and twang of Dick Dale, the showmanship of Jerry Lee Lewis, the drive and musicianship of ZZ Top, and a pretty much unique songwriting skill that masterfully combines sparkling wit with sensitivity.
No recalcitrant wallflower, Wilder is a big man with a big voice, and also one of the great characters in music. Calling himself "the last of the full–grown men," he boasts an oft–repeated credo: "Work hard, rock hard, eat hard, sleep hard, grow big, wear glasses if you need ’em!"
Wilder comes to Savannah for the third time, this one at the Jinx May 15 at 9 p.m. sharp, in a show made possible by Tiny Team Concerts. The show is especially noteworthy in that there is no opening band, and Wilder and his band plays two sets with an intermission.
Wilder spoke to us last week from the road, where he’s touring in support of his brand-new album, More Like Me, which is garnering rave reviews.
I have to say the new album is incredible. I guess it's been several years now since your last release.
Webb Wilder: About four years since the last studio album. There was a live album in between.
This one seems to be your typical mix of originals and covers. Is there a particular ratio you shoot for?
Webb Wilder: From day one, there's always been a blend of originals and covers. When I say originals, a lot of time I'm talking about Bobby Fields songs or songs he and I wrote. What's different about this album is all the originals are by me with no cowriters. There are five of those, so the ratio is about the same.
Does the solo authorship make the album especially significant for you?
Webb Wilder: It's been special, and it's been therapeutic on a number of levels. You can't please everybody, but it's been really gratifying that these songs seem to be resonating with a great number of people.
This gig is in the Jinx, more of a typical rock club than the last place you played here, Savannah Smiles. Should that make this a more intense show?
Webb Wilder: Sometimes it does, but you never know what's going to happen until it happens, you know? But rock ‘n' roll does seem to live in places like that - and catch fire in places like that.
You usually have some side project going, like a film. Anything going on right now, or are you too focused on the tour?
Webb Wilder: Well, you have to be focused on it because it's so crazy, between the road dates and interviews and logistics. And I'm still trying to write, which is more of an early-morning, late-night kind of thing. In Savannah and Atlanta, though, my longtime Webb Wilder filmmaker Steve Mims will be on hand shooting stuff. So people might end up in a video or whatever.
You've lived in Nashville for years. There are a lot of David vs. Goliath myths about Nashville, the old "Establishment vs. Underground" thing. Is there some accuracy to that, or is that more of a media creation that overlooks the fact that Nashville is a very professional, fairly cosmopolitan city?
Webb Wilder: Both are true. What's cool about that professionalism is that you have a whole lot of people gainfully employed making music, and on the sort of industrial strength side of things they may or may not come from another world. But through their efforts and skill and talent they're making a living - sometimes in an area they're not as happy to be artistically. The other people understand that and continue to do what they're doing. The influence of that professionalism keeps everybody on their game. Some people have a chip on their shoulder about it, but they tend to be from other towns and places in the region that we should probably not name. If you live in one of those Bohemian enclaves and have that chip on your shoulder and are always bitching about Nashville, I just want to say, "Well, did you really want to be Garth Brooks? No? So why do you care so much about it?"
It seems like we're sort of coming through the other side. Like Taylor Swift - she's not really country, doesn't have a Southern accent, etc. You could call it cynicism, but maybe it's just evolution.
Webb Wilder: Well, she has intelligence and humility. And she does write her own songs - that's one area she somehow avoided what I call the "cheese cutter" of Nashville. Nashville tends to pervert originality. You know, if you come there fully formed as a great artist, they'll say, "You're great! How can we change you?"
They didn't seem to do much of that with her. She's a confessional poet, really, like a teenager tends to be. Sort of like Lisa Loeb with broader appeal.
Country music is a place where stylistically you can be a regular person, a regular player and singer. Unfortunately that makes for a lot of enemies of originality, which gives rise to Tom Petty's saying that country music now is just "bad rock with fiddles."
When: 9 p.m. May 15
Where: The Jinx, 127 W. Congress St.
Cost: $15, 21+ only