Webb Wilder, last of the full-grown men
Webb Wilder, last of the full-grown men
photo by David McLister

Webb Wilder Keeps the Crackle in His Groove

Webb Wilder, who rolls into McGonigel's Mucky Duck on his first-ever solo tour Sunday, is a lifer, a rock and roll true believer who refuses to give in to the modern-day music business model. Thirty years after the release of his monumental cowpunk statement It Came From Nashville, Wilder soldiers on, doing his own thing, making a living the hard way, one show at a time.

"If you're going to do this," the last of the full grown men explains, "you need to keep bringing in new fans while being careful not to alienate and lose your old fans. I think every artist with much longevity has to deal with that dynamic, find some balance."

Wilder, who was signed to Island Records for his second release, Hybrid Vigor, has been through a Who's Who of noted roots-music labels: Praxis/Zoo, Watermelon, Blind Pig, Landslide, Racket and DixieFrog. Ironically, Wilder, who was a disc jockey on Sirius/XM radio for a while, will return to Landslide for his next release due later this year.

"It's great to be back working with Michael Rothschild, he's been one of my biggest supporters over the years," says Wilder.

A longtime industry insider, Rothschild is also noted for releasing the first Widespread Panic album, Space Wrangler.

"I was going to put out some stuff I've been holding on to that has never been released, like a cover of 'Nutbush City Limits'," Wilder explains, "but Michael said 'no, you need a new record now.' So I've been getting a new album together and hopefully we'll have that out in a few months or so. It's just been slow going for a number of reasons."

In the interim, Wilder, who has evinced a jones for blues, garage-rock nuggets, and British Invasion bands his entire career, recorded "Yard Dog" by obscure garage-rockers One Way Street and the Frankie Lee Sims classic "Lucy Mae Blues" and released both recently via iTunes.

Wilder and fellow Mississippian/noted roots-rock producer R. S. Field had some interesting times in Austin in the mid-'70s before relocating to Nashville and catching fire as Webb Wilder and the Beatnecks in 1986. Steve Earle was a big fan, and Wilder ably covered Earle's "The Devil's Right Hand" on It Came From Nashville.

"R. S. and I made a scouting trip to Austin in the summer of 1975," Wilder recalls. "Eventually Omar Dykes and other Mississippians relocated and the first Texas iteration of Omar and the Howlers was born.

"This was before Omar switched to mostly blues and swamp stuff," adds Wilder. "The original Howlers were more like Commander Cody, who was hot in Austin at that time.

"I thought Austin was so cool in 1976," he continues. "It was so uncrowded and laid-back, I really couldn't understand why it wasn't more known, why more people didn't live there. Of course, that all changed pretty rapidly once the tech boom started. But we were long gone by then."

After a brief career as a ladies shoes salesman at Margo's La Mode in Highland Mall, Wilder decided to give up on Austin. He and Field, both Hattiesburg natives, would eventually return to Nashville via Mississippi.

"I've really enjoyed my time in Nashville," says Wilder, who is also a part time actor. "When we moved here it was a little like Austin, a slow-moving town. And there's always been more to the Nashville music scene than just Music Row. We found all kinds of like-minded people who were just as outside the box as we were.

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"For a long time it seems like the hillbilly image kind of insulated us, made us somewhat unattractive as a place to live," Wilder explains. "Then suddenly, everyone is 27, has a beard and rolled-up jeans. So we are having the same problems Austin is dealing with. There's lots of new money in town, people from out of town investing in real estate, driving up the prices of everything. So it's gotten tougher for artistic types to be able to afford to live here, and I hate to see that part of it."

As for his next album, Wilder laughs.

"Big surprise -- it's going to be a garage-rock thing," he says. "I'm trying to cut the tunes fast and loud and a bit dirty, not cleaning everything up so much.

"I like a little crackle in the grooves, you know?"

Webb Wilder performs at 6 p.m. Sunday, March 29 at McGonigel's Mucky Duck, 2425 Norfolk.

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