Webb Wilder started life as an alien detective, a private eye specializing in examining the phenomenon of extraterrestrial butt probings. Wilder never shied away from the hard questions no one else was asking, like why UFOs always seemed to pick a rural backwater packed with clueless goobers for their initial touchdown on the planet, and how they could possibly think posterior probing was a suitable welcome for out of town visitors introducing themselves to the local constituency.
He attempted to answer all those questions and more in his ’84 cult film Private Eye. Hired by alien abduction witness HiWayne Suggs, who claimed wife Pristine had been abducted by aliens, Wilder was able to determine Pristine had simply run off with neighbor Eugene Bilbo and HiWane was just too embarrassed to admit it. Wilder also explained the butt probe phenomenon by postulating that not unlike prison, because of the sexual dynamic and pent-up, prurient urges of having been in space so long to get here, buggering is just the by-product.
That slice of Southern Gothic horror/ science fiction/ humor was first released on film in ’84 as Webb Wilder’s Corn Flakes. Wilder got nationwide attention when the USA Television’s Night Flight program made him a fixture on late night teeve in the late ’80s. His notoriety was so great that Wilder, already an accomplished guitarist, decided to start a band based on the Wilder character.
But the band is no joke. Though Wilder will drop in a few lines about Pristine and HiWayne between songs, and at some point recite the Webb Wilder Credo — “Work hard, rock hard, eat hard, sleep hard, grow big, wear glasses if you need ’em!” — he’s serious about the music.
His latest, Mississippi Moderne, is a mix of rockabilly, blues, country, and rock, thoroughly coated in the muddy roots of his native Mississippi.
Wilder comes out smokin’ and snaky on “Rough and Tumble Guy,” twangy rockabilly in the Jimmy Vaughan T Birds-era style. This one has Wilder bragging that he’s “been to hell and back again/ brought back some bar-b-que for all my friends.”
He mellows out bit for “If it Ain’t Broke Don’t Fix It,” fragments of Mark Knofler-style guitar shimmering in between choruses.
He turns in a nice take on Charlie Rich’s “Who Will the Next Fool Be” — his version as smooth and creamy as the Amazing Rhythm Aces’ ’75 cover on Stacked Deck.
“I’m Gonna Get My Baby” is so low-down it just slithers along, prodded by throbbing twang from Wilder and co-guitarist Bob Williams, with bullfrog vocals from Wilder that sounds like he’s croaking into a harp mic.
But the most chilling entries are Wilder’s renditions of “Stones on My Pathway,” loosely based on the Robert Johnson tune. The lyrics are different but even rawer, more primitive, and unearthly, and it both opens and closes the record. Wilder sounds like some grave dirt gargling, holy roller preacher on revival day, rolling and tumbling in the spirit, accompanied by what sounds like a rudimentary homemade guitar of screen door wire nailed to a broomstick.
“The South is the holy land of rock and roll,”Wilder says, broadcasting his latest black and bluesy message from a Nashville studio that sounds like it’s coming from a muddy, kudzu-entwined tabernacle in the Mississippi delta. It’s a great homage to an often overlooked area that is indeed the home church of rock and roll.