Webb Wilder: “Work Hard, Rock Hard, Eat Hard, Sleep Hard, Grow Big, Wear Glasses”
There were many reasons for the six-year gap between Webb Wilder’s new album, Mississippi Moderne, and 2009’s More Like Me, but the years that passed may have been the glue that solidified the most recent release on Landslide Records.
“The first studio we began work in burned!” Wilder exclaims to me. “Then there were schedules to coordinate, songs to write, a direction to be found, and setbacks. We had to work around the second studio’s schedule a lot, not to mention the players and the engineer. We didn’t have the luxury of blocking out some time and doing it until we were finished, but I think the time for reflection along the way helped make it a better record.”
Mississippi Moderne, which was released in late September, retains Wilder’s signature rock and twang with blues, country and humor thrown into the mix. Wilder says he wasn’t initially aiming for a cohesive theme to carry the album.
However, “there was a point when I thought it should be a garage rock kind of thing, and, in some ways, some of it is,” he says. “Then there seemed to be more of an R&B thread running through it, but there are certainly other elements at work.”
The album, which features Wilder’s long-time band, the Beatnecks, pays homage to his home state with original songs and covers of songs by the Kinks, Otis Rush, Charlie Rich, and Jimmy Reed.
Mississippi roots are always inherent in Wilder’s work. In 2011, the Hattiesburg, Mississippi, native was inducted into the Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame, where he is honored alongside Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Jimmy Buffett, Mary Wilson, Steve Forbert, Ike Turner, Delaney Bramlett, and others.
Wilder says it’s great to be in the state’s hall of fame, and he is deeply honored.
“I admire too many to list — such an incredible number of icons have come from Mississippi. I am proud that my aunt and uncle, Lillian and Willard McMurry, were inducted before me. They were music business pioneers for their groundbreaking work with their label, Trumpet Records, which recorded Elmore James, Sonny Boy Williamson, Willie Love, the Southern Sons, Jimmy Swan, and others.”
What’s Webb Wilder’s legacy in American music?
“Oh, I sort of feel like the guy who felt it his duty to combine and carry on the various elements of roots, pop, country, rock and roll, or whatever I think is cool — or that I am good at — in a way that, at the end of the day, will be seen as having integrity. Now, that is what I think I’m doing. How others see it only time will tell.”
It might also be interesting to see how others view Webb Wilder’s credo, which he proudly posted on his website: “Work Hard, Rock Hard, Eat Hard, Sleep Hard, Grow Big, Wear Glasses if You Need ‘Em.”
A band known to rock hard — the Small Faces — performed the best concert Wilder ever attended. It was a Feb. 27, 1971, show in New Orleans at the Warehouse, a bare, 30,000-square-foot facility on Tchoupitoulas Street that has since been demolished. An advance ticket cost $4, and Savoy Brown and the Grease Band were the warm-up acts.
Wilder describes the Small Faces’ performance that night as “magic, soulful, stylish, self-effacing, indescribable, charismatic, compelling, inspiring, shambolic, confident, inimitable.”
Members of the Small Faces for the 1971 show were Rod Stewart, Ron Wood, Ronnie Lane, Ian McLagan, and Kenny Jones. By the end of that year, the group changed its name to Faces.
The Warehouse gig also was the most influential concert Wilder has attended.
“I think it made me want to aspire to feel as transcendent a performer as they seemed to be and made me feel as an audience member.”