JAM Magazine Main Features

Webb Wilder

The Big “Doo Daddies” of Roots Rock

Not so long ago, pre-1984, to be exact - there was no Webb Wilder, the band. But something had to give.

Enter one Webb Wilder, the man, a native of Hattiesburg, Miss., who packed his forever-gray Bogey-style hat and baggy suits in the summer of '81 and sojourned to Nashville, the undisputed home of country music, to make it in the rock world.

Illogical? To most outsiders, perhaps. But 10 years later, Wilder's making it, and on a much grander scale than the odds indicated he would at the start of his decade-old career. For starters, he and his three-man band - guitarist Donny Roberts, drummer Les James and former Rainmakers' bassist Rich Ruth - are now touring behind the act's first Top 20 single, "Tough It Out," and first album release, Doo Dad, for the newly created Praxis/Loo Entertainment label.

With an ever- eccentric stage persona that, more times than naught, is fueled by his equally off-beat press interviews, the bespectacled Wilder is learning there's more to making music than critical acclaim. Yet he's no stranger to the latter, thanks to his band's first two albums, It Came From Nashville, a 1987 indie release, and Hybrid Vigor, 1989's major-label debut for Is­land Records, both of which scored with critics and fans alike.

"It's kinda not my place to say this, because I hate to trash anything we did before," explained Wilder in an interview from his Nashville home. "But there are people who, to this day, like Hybrid Vigor the best. But there are people who liked It Came From Nashville better than Hybrid Vigor, and we tried to just combine what was good with both of 'em (on the new album).

In spite of the fact that few, if any, associate Webb Wilder with cover songs, Wilder says "we've always done 'em," including the Electric Prunes' "I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night)" and Big Joe Williams' "Baby Please Don't Go," both of which are contained on the August-release Doo Dad.

The quartet's charting material is all it's own, though, including the just unleashed single "Sittin' Pretty," the follow-up to "Tough It Out."

"Thus far, the new track," says the ambitious but low-key singer "is starting to climb. You know, it's got bullets (industry indicators that denote it's a fast-rising release) and stuff, but it's just debuted so it's lower (on the charts)."

As for the foursome's newfound chart success, the often elusive Wilder, with his trademark ramblings aside, is pleased. But the act's lack of chart success, at least until now, has long since made its mark on the man and his music.

"It's nice to have and I never had it before, so there was nothing to keep up with before," he said of the industry's numbers game. "So in the forging of my style and values and personality, it wasn't something to be considered one way or another, because it kind of didn't exist. But now that it is, I like to hear about it, if it's happening."

With the bluesy swamp adelic-meets-roots rock genre firmly in hand, Wilder has set about conquering the film world - again.

This time, he coaxed Praxis/Zoo into financing a black-and-white, 45-minute video titled Horror Hayride, or a "hillbilly gothic flick," made to the tune of $100,000. Horror Hayride joins the ranks of the singer-songwriter's Webb Wilder: Private Eye, a 13-minute student film made in 1981 for $750, which still receives airplay on the USA Network's Night Flight program and the A&E channel's Shortstories. Both flicks were directed by Austin's Stephen Minis, and Wilder says the plan is to release a compilation work on videotape, titled Corn Flicks, in June for take-home viewers.

As for his private life, Wilder prefers to keep things hush-hush, though he does concede to having a wife and stepdaughter. Yet his loner image remains untarnished, even if his crafty but purposefully strange banter seems to have gone by the wayside on this particular day.

"I'm sorry," replies Wilder when said fact is pointed out. "I probably should rise to the occasion more."

And musically, he does.