BURNING HUNK OF BOMBAST
Webb Wilder is quite a guy. Just ask him. He'll poke his chest forward and gladly tell you he's the last of the full-grown men" and the idol of idle youth." Without missing a beat, he'll boldly claim that he's not just a musician, but a mujician." I can pull a song out of my hat at any time," he brags.
Wilder hypes his own hype with conviction. His considerable self-confidence is enhanced by a forceful drawl that originates somewhere between a carnival come-on and the exhortations of one of those TV preachers with the funny hair.
All of which would position the bespectacled singer/guitarist/frantic front man as one of the more annoying elements in pop music-if not for one simple fact.
It's all a put-on.
Webb Wilder is really just a nice, friendly, easygoing guy. Sure, he occasionally comes off like a Nashville knucklehead onstage; and, yeah, some of his records are a bit heavy on the kooky cockiness. But no one really takes this excitable country boy seriously.
Actually, it's kind of surprising they don't," Wilder says in a telephone interview from his home in Nashville. In all the years I've been running around, singing and dancing, calling myself a `hunk of burning love,' there hasn't been anyone who's come up after a show and said, `You certainly think a lot of yourself, don't you?'"
Wilder's entertaining knack for bogus braggadocio is one of the many attractions evident on his latest album, Doo Dad, released late last year on Zoo Records. Doo Dad is a rollickin', ramalama smile fest dimpled with corn pone. Yet the album's not entirely a goofball jamboree. Wilder and his band (guitarist Donny Roberts, bassist Rich Ruth and drummer Les James) help themselves to generous servings of catchy chords and choruses to sweeten the mix of what Wilder calls his swampadelic" style.
We wanted Doo Dad to be a combination of what was good from our previous two albums," Wilder says, referring to It Came From Nashville, the band's l987 indie outing, and Hybrid Vigor, released in 1989 on Island Records. Wilder says a lot of the older stuff was so drenched in rockabilly hoodoo that the band was in danger of taking the roots route too far from Main Street.
With Doo Dad we were out to prove that we'd actually heard of the Rolling Stones and the Beatles," says Wilder, who adds the Who, AC/DC and Mott the Hoople as musical heroes. Plus, this record is really our first chance to get on the radio and have hit songs. That was a factor in the bigger sound, too."
Perhaps the most potent factor in Webb Wilder's music is a guy who won't be onstage when the band hits the Mason Jar Saturday night. Bobby Field (that's ÔR.S. Field" to you) is the chief songwriter and producer of the Webb Wilder experience. Field wrote or co-wrote almost every original song on Doo Dad, and he's credited as a guest musician" on guitar, percussion, keyboards and backing vocals.
Bobby and I go way back," says Wilder, who grew up with Field in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Wilder describes his longtime friendship with Field as indestructible."
Bobby's like the Brian Wilson of our Beach Boys in that he's a force behind the band even though he's not onstage with us," Wilder says. He adds that Field was the band's original drummer, but he always had the producer/songwriter/conceptualist thing going. He's the kind of guy who's very complex and creative, and he gets frustrated being in a band." Field wound up leaving the group years ago, but Wilder says Ôthat just means he doesn't play drums for us anymore. He still does everything else he used to do."
Field's songwriting highlights on Doo Dad include the beautiful, FM-friendly ballad The Rest (Will Take Care of Itself)," which features some nice hooks and even better lyrics: I was living in a world/Where every mask I wore/Fell on its face/But I won't masquerade no more/Love don't need no hiding place."
Field also co-wrote Doo Dad's debut single, Tough It Out," an energized rocker of Rockpile proportions with Wilder's vocals compressed through what sounds like a vintage radio microphone. I'm gonna have to withhold the secret of what I sang through to get that sound," Wilder states with exaggerated seriousness. Bobby doesn't want anyone to know, and he's sworn me to secrecy."
Studio tricks aside, Wilder and Field prove themselves fallible on Doo Dad with an occasional overload of boogie bluster. The album opens with the seemingly interminable Hoodoo Witch," a six-and-a-half-minute workout that's as trite and tedious as its title suggests. A cover of Big Joe Williams' Baby Please Don't Go" bogs down in a swampy dog paddle, too.
But the disc also hits with some cool covers, including a wondrous version of Ian Hunter's Big Time" and a boffo rendition of the old Electric Prunes psychedelic hit I Had Too Much to Dream (Last Night)," a near-novelty song nicely suited to Wilder's loopy sense of self.
You know, it's funny," Wilder says of the Prunes' tune, but I wasn't all that hot on doin' that song. One of our engineers flew in from Texas and said he'd been thinking the whole trip that we should cover it. When Bobby heard that, he went, `Hey that's really weird. I've been thinking the same thing about that song.' They were all excited about it, so we did it and it turned out great. We've gotten good feedback on it live."
Wilder's also getting a good response from his budding career as an actor, which thus far consists of starring roles in a couple of extended videos associated with the band. The first flick was 1985's Webb Wilder, Private Eye a 13-minute, black-and-white short that went from being a film project for Field at the University of Southern Mississippi to a regular feature on the nationally syndicated Night Flight TV show. A second film, the 45-minute Horror Hayride, is in the can, too. Wilder says he's looking for this latest exercise in moviemaking to get some sort of push from the band's record label.
They have a hard time thinking about things that small," Wilder says of the folks at Zoo Records and their impression of the oddball film. They tend to think of things more in terms of gold and platinum. But there's talk of getting it out on home-video format-which is great. We look at it as the kind of grassroots cross-pollination that's kept our boat in the water all these years."
And Wilder figures on smooth sailing ahead, regardless of the film's future. The band's been busy getting the logistics in line for a major U.S. tour, and Wilder sounds ready to go.
We're just four guys up there making a lot of noise and having fun," he says, pausing to shift his voice into the loudmouthed-braggart mode. After all," he crows, I always try to ensure that I'm the most boastful man on any stage in town." Wilder then calms down and lets his natural speaking twang slip in. It's really the only way I can make sure things don't get too serious.
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