For all of Webb Wilder’s wit, and for all of his cheeky personas (Last of the Full-Grown Men, Last of the Boarding House People, a burning God of Love, a guy who knows every thrift shop and plate-lunch joint in town), he’s always snuck a hint of the sinister into his work. Nearly all good comics do. Most natural wits come by their humor out of insecurity or frustration. In Wilder’s case, the personaas created by John McMurry and constantly tweaked by longtime collaborator R.S. Fieldtransformed a large, balding, four-eyed fellow into the most likable and heroic of geeks.
McMurry is a good guitarist, an engaging performer, and a colorfully expressive singer. But he’s no magazine cover boy. Coming up with an outrageous stage character has proven to be a crafty idea: It has allowed him to emphasize his talents while giving him license to indulge his wildly eccentric comic sense. Instead of trying to become a matinee idol, McMurry has turned himself into a scene-stealing character actor. In doing so, he’s earned a devoted audience and locked an image into people’s minds; he’s shown that the persona can endure long after most pretty boys have been removed from the record bins.
Webb Wilder’s music and show blend various elements of weirdo American pop culture, including science fiction, B-movies, hard-boiled detectives, and rock’s campier aspects. Drawing on rockabilly, psycho-instrumentals, and just flat-out rock ’n’ roll, Wilder has come up with an energized style that has proven consistently entertaining and fun. Onstage, he often refers to his ongoing mission to save rock ’n’ roll from the oppressors and the overly serious. On record, he backs up his task, spinning out “real music made by real people,” as he puts it. With time, his palette has expanded, incorporating ’60s psychedelia, Brit-Invasion pop, ’70s glam-rock, space-age instrumentals, modern rockin’ country, and Western epics. All are delivered with the confidence of a vaudevillian huckster with a larger-than-life voice.
Members of the music press, always big supporters, started off predicting stardom for Webb Wilder. By the time his second major-label album came out, the pundits were suggesting he wasn’t getting the audience he deserved. It’s a theme Wilder knows well by now. His 1995 album, Town and Country, drew rave reviews in such hard-to-crack publications as Entertainment Weekly and Rolling Stone, even though the latter publication, in particular, rarely devotes ink to older musicians on indie labels. Nonetheless, Wilder realizes the odds of a big break are less in his favor with each passing year.
Maybe that’s why Acres of Suede, Wilder’s new album, casts a darker shadow than previous collections. The absurd humor is still there, as is the rock ’n’ roll fun. More than ever, Wilder and producer R.S. Field throw eccentric musical curves into nearly every song. But if earlier albums hinted at a moodier undercurrent, then Acres of Suede drags it out and pushes it into the light. After 12 years of presenting exceptionally entertaining rock ’n’ roll, Wilder sounds as if he’s dealing with his frustrations in the best wayhe’s using them to bring out a seething, somewhat menacing aspect of his persona. Just when this larger-than-life character seemed ready to play himself out, he has found a way to accentuate a new wrinkle. It’s what Jim Carrey tried to do with his character in the The Cable Guy, only Wilder has always been funnierand more perverse and more imaginative.
“Lost in the Shuffle,” for example, is a mid-tempo blues with a deep and menacing groove that captures the tense feeling of a man walking toward a confrontation that both scares and electrifies him. Wilder sings the song slowly and with a defined snarl, like someone who has been persecuted by love one too many times. But when he sings, “I’m lost in the shuffle again,” he just as easily could be talking about his career.
“There’s a difference between planning and projecting, and I’m trying not to project where I’m going to be with my career in six months,” Wilder explained in a recent telephone interview. “Right now, the focus is on getting out behind this record. When you have a new album out, that means you play the media centersNew York, Los Angeles, places like that. We’re going to do that, like we have before, but after that we’re going to try and evaluate things. I feel like I’ve been too busy chopping wood to sharpen the ax. It seems like we stay busy as hell, but we don’t make any headway. It’s real easy to get caught up in the logistics of playing live dates.... When I look at it, it’s as if we’ve been spoon-feeding Webb Wilder to America. Some of that is in order, but we’re trying now to make what we do do more.”
A seasoned actor with several movie roles and a made-for-video collection to his credit, Wilder is interested in pursuing acting. But lately, he hasn’t had the time; he’s been focusing on his music. Indeed, the bandleader’s latest album finds him exploring new areas, such as the thoughtful ballad “Fall in Place” and the simmering Memphis rhythm of “Soul Mate.” His interest in horses and ranching comes to play in “Carryin’ the News to Mary,” a Western tale of tragedy and duty set to sprawling, grungy rock. And, of course, Wilder rocks with a ferocious, good-time intensity on “Flat Out Get It,” which features a typically bizarre spoken-word intro.
The same spirit runs through “Loud Music,” a song about a San Antonio ordinance that makes volume a criminal offense. Written by David Grissom, who plays chunky guitar on this and several other cuts, the song found its rightful communicator in Wilder. “Rocket to Nowhere” features wonderfully cheesy sci-fi sounds delivered by guitarist George Bradfute on a Moog synthesizer, but it’s topped for strangeness by “Scattered, Smothered and Covered,” a song Wilder describes as “hillbilly Tone Loc with Foghat choruses.” Here, he details the seduction of an unintentionally hilarious smoothie who’s not quite the playboy he thinks he is. As Wilder’s spoken-word sections reveal, the guy takes his best shot, and he scores. “My God, you’re a tigress!” he says deep into the song. Not long afterward, he adds, with an appropriate sense of awe, “Did you see colors?”
As would be expected from a Wilder album, the guitar work is sterling and inventive, thanks largely to Bradfute and Grissom. They’re aided by Wilder, engineer Scott Baggett, and producer Field, all of whom add their own odd, resonant twang here and there. Capping his 12-year stint with Wilder, drummer Les James Lester powers the music with explosive energy. He has since left the band to devote himself to Los Straitjackets, making him one in a long string of great players to have passed through the Wilder prism.
“He was frustrated that he couldn’t do both,” Wilder says. “He would have liked to have found a way to stay and keep doing both bands, but the Straitjackets have been real busy. We needed to have a stable lineup.” Bradfute has also since left the band, opting to move off the road and concentrate on studio work, and bassist Kelly Looney is back with Steve Earle. So Wilder, who has never had trouble attracting good musicians, has formed a new road band featuring Joe McMahon (Delbert McClinton, Stacy Dean Campbell) on guitar and Bryan Owings (Will & the Bushmen, McClinton) on drums. Tom Comet has been logging time on bass, and both he and Wilder are hoping to make the position firm through the upcoming tour.
For now, the band is back on the road, including a headlining performance July 11 at Riverfront Park as part of the Dancin’ in the District series. And Wilder isn’t giving up his mission yet. “I’ve always believed that all I need is a little more awareness, that one chance for more people to hear what we do,” he says. “You just never know how something like that is going to go.”
The shooting location for hard bodies gym was formerly the Paramus, NJ location of Tower…
This is like a flashback to the '80s, when Ted Turner was colorizing CASABLANCA and…
That clip is horrifying. It looks like postmortem makeup. Very uncanny valley.
AGGGHHHH that last picture!
LE JOUR SE LEVE is far superior to its American remake, THE LONG NIGHT (1947),…