John McMurry helped create the character Webb Wilder for a 1986 college film project. The character of Wilder, a geeky private detective who travels through time, launched an underground movie sensation that gained major rotation on late-night television and cable. For McMurry, the character and the name stuck, and Webb Wilder, the quirky country, rock, and surf guitar-inspired musician was born. Since 1986 Wilder has been performing edgy country music that refuses to be classified. Even though others may have trouble categorizing his music, Wilder, according to his website, often states during shows, "We play both kinds of music: Rock and Roll."
Born in 1954 in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, Wilder came of age during the British invasion, while living in the heartland of the kind of rhythm and blues music that inspired many of the British bands. A love of music infected Wilder from a young age, a love that was later fine-tuned with the help of his aunt, Lillian McMurry. Inducted into the Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame after her death, Lillian McMurry had operated a small recording company called Trumpet Records. Her recordings of Elmore James, Sonny Boy Williamson, and others are considered classics. Her knowledge helped Wilder see that the rich musical history of Mississippi deserved as much attention as did bands such as the Rolling Stones, the Who, and the Beatles.
Wilder started forming bands early in his teens when he met R.S. Field, who would become his longtime friend, bandmate, and producer. When the chance came to move to a more challenging musical venue, the two moved to Austin, Texas, in 1976. Wilder played with several bands, including the Eveready Brothers. A couple of years later they moved back to Hattiesburg and put together a band called the Drapes. Field wrote most of their songs while Wilder performed alongside Suzy Elkins, Rick Rawls, Gene Brandon, Mark Hagg, and Bruce Tinnin. After a couple of years of touring, the band members went their separate ways, although they briefly reunited in 2004 for a benefit concert. To Sherry Lucas of the Clarion-Ledger, Wilder summed up his opinion of audiences' attraction to the Drapes: "We play rock 'n' roll. It's not rocket science. It's Chuck Berry, the Beatles … I think most bands don't play rock 'n' roll. Sting doesn't play it. Toby Keith doesn't play it. And I'm not picking on those guys…. but people like to rock 'n' roll."
In the mid-1980s Wilder moved to Nashville, Tennessee. In 1985 he collaborated with a student filmmaker on a short movie called Webb Wilder, Private Eye: The Saucers' Reign, which became an underground cult classic. Wilder has also appeared in other, mostly independent, cult films like Horror Hayride and Paradise Park. His one mainstream role was as the manager of a hotel in 1993's The Thing Called Love. In 2002 he had the starring role in an independent mystery thriller set in West Texas, called Pueblo sin suerte.
In 1985 Wilder formed the Beatnecks and launched his career as a hard-rocking, country-twanged geek. The following year saw the release of his first album with the Beatnecks, It Came From Nashville, produced by Landslide Records. It was followed up by Hybrid Vigor in 1989, DooDad in 1991, Town and Country in 1995, and Acres of Suede on 1996. The Beatnecks disbanded in the late 1990s and Wilder eventually created a new band called the Nashvegans.
As part of his stage persona, Wilder takes on the mantle of storyteller, sage, and comedian, as well as musician. He noted that his performances are influenced by his admiration for old-time performers. He stated in his online biography, "I've always liked that pre-rock time when everybody had to be a song and dance man. They all had to tell jokes and sing and do something else too. What I want to do is sing, play and entertain in a package that is noteworthy and special and sort of my own thing." Buzz McCain of the Washington Post described Wilder's onstage antics as consisting of "energizing vocal variations and comical facial expressions." McCain added that "the lyrics never fail to be thought-provoking and/or hilarious." Reviewing Wilder's 1996 release, Acres of Suede, Andy Ellis of Guitar Player described it as "wall-to-wall growling baritone, Texas twangola, howling slide and crunchy riffs. Wilder's deviant humor and deep drawl are big fun."
For Wilder, one of the biggest challenges in his career has been dealing with mainstream radio. With a style that crosses and blends genres with ease, his music is not easily categorized. In 2002, however, he was invited to host a show on XM Satellite radio. X (Cross) Country, which is broadcast from the Country Music Hall of Fame's main lobby, has enabled Wilder to play the music that appeals to him, while it tests the boundaries of what is considered "country." He also hosts a weekly countdown show and a specialty show that changes format weekly. Describing his foray into broadcasting to Ron Wynn of the Nashville City Paper, Wilder said, "It was an opportunity for me to get involved with something on the ground floor in technology in the 21st century, which was kind of unusual for me because I'm still something of a technophobe." What especially appeals to Wilder is satellite radio's ability to give exposure to a variety of artists. He explained to Jason Moon Wilkins in an interview on the Nashvillerage website, "We give voice to the recordings of many people who wouldn't have any airplay otherwise and we're sending it out to a national audience."
In 2004 Landslide Records re-released his first album with additional tracks. In 2005, more than ten years after his last album, Wilder and the Nashvegans put together About Time. Peter Cooper of the Tennessean.com website described Wilder's performance on the new album: "Wilder's voice is deeper, stronger and holds more nuance than it did when he and Field masterminded the debut album, It Came From Nashville, 19 years ago." Wilder's credo of "Work hard, rock hard, sleep hard, eat hard, grow big, wear glasses if you need 'em," appears to be holding him in good stead as he continues to expose audiences to his unique style of music.
For the Record …
Born John McMurry in 1954, in Hattiesburg, MS.
Moved to Austin, TX, formed Eveready, 1976; formed the Drapes with childhood friend R.S. Field, 1979; moved to Nashville, TN, 1981; formed Webb Wilder and the Beatnecks, 1985; starred in film Webb Wilder, Private Eye: The Saucers' Reign, 1986; began hosting shows on XM Satellite's X Country channel, 2002.
Addresses: Home—P.O. Box 120133, Nashville, TN, 37212-0133. Record company—Landslide Records, P.O. Box 20387, Atlanta, GA 30325. Website—Webb Wilder Official Website: http://www.webbwilder.com/.
It Came From Nashville, Landslide, 1986 (reissued, 2004).
Hybrid Vigor, Island Records, 1989.
Doo Dad, Zoo/Volcano Records, 1991.
Town and Country, Watermelon, 1995.
Acres of Suede, Watermelon, 1996.
About Time, Landslide, 2005.
Scattered, Smothered and Covered, Varese, 2005.
Guitar Player, September 1996, p. 103.
Newsweek, April 25, 1994, p. 60.
Washington Post, January 4, 2004, C05.
"The Drapes are back … and ready to rock," Clarion-Ledger, http://www.clarionledger.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20040706/COL0203/407060306/1150 (May 3, 2005).
"Webb Wilder—About Time, Tennessean.com, http://www.tennessean.com/entertainment/cds/archives/05/03/68574903.shtml?Element_ID=68574903 (May 3, 2005).
"Webb Wilder Biography," Webb Wilder Official Website, http://www.markpuccimedia.com/webbbio.htm (May 3, 2005).
"Why I Rock: Webb Wilder," nashvillerage.com, http://www.nashvillerage.com/music/rock/archives/05/03/68440215.shtml?El (May 18, 2005).
"Wilder Returns with Rollicking Release," nashvillecitypaper.com, http://www.nashvillecitypaper.com/index.cfm?section=12&screen=news&news_id=40910 (May 18, 2005).
"Wilder, Webb." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 20, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/wilder-webb
"Wilder, Webb." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved February 20, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/wilder-webb
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