Webb Wilder talks making records, growing big and building a credo 

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With his spectacles, western shirts and Indiana Jones fedora, Webb Wilder does not immediately come across as a musical force. Don't be fooled: The guitar-slinging troubadour is a legacy act, with a reputation for infusing old-school rock with just a spoonful of country. Wilder has enjoyed a steady career since he and his band, the Beatnecks, formed back in 1985, just a few years after Wilder moved to Nashville, Tennessee. Along the way, Wilder came up with a quirky credo that has followed him everywhere: "Work hard, rock hard, eat hard, sleep hard, grow big, wear glasses if you need 'em."

Wilder spoke with The Pitch from his home in Nashville, ahead of his solo show Saturday at Knuckleheads.

The Pitch: Are these solo shows more like special occasions?

Wilder: They are at this point. I've never done a solo show in Kansas City — I've only done band shows there. I've done more solo shows over the past few years than I have done previously, and I've done quite a few duo shows. Last weekend, I was with my bass player in Ohio. It's cool, and I enjoy it, and it kind of lets you stretch, like anything — you expand your creative wheelhouse.

The last album you released was More Like Me, back in 2009. Are you working on more material?

Yeah, we've done a few recordings in drips and drabs, and we're trying to intensify that and trying to finish an album now. ... I've never been good at turning out an album a year. I don't know how people do it.

What I find strange is that you're kind of a country-rock legend, but press either really loves you or has no idea who you are. How do you balance that?

Well, I understand the "no idea" thing because I've never really been a household word in the larger, highly visible, mainstream, Top 40 picture. On the other hand, it [my career] hasn't been insignificant, and there have been achievements and records that have done better than others in terms of airplay and stuff. It sounds like the people that don't know about me don't know about me, and the people that do, there's at least a large percentage that think it's cool.

It can mess with your head, though, because you're sort of all or nothing in this business. So sometimes it's "Wow, you're Webb!" or "Webb who?" You're great or you're nothing. That can be hard. I don't know how it is on other people, but it can be a little weird for me at times.

You're from Mississippi, but you've been calling Nashville home since 1982. You've put out albums over three decades. Do you have any favorite memories from any of those albums?

I remember when we did the Hybrid Vigor [1989] album, being in the studio with David Grisman, a great guitar player, and he and I would play together on "Cold Front." It was great. There's a picture of us together somewhere during that time.

And then I remember when we were doing the Town & Country [1995] album, singing backing vocals with George Bradford in Jimmy Lester's garage and bringing over a lot of great vintage equipment that made recording in a garage OK. I remember recording the David Egan song "Battle of the Bands" over at a studio for the About Time album [2005] with a guy who played steel with Bob Dylan at one time. Those are all small things, and I could go on and on.

Do you ever wish you could relive some of those moments?

You know, honestly, I was fairly present and cognizant of all those things, but if I had among my list of regrets on all my life ... I wish I had been 100 percent present 100 percent of the time. Some stuff just went by me. You're living so fast, with the touring and your personal life and your health, and it's just a blitz of an experience. If you are a creative person, sometimes you live in your head, and while you're living in your head, you're not always present for the great stuff. That's a regret I have.

Do you feel like you've gotten better at getting outside your head as the years have passed?

I have gotten better at being present, but I do think there's a price to pay there as a creative person, too. Of course, you can live in your head in a bad way. You can also be living in your head and living in your imagination and can come up with stuff. It's a little bit of a trade-off, but I think for emotional, spiritual and mental health, it's best to be present, and not dwell on yourself and your own ego and psyche. It took me a long time to realize that the ego is not necessarily about hubris and an inflated self-image. It can be the opposite, but you're still just dwelling on it too much.

Let's talk about your credo. Where did that come from, anyway?

It just kind of spilled out of my mouth, all in one spontaneous declaration in 1985. I'll always remember this because we had just gotten Webb Wilder and the Beatnecks together, and everybody was young, and we were going at it really hard. We played our first gig in March of '85, here in Nashville, and there was a big buzz about us and everything, and we had a lot of energy going and stuff.

So our first out-of-town gig was in Jackson, Mississippi, on Easter weekend 1985. We loaded up in the van and we went there and we did it, and it was on the way back. Back then, you could get the boom boxes that you could also record on cassettes with built-in mics, and they even sounded pretty good. We would record some of our rehearsals that way. Anyway, Bobby Field, who was the drummer at the time, said, "You know, you're gonna start doing interviews, and maybe you need some practice. Let's role-play."

So he turns the record feature on — and I wish I still had this cassette; I don't know where it is — on the boom box, and he asked me a bunch of questions. They were probably all humorous answers, but at the end of it, he asked, "Is there anything else you'd like to add?"

And I hesitated a minute, and I said, "Uh, well, work hard. Rock hard. Eat hard. Sleep hard. Grow big. Wear glasses if you need 'em. Webb Wilder's credo." And there it was.

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