"One way or another — and we've played a lot together a lot now — we get more like us all the time ... and I get more like me all the time," says guitarist, singer, songwriter, and occasional film actor Webb Wilder.
Wilder and his band, The Beatniks return to Charleston this weekend as part of Awendaw Green's Sea Turtle Relief Benefit.
"You just are what you are, you know? A duck quacks. Webb Wilder sounds like Webb Wilder," he says. "In the early days as a band, it was a little bit more as if we'd just drunk eight gallons of coffee and combined the new wave thing with rockabilly, and just blasted it into outer space at a fast tempo, We can still play very fast, but fast for fast's sake isn't the thing anymore. We still play more rock 'n' roll than anyone our age."
Set to take place at the big barn stage, Saturday's event aims to raise funds for the South Eastern Wildlife and Environment Education Association's (SEWEE) efforts in Cape Romain to protect sea turtle nest areas and the hatchlings dangerous trek down the beach into the sea.
Wilder, 54, grew up in Mississippi, but he's been based in Nashville for almost 25 years. In the late '70s he spent time in Austin, Texas, too. In the transition to the Music City, the songwriter developed an infamous credo: "Work hard, rock hard, sleep hard, eat hard, grow big, wear glasses if you need 'em."
Wilder learned guitar from his record collection and a few lessons with the old Mel Bay books. Chuck Berry's twangy style was at the core, with later influence from such British Invasion cats as Ron Wood, George Harrison, Dave Edmunds, Keith Richard, Ray Davies, and Pete Townshend.
"I started playing guitar so long ago, I should be Segovia by now," Wilder laughs. "But I'm not. I guess I'm a slow learner. I was just on the precipice of wanting a guitar when my mother suggested I get one. I was always interested in music, and a real dreamer as a kid, staring at the TV all the time ... I always had records before anyone in my class, and my Aunt Tressa said I sang before I talked. I was in the fourth grade when the Beatles happened, and I was in the sixth grade when I finally got my first $17.50 Silvertone guitar."
The bespectacled bandleader and his gang are touring the region in support of new collection titled More Like Me (Blind Pig), a disc comprised of five self-penned songs and seven renditions of works by Larry Williams, Percy Sledge, Roky Erickson, Jim Ford, Eddie Hinton, and Jimmy Swan.
In late 2006, Wilder and his band started work-taping song sketches and basic tracks, welcoming guest vocalists, keyboardists, and one resonator mandola expert to the sessions along the way. Landslide funded a few session, but backed off and handed the project over to Blind Pig Records.
"We took time mixing it, and we took pains mastering it," says Wilder. "I'm embarrassed to say that this took years to make, but it wasn't 'cause we wanted to do it that way, or like it was The Wall by Floyd, where we were working on it the whole time."
For all the extra instrumentation and tracks — and for the on-and-off style of recording — there's a surprising continuity. More Like Me flows nicely from start to finish, from the rockabilly bounce of opening track "Ju Ju Man" and the smooth-strumming serenity of "Too Cool for Love" to the swooney romantic balladry of the tearful "Sudden Stop" (which resembles the melody and feel of "Something" by the Beatles). There's a hint of classic French pop in "She's Not Romantic," and a dose of New Orleans swagger and gris-gris on the title track.
Despite some of the typically rockin', guitar-driven tracks, there's a sense of romance and melancholy that some might not expect.
"Actually, the subject matter is more often like what happens in the ashes of lovey-dovey," Wilder laughs. "I've been surprised that the lion's share of feedback from people has been really good. What people expect from me really depends on where they got on board. If you're a real Wilderean scholar, and you'd heard all the records, you'd know that we've always been pretty eclectic. And live, it's pretty rockin'. No matter what we do."
Wilder's touring band this time around, The Beatnecks (part "beatnik" and part "redneck," get it?), features longtime bassist/vocalist Tom Comet, drummer Marshall Richardson (subbing for Jimmy Lester), and guitarist Rick Kurtz, a veteran member of Delbert McClinton's band (filling in for regular guitarist Bob Williams).
"It's just two guitars, bass, and drums," Wilder chuckles. "There's no light show or anything, you know? In the bigger picture thing, it's all in the way you groove — kind of like the way a basket is woven. That's what I value as much as anything."