A roots-rock/Americana veteran shares a feedback-soaked preview from his upcoming collection of unreleased gems, Powerful Stuff!
Whether he’s playing a parts Tele with humbuckers, a Flying V, an Epiphone Coronet, or other variations on the Gibson and Fender canon, Webb Wilder’s live shows and recordings flow along the backbone of his crisp, punchy, grit-infused tone. Maybe that’s the result of spending his teen years absorbing Beatlemania, as well as soaking up the sounds of the South from the vantage of his native Hattiesburg, Mississippi. And maybe that explains how his hook-smart musical yarn-spinning always balances classic rock ’n’ roll songcraft with tastes of the British Invasion, blues, country, and folk.
When Wilder—who’s made a dozen albums—first hit the road in the mid ’80s, Americana was called roots rock and he was pioneering its revival, one van stop at a time. Powerful Stuff!, Wilder’s album due on April 27, revisits the days of the Americana frontier by collecting 16 unreleased songs that Wilder and his band, the Beatnecks, cut between 1985 and 1993.
“New Day,” the roaring song we’re premiering, includes the original Beatnecks lineup of Wilder on lead vocals and guitar, Donny Roberts on lead guitar and backing vocals, Denny Blakely on bass and vocals, and drummer Jimmy Lester. It was one of three tunes they cut in a single day at Nashville’s now-gone Sanctuary Sound in July 1993, and it features a wall of 6-string feedback for its intro and outro.
Wilder cowrote the song with Terry Anderson, who penned the Georgia Satellites’ hit “Battleship Chains.” “We were both playing electric guitars,” Wilder says. “Terry always plays in open E, as I recall. We just started groovin’ and I started singing. It came very quickly.”
Since that was 25 years and many guitar swaps ago, Wilder can’t recall precisely which instrument he played, but thinks—due to the head-snapping tone—that it was an “otherworldly great 1960 Gibson TV Junior that I never should have sold. There is a picture of me with it on the back of the  Acres of Suede album. The amp might have been my 1985 Hiwatt 50 and my old Bassman/Bandmaster cab with Creamback G12Ms, with 55 Hz bass cones, as I have used that cab a lot—and the head, too. Donny might have been using this Roy amp we found in a pawnshop in Anniston, Alabama. It is the only one I have ever seen and was pretty much a dead-on clone of an old handwired AC30. There was a line of amps later called Kitty Hawk. The Roy amp was made by the guy who later started the Kitty Hawk company in Germany. I suspect Donny was using a reissue Les Paul Standard or Special that day."
The bulk of Powerful Stuff! was cut at various Nashville studios, but live recordings from Mountain Stage, Oklahoma City, and Charlotte, North Carolina, are also included.
“The ‘noise’ intro was done in post-production when George Bradfute and I remixed it. I noticed that sound on Donny’s track at the end. The intro was just three power chords played twice, so I thought if we put some of that sweet noise on the front, we would have a bit more of a proper intro, as well as gaining a little symmetry with the ending.”
Today, Wilder still plays that 50-watt Hiwatt, but mostly for outdoor gigs and large venues. For a typical club set, he cranks a 1965 Fender Bassman head through a 1x12 Fender cab with a 100-watt Scumback M75.
“As far as pedals and effects go, for years I actually carried around an old pre-CBS Fender Reverb tank in its own flight case, but let it go by the wayside,” says Wilder. His current pedalboard includes an Electro-Harmonix Holy Grail Nano, a J. Rockett Archer, an Xotic EP Booster, a Malekko Trem, and a D’Addario tuner.
Following the release of Powerful Stuff!, Wilder and the Beatnecks will be hitting the road for dates that include Nashville’s Exit/In on April 29, the Guitar Sanctuary in McKinney, Texas, on June 1, and the Crystal Corner Bar in Madison, Wisconsin, on July 21.
Here’s a more contemporary performance of the Beatnecks playing the fan favorite “Human Cannonball.” Wilder is playing one of his current go-to guitars: a parts Tele with humbucking pickups. “In the last 10 years or more, I have relied heavily on Teles with two Gibson-type humbuckers, which I find to be very versatile,” he says.