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Roots Rocker Webb Wilder Shares a "Night Without Love" (premiere + interview)

Photo: Alan Messer

Veteran roots rocker Webb Wilder turns back the hands of time on an old favorite of his with "Night Without Love".

Webb Wilder's latest album is Night Without Love. Released in April 2020, the collection captures the Mississippi native in fine form, including on the titular track, a tune he has known for many decades now. "It was written by one of my greatest musical mentors, R.S. Field. He wrote that song about 40 years ago. I was in a band that he was also involved with, the Drapes. Bruce Tinnin sang it in that band. The riff that I whistle now was played on guitar. It goes back a long way," he says.

As for the brand-new video, he adds, "The ending is not really an ending. A lot of people weren't satisfied with the ending of The Sopranos. I didn't mind. Not everything has to be tied up in a bow." Wilder lends a deeply memorable vocal performance to the track, a song that seems to have been written specifically for him and a song that will resonate with anyone who has ever spent a night without love.

When did you know it was time to make this album?

They say it's 90 percent perspiration and 10 percent inspiration and that you need to work without all of that. My inspiration was really about making an album, touring, figuring it all out. I had three songs in one day, the first day of recording. I got inspired and got excited. Then we had 11 songs. I was looking for one more, but for some reason, I didn't get there. It just felt finished. You never finish anything; you just quit working on it.

You covered Los Lobos' "Be Still".

I always loved that song, and I love that band. It just spoke to me early on. I've been carrying around the idea to do that for several albums. It's a beautiful song. David Hildalgo sings like Steve Winwood, plays like Eric Clapton, and knowns all that other Mexican roots music. Amazing.

Tell me about writing with Dan Penn.

I was chatting with Keith Sykes in 1981 or '82. I was about to move to Nashville. He said, "You need to look up Dan Penn." It took some time to meet him. A former manager of mine, Jack Emerson, hooked me up with a co-write with Dan in the early '90s. We wrote "Only a Fool". It took me decades to record. I did it on the Mississippi Moderne album. Dan liked it. I thought we'd do another co-write, but something always seemed to come up. I went to one of his shows, around his 74th birthday. He said, "Call me after the first of the year." I did, then he said, "Call me on Valentine's Day." Who says that? I said, "Alright, Dan. That'll be a sweetheart deal." I'm kind of in awe of the guy. He's known for his writing, but he's one of the greatest singers ever.

You've been doing webcasts during the pandemic. I'm assuming that your intention was to go out and play a bunch of shows this year, get back to your favorite places, so this had to be a little bit of a curveball.

What served me well is that over the last ten years, I've been doing a lot more solo shows. All you've got is your stories, your songs, and your guitar. J.D. Simo is a friend of mine, and he has just soared with his technical skills in this time. He entertains and edifies with his show. When I do one, it's like a video radio show and concert.

What do you miss about touring?

I miss the hang with the guys when I have a band. I miss playing the blues with the band. It's great to play a 12-bar blues with the drummer. You could go to towns and visit a restaurant or a guitar store you love. I miss interacting with the fans. I don't miss the discomfort: Being too tall to stretch my legs on in the van, wondering how good the mattress in the hotel will be, or one of the guys in the band saying, "Can we get up really early tomorrow?" I miss the confidence and edge performing live gives you.

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