by Tony Conley
Friday, August 10, 2007, Wilbert’s, Cleveland, Ohio
Cleveland Rocks. It always has, and it always will. This night was no different, and to prove this point Webb Wilder opened with a rocket shot arrangement of Ian Hunter’s “Big Time.” True enough, as the song says: “You’re never too small to hit the Big Time!” And you never know, Webb might just make it yet.
A straight Wilder show would be worthy of a few ounces of ink, but to make it a little more interesting for the gear-heads among us (Wilder included), we decided to do an amp review and comparison at the same time.
Bill Jansen of Reeves Amplification was kind enough to supply one of his Custom 30 heads. Webb fired it up for the first set, switching to his old standby Hi Watt for the remainder of the evening. More on that in a bit….
Wilder has long been a tone aficionado of some note. His shows and recording sessions look like a small scale vintage guitar show. However, he’s also on the cutting edge of tone, using Collings Guitar’s 290 an impressive new dual P90 workhorse (though of course he’s changed the pickups already to an ancient set of old Gibsons), as well as pedals including a Lizard Leg Effects ‘Flying Dragon” boost (which he was fearlessly trying out this night, as well), a Fulltone Fatboost, and a Seymour Duncan SFX-01 pickup booster.
Webb and his band The Beatnecks played a wide range of tunes, easing from the sweet country pop of “You Might Be Lonely for a Reason,” to “Human Cannonball” which sounds like a Nashville version of AC/DC, to the blazing duel guitar blues-rock classic, “Baby Please Don’t Go.” Lead guitarist Tony Bowles (Hank Williams Jr.) is given a free hand to provide sultry fills, power chords, stinging feedback-laden leads, and some fine faux organ (courtesy of Hughes and Kettner’s Tube Rotosphere Mk. II). Talking to Tony after the show he mused, “It’s really tough, I told myself tonight that I wouldn’t use it so much. But it works a little bit on every song in the set.” Well, not quite every song, but he did use it a lot and it sounded perfect. When using the Leslie simulating Rotosphere, Bowles sounds like a B-3 player, not a guitarist aping an organ sound.
Webb will tell you that "I'm not a great guitar player,” but that’s his humble nature and not quite the truth. From Chuck Berry rhythm chugging, that according to Webb, “Sounds like it’s filtered through Dave Edmunds, then turned inside out,” on to swampy leads that feature great double stops, partial chords, and some sweet note bending, he’s not only listened closely, he’s been to the woodshed a good deal. It takes nerves and chops to trade fours with a player like Bowles, and Wilder was more than up to the task.
On top of great songs, red-hot guitar playing, tuneful harmony vocals, and a smoking rhythm section (Jimmy Lester ex-Los Straitjackets on drums, Tom Comet on outstanding bass and vocals), these guys hung out after the show and mingled, shook hands, and signed autographs for half the crowd.
When all was said and done, I had the impression that all that gear lust and devotion to guitar tone has paid off in spades for Wilder’s rock and roll dreams. “If you would have told me when I was 13 that 40 years later I’d be playing guitar for a living, I’d have been pretty happy.”
Special thanks go out to Bill Jansen for supplying the Reeves amp, and to Webb for all his hospitality and time.