Done up in a cowboy hat and '50s-style browline glasses, Webb Wilder's eclectic look is similar to his music. He plays a blend of rockabilly, British invasion, surf pop, R&B and old school country. His stage persona just adds to the mix. He comes off more like a film noir detective than a rock 'n' roller.
He's been playing music professionally for more than three decades, achieving cult status. Every year, self-described "WebbHeads" gather in the fall for the annual Webb Fest in Kentucky to hear their idol play.
He's even got his own credo, devised during a mock interview: "Work hard, rock hard, eat hard, sleep hard, grow big, wear glasses if you need 'em."
These days he's trying to get a little past the persona. He's worn it well. But beyond Webb Wilder is John Webb McMurry, the downhome Southern kid who just wanted to play rock 'n' roll for the rest of his life, but didn't know how.
"Webb Wilder is me," he said. "But there's other parts of me."
Webb Wilder and The Beatnecks play June 23 at Street Music on Paris Avenue.
Wilder grew up in Hattiesburg, Miss., in the '60s. He was glued to the television, watching the "Porter Wagoner Show" and similar viewing for the musically inclined. The world of glitzy country shows like that seemed worlds away from the Deep South. He just loved the music, and he had supportive parents. But the concept of making a living as a musician just wasn't something that they thought could happen.
"I didn't think it was possible," he said. "I just kept going with my gut."
He thought he'd be a businessman like his father or uncle, but tried and failed at working at the family business. He kept following his gut. He knew he loved playing music. He took a chance and moved to Austin, Texas, found success there and eventually landed in Nashville, Tenn.
In the early 1980s, a pair of filmmakers convinced him to star in a short film noir parody called "Webb Wilder, Private Eye." The film achieved cult status. Soon enough, the character of Webb Wilder was part of the stage show. McMurry became Webb Wilder and Webb Wilder became the rock 'n roller McMurry always wanted to be.
Since then, he's developed a legion of fans, toured the country and put out nine albums. Little by little, he's getting away from the Webb Wilder persona. His last album, released in 2009, is titled "More Like Me."
Webb Wilder always will be around, but the man behind the legend is starting to shine through more. Not to worry. He's not about to get all sentimental or anything. He's just thinking back to the reasons he got into the business in the first place.
"I still haven't lost sight that rock 'n' roll is a wonderful thing," he said.