Webb Wilder used to play the Amazing Rhythm Aces’ “Hit the Nail on the Head” back in the mid-’70s, when he was still known as John McMurray and was in a band called Everready. He was happy to dredge up that memory by recording a new version of the song, premiering exclusively on Billboard below, for his upcoming album Night Without Love.
But there’s a poignant sidebar to the song now as well.
“I never met [Russell Smith], the guy who wrote the song, and he died last July 12, not long after we recorded it,” Wilder tells Billboard. “It’s weird I never met him. He was all around Nashville and wrote with a lot of people and kept the Rhythm Aces flag going long after the original band had gone. I wish he’d lived to know we did [the song]; I don’t think it would be the most colorful feather in his cap, but maybe he’d have liked it and he’d at least get to see it out there again.”
Night Without Love, co-produced by Wilder and George Bradfute and recorded in Nashville, is Wilder’s first new album in five years. The up-tempo 11-song set, due out April 10, sports five Wilder originals — including “Sweetheart Deal” with Dan Penn — along with covers of Los Lobos’ “Be Still,” Chip Taylor’s “Holdin’ on to Myself” and Tommy Tucker’s “Hi-Heel Sneakers.”
“What I wanted to make was an age-appropriate album that was not afraid to rock,” Wilder says. “Why can’t you do both? Why can’t you make an age-appropriate album that still has some rock ‘n’ rollin’ in it? I think that’s what we did here.”
Wilder acknowledges a specific inspiration for that approach as well. “I’m a huge fan of Nick Lowe,” he explains. “I saw Rockpile back in the day and met Nick and Dave at an in-store record thing. They were all about clever songwriting with Chuck Berry-inspired rock ‘n’ roll twists. At some point Nick really seemed to make a decision to not rock, wear slacks instead of jeans and stuff like that. He was very conscious about a different approach, but those [records] were still full of great songs. So I tried to do that and let ’em rock, still.”
Night Without Love‘s title track, meanwhile, became the inspiration for the album’s vintage teen romance comics-style cover art — by Flournoy Holmes, best known for his work with ’70s Southern rockers like the Allman Brothers (Eat a Peach), Marshall Tucker, Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Outlaws and more, as well as Kansas, Bruce Springsteen, Aerosmith, Carole King and others. “I thought that song almost sounds like it could be one of those comic books geared to girls,” Wilder says. “We brought in Flournoy and he just ran with it. It feels like a really cool throwback. You don’t see much around like this.”
Listen to “Hit the Nail on the Head” below.