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Donny Roberts Interview December 11, 1999
Lonesome Onry and Mean: This Guitarist Really Does Rip the Strings Off

By William Michael Smith

You hear people say guitarists "ripped the strings off it" all the time. Well, travel out to the 2:30 mark on this great Webb Wilder video and, if you look close, you'll see the inimitable Donny Roberts take both hands and just rip all the strings off. By the way, the cool cat playing bass is Houston's own Denny Blakely, currently of the Davin James band. The drummer is Jimmy Lester, still in LOM's opinion the best rock drummer in Nashville. Lonesome Onry and Mean saw Roberts rip the strings off at the Webb Wilder show at Fitzgerald's in 1991. Our guitar-playing son, about one year into learning guitar at the time, saw it too, as he was standing directly in front of Roberts when it happened. LOM has recently been on a search for Roberts and finally located him in Phoenix, Ariz., where he's an architect. We asked him what he's doing musically now and got this surprising e-mail answer.

"My main music focus is with my church. I am a worship leader and write music and keep the band together," he says. "I get to do whatever I want musically, the whole palette. Non-denominational church, the sermons are always straight from the Bible and the primary focus is to learn from Jesus. Lots of rockers and crazies who love all sorts of music. [The] pastor loves when I play the blues. I was leading the youth band for about three years, and at one point we were doing hardcore screamo metal."

LOM asked Roberts if he ever pulls the strings off his guitar anymore.

"Yep. Every once in awhile during a worship service, where we play music for an hour or so I'll rip my strings off.

"I started that when I was very young and did it out of frustration at a gig," he says. "Then I stopped for years until Webb and the Beatnecks first toured and I got in one of those moods at a gig and I tore the strings off and there happened to be some press there and some label people and they were like 'keep that in your show.' It was fun at first... but then... crowds started gathering at my side of the stage waiting for me. From the first song they'd be yelling at me to rip my strings off. LOL! Crazy times."
Recalling his Nashville career and the hectic days when the Webb Wilder band was hotter than a rocket, Roberts has regrets but remains philosophical.
"I am still probably the biggest fan of Webb Wilder and the Beatnecks to this day," he says. "R.S. Field and Webb's original concept, which never came to full fruition, was the real deal. Oh, well."

Lonesome Onry and Mean: Three Never-Before-Heard (Almost) Webb Wilder Demos

Recalling the sessions for Webb Wilder's albums Hybrid Vigor and Doo Dad, former Wilder guitarist Donny Roberts forwarded some demos of songs that that never made it to the studio due to time and money limitations. "These are some demos I did in Dallas with Chris Kelly, who worked for Ibanez Guitars, and drummer Mitch Marine, who of course plays for Dwight Yoakam now," Roberts says. "Chris was always coming to Nashville to talk about building guitars for me, and we got to writing stuff and showing each other stuff that we were working on and we just naturally started to write stuff together. "He'd never done anything as far as being in a band or anything, so we decided to try to cut some stuff. We did three or four tunes in Nashville but we agreed that they sounded kind of stiff."

"Then Chris came up with this studio in Garland, and he knew the engineer and we got a good deal, so we cut these there. It was a funky old studio where Willie Nelson and Jimmy Day had worked together, Paul McCartney had cut some tracks in there, etc. It had this great, funky feel and it just turned out to be the right place at the right time. "Chris being a guitar nut, we of course had to do an instrumental and Chris wanted this song “Boneyard”.

I definitely tip my hat to Bobby [R.S. Field, who produced Doo Dad and wrote several songs on the album] on this. It was my total intention to do this as a sort of homage to Bobby and his sound. "The original title of this song is "Boneyard (Return to Horror Hayride)." [Horror Hayride was the title of a short movie that Wilder and Field made.] I wrote most of it around the same time as R.S. wrote 'Cactus Planet.' We were going to record it for Doo Dad but we ran out of time and R.S. had 'Sputnik,' which was the instrumental we ended up cutting on the album.

“Don’t Worry” is another song from that unfinished demo. We had a different drummer on this one and I don't think it swings enough. I think that's Chris singing. It was his first time to sing and record. I had written this right after Hybrid Vigor. R.S. and Webb liked it. So I gave it to Webb to do his own lyrics and maybe change the melody if he wanted. It didn't get done. No biggie.

"I am a huge fan of The Animals," says Roberts, who contributed guitar work on Steve Earle's Copperhead Road, "and the 6-string bass riff in this is my take on them." "
“Emotional Needs” is the first song that we did with Mitch," he adds. "Kinda blew our minds. It's a shame we ran out of money, I think Chris lost his job, so we just ran out of money and it just kinda sat there. I'm glad somebody's finally going to hear this stuff."