The House that Blue Built
A mix of vocal tracks and instrumentals, The Blues Stay at Home is built on a handful of originals and some uniquely styled renditions of classics. “[The album] was something I had to do for myself,” he said. “It’s just me. I didn’t have anyone to play with, so I did the only thing I knew how to or could do: sing and play guitar.” Webber’s arrival has been a long time coming. After graduating from Country Day School in 1998, he moved south to Georgetown to attend Southwestern University and then, after leaving school, to Austin. Little did Webber know that he was in line for even more intense schooling. One day out of the blue, Doyle Bramhall — Stevie Ray Vaughan’s drummer and now a solo artist — called. Seems that Bramhall had heard good things about Webber and wanted him to audition. For the next three years, the kid with the bright orange hair toured with the blues legend and played on his acclaimed 2003 CD Fitchburg Street. Those deep, rhythmic tones you hear are Webber’s handiwork.
At 22, the Fort Worthian looked to be on his way. But on December 16, 2001, Webber’s idol and only sibling, older brother Dax Webber, died in a car accident. “I had a blackout period,” Webber said. “I’m still in denial about it. I had my certain way of coping, and, honestly, I don’t remember everything I did.” Bramhall’s clean and sober ways didn’t jibe with Webber’s self-destructive behavior, and the young player suddenly found himself without a brother or a band. Webber won’t discuss his dark period. But he said that his brother, who played in the local band Brainface, pushed the limits for him “in terms of what was musically possible — my musical universe was his.” The darkness lasted for a couple of years until Webber finally had a break-through. “Eventually, I would have to experience my emotions and thoughts,” he said. “I couldn’t keep running away forever.” Music often serves as good therapy, and Webber delved even deeper into the blues. “[It] is raw, pure, and simple,” he said. “It’s so honest, and it says so much. Inherently, it evokes emotion.” Making The Blues Stay at Home, he said, “saved” him.
Of all 15 gut-wrenching, raw tracks, the last, the James Burke Oden cover “Going Down Slow,” is Webber’s favorite. “It describes the mental state I was in when I made the record,” he said. One particular lyric sticks out: “Please write my mother / Tell her the shape I’m in / Tell her to pray for me, forgive me for my sins.” Webber’s rendition is more than convincing. The painful truth is evident in his weary, plaintive voice. If, as Webber believes, “Everything happens for a reason,” then perhaps a bluesman or -woman needs to go through some sort of trauma to validate the distinctly American artform. Webber wrote or learned every track on The Blues Stay at Home in the month between deciding to make the album and actually doing it. The recording process took place a year and a half ago at Dallas’ Palmyra Studios, but the ensuing license acquisitions, artwork creation, and other realities of self-publishing pushed the release date back to last month.
Webber said that producer Milo Phillips was a great source of encouragement. Still, Webber included only two originals with lyrics because “Blues lyrics are simple and to the point … and difficult to get right.” Right, though, he gets the ones that made the cut, and all of his songs fit right in with the ancient, revered standards. Ironically, as soon as it seems that Webber has mastered the form, he’s thinking about “crossing over.” Part of the reason is that the local scene leaves a lot to be desired. “I bite my tongue, but I’ve pretty much stopped going out,” he said. “When I play at a blues club, I get stuck onstage with other people who don’t know the song.”
A musician’s musician who isn’t comfortable in experimental environments, Webber now shares the stage every Sunday night at Rick O’Shea’s with local rock-ish singer-songwriters such as Stephen Pointer and Flickerstick’s Brandin Lea. Webber, a radio-television-film senior at Texas Christian University, said he digs a cross-pollination of musical tastes and claims that a few folks have told him that his music has turned them onto the blues. But Webber continues to question his faith in his art. “I’m sitting on the fence,” he said. “Am I going to take the next step? Do people want to hear it? Is it worth doing?” Judging by the positive response he’s been receiving in the month since releasing The Blues Stay at Home, people do want to hear his music, and it is worth doing.
Webber also has his eye on financial security and is considering work as a songwriter for television and film. “A lot of influential musicians are rooted in blues, jazz, and soul, and I do have other musical tastes I’d like to indulge,” he said. “I’d maybe like to make pop-rock, but I can’t leave the blues thing.” Even though he may have successfully transcended the worst period of his life, Webber admits that he still occasionally feels rudderless. “The missing piece of my puzzle is gone,” he said, referring to his brother. “I’m trying to stay afloat without him.”