By Mike Greenblatt
They say blues legend Robert Johnson made a deal with the devil for musical stardom, offering up his eternal soul down at the crossroads. The devil kept his part of the bargain but took Johnson at 27.
Like Johnson, guitarist Laura Wilde can play a guitar like nobody’s business; she even gives his legacy a nod with her debut album, titled “Sold My Soul.”
Unlike Johnson, she’s a blonde-haired, blue-eyed, 22-year-old Australian woman. Smart, funny and talented, Wilde struts her stuff onstage within a deliciously hard-rocking framework – a sensory overload that works on a number of levels.
But don’t let her good looks fool you.
“When we play shows, sure, there are some people going ‘Whoo-whoo,’ and all that, but as soon we start playing, it’s immediately not about that any more,” Wilde explains. “Anyway, I make horrendous faces when I play the guitar. You think I’m sexy? Think again!”
Her ferociously hard-rocking “Sold My Soul” reeks with mono-maniacal, true-to-the-roots primitivism that shakes, rattles and rolls nonstop. It’s a muscled work, chiseled out of, if not experience, then attitude, aggression and total balls. And it’s that kind of sheer power that has allowed Wilde to hold her own and win over the tough audiences of Ted Nugent, with whom she recently toured.
“It was amazing. Being out on the road in the States was the best time of my life,” Wilde said. “I’ve discovered that touring is my favorite part of being a musician.”
Wilde got her start playing bass at age 16 in her Melbourne hometown. At 17, she learned the ropes by working at a music store. One year of college later, she surfaced as a studio musician before landing a job on television, where her easygoing personality won her thousands of fans and made her a TV fixture. She even performed a private acoustic show for the Saudi Arabian royal family. Still, that wasn’t what moved her soul. At 19, she packed up and moved to Los Angeles. Three years later, she’s on the road.
“It’s all about the preparation,” she says. “It’s very grueling. Hard work! But it’s also what I love so much to do, so I’m willing to put in the hard yards to do it. You’ve got to basically get a great band who loves songs, train them all up, pack up all your stuff, head out on the road with them and have the time of your life. If you’re having fun onstage, that will rub off on the band and the audience, and everyone will have a great night.”
At a solo show in Nashville, several audience members even got a hands-on concert experience.
“It ended up, after our set, into a stupid jam session, where my band and the band that was playing before us and a few people from the audience all rotated playing instruments,” she said.
Unlike some beginning artists, Wilde only incorporates one cover into her act: “Jailbreak” by fellow Aussies AC/DC.
“It wasn’t one of their worldwide major hits, but the real AC/DC fans in the audience love it,” she says. “It’s so great when we play that song, and there’s someone in the first row wearing an AC/DC T-shirt. It gives them a little jolt, and they go, ‘YEAH!’ I love when that happens.”
Wilde plays electric guitar (a signature Flying V created specifically for her), bass and drums on her own compositions. She’s filmed a few videos that are as eye-opening as her obvious talents. Yet ask her about all of this, and she downplays her accomplishments, calling it “all pretty simple and straightforward 4/4 stuff.”
More than just a new, improved Lita Ford, Wilde’s influences range from ’50s-era Chuck Berry to ’60s-era Rolling Stones and ’70s-era Rick Derringer. On Wilde’s tour bus, you’ll find her listening to “Appetite For Destruction” by Guns N’ Roses, “Never Mind The Bollocks” by The Sex Pistols and a lot of Sweet, Kinks, Beatles and Troggs.
Wait ... Troggs? You mean, as in “Wild Thing”?
“That’s how I roll,” she says coquettishly. “I didn’t exactly grow up in the album era. I had to raid my parents’ record collections. Having a ‘record,’ as opposed to a digital download, is like owning a mini-portrait of the artist in your hands. You can hang on to it forever.”
And while Wilde may not be Tom Petty’s archetypal “American Girl” — for starters, she is Australian — she’s definitely crazy ’bout Elvis.
“On the tour, we got to visit Graceland,” she says, a touch of awe in her voice. “That was so inspirational! Suzi Quatro, one of the female pioneers who blazed a trail for the rest of us, was also greatly influenced by Elvis. Did you know that?”
Wilde is already hard at work writing songs and working out riffs for her next record. She’s teaming up with singer-songwriter and guitarist Ricky Byrd, an alumnus of Joan Jett & The Blackhearts who also has worked with Ian Hunter and The Who’s Roger Daltrey and has served as lead guitarist for Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes.
“We’re going to get a real glam tactic going,” Wilde enthuses, “but you’ll hear a lot more of the older influences come shining through, too.”