Often feted but seldom heard, Augusta singer-songwriter Larry Jon Wilson has lived his life, quietly, in the spotlight.
Blessed with a voice like hardened honey and prone to spry and soulful strolls across the frets of his omnipresent acoustic guitar, Mr. Wilson often has been lumped with famous friends - Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and Johnny and June Carter Cash - as a founding father of the outlaw country movement in the early 1970s.
Although his compatriots found fame and fortune, though, Mr. Wilson embraced a certain obscurity.
"I never wanted that level of success," he said. "I never dreamed of my name up in lights at all. I just wanted to do something I loved for a living so I wouldn't end up in a nursing home, in a rocking chair and undershirt talking about the great things I could have done."
Mr. Wilson will give a rare Augusta performance Saturday at the Imperial Theatre, with guests (and friends) singer-songwriter Shawn Mullins and songwriter John D. Loudermilk supporting.
With the exception of a small audience show at the Augusta Museum of History last year, this will be Mr. Wilson's first show in Augusta in several years.
Respect of peers
"Yeah, it has been a long time, and I hear about it a good bit," he said, punctuating his sentences with a low, rumbling chuckle. "When I'm out for coffee or something, people ask me when I'm going to play. And I tell them I play Atlanta a good bit. You see, I've always had this thing about living here and playing here, a kind of policy. But I guess it isn't an inflexible policy."
Although finding Mr. Wilson's recordings often means scouring for imports or out-of-prints online, he is still an artist name-checked by the likes of Bruce Springsteen.
Though he prides himself on remaining fairly low-key, Mr. Wilson admitted to a little self-pride when he hears other artists compliment his work.
"Oh, if I have any ego at all, it gets tweaked when I hear that," he said with a crinkled smile. "When a review calls you a performer's performer or a writer's writer, you've got to like that. Then you are succeeding under the toughest circumstances, under the toughest scrutiny. Just knowing that people who have moved on and up, or down, get it encourages me."
What Mr. Wilson doesn't understand is the outlaw image he has carried for nearly 30 years. Dressed in pressed slacks and a golf shirt, he hardly meets the rough-hewn couture expectations associated with the movement and said he never quite understood how he earned that label.
"I was a little amazed to find myself at the forefront of that," he said. "It might, I suppose, have been because of my association with Waylon. But as a purveyor of country music, I'm a failure. I don't play country music.
"The disappointing thing for me was that I probably put negative thoughts into country music fans' heads. They would read my flowery reviews, buy the record and then wonder why this was being called country."
Recently, Mr. Wilson has begun making plans to return to the studio with a new batch of songs and Shawn Mullins behind the boards.
As is the case with much of his music, Mr. Wilson said, the new songs were inspired by the people and places of Georgia and would be simple guitar and voice arrangements - much like his live shows.
"That's right, it's going to be no sticks and plugs," he said. "It's something I've always wanted to do. Of course, I'm not inflexible about that either, but it seems like a good place to start. What I want is for the lyricism to be in the forefront."
Mr. Wilson said he's not worried about the renewed interest a return to recording might bring. He said he loves that there are faithful fans out there and wants them to hear his music.
"It's the difference between introversion and privacy, reclusion and privacy," he said. "I'm not reclusive, and I'm certainly not introverted, but I am private and I won't give that up easily or frivolously."
WHO: Larry Jon Wilson, with John D. Loudermilk and Shawn Mullins
WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: The Imperial Theatre,745 Broad St.
COST: General $20, VIP $35 (includes onstage reception with the artists)
Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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