Jason Wilber is Prine’s guy. At least some folks think of him that way.
Wilber stands on elevated stages—from Carnegie Hall to the London Palladium, in every American state and across Canada and Europe and the like—and sings and plays guitar for John Prine, one of the English speaking world’s most celebrated and revered songwriters. It’s kind of like playing for Walt Whitman. It’s the sort of gig that can define a musician, and most would be well-pleased with the definition: “A legend’s right hand man” has a ring to it, and the music Wilber makes with Prine in concert and on recordings is thrilling and sustaining and important.
It’s all that, and has been for nearly twenty years. It’s everything but enough.
Because, sure, Wilber is Prine’s guy. But he’s more than that. He’s an affable Indiana born badass who can play burn-it-down rock solos or offer up plaintive acoustic loveliness. Over the years he’s also lent his guitar talents to his friends Todd Snider, Iris Dement, and Greg Brown, among others. And he’s a deft songsmith in his own right, whose works have drawn comparisons to folk and Americana titans, even John Prine himself. In his spare time, he’s a radio host and interviewer whose syndicated radio show, In Search of a Song, finds him in peer-to-peer conversations with Josh Ritter, Mary Gauthier, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Steve Earle and other heavies.
What Wilber wasn’t, to hear him tell it anyway, was content with his singing. His voice was perfectly pleasant, and it sat in comfortable harmony above Prine’s. Perhaps it was above average in an Americana world well-populated by song-first types that wisecracking producer R.S. Field once called “Can’t-singer-songwriters.”
But since he was a kid, Wilber had always been on a quest to keep improving as a musician. And a few years ago it dawned on him that, while he had put in his “ten thousand hours” (in Gladwell terms) achieving mastery on the guitar, he hadn’t done the same with singing.
“I’d always operated on the unconscious assumption that my singing voice had been more or less set at birth and couldn’t be improved much.” says Wilber, “I’m not sure why I thought that, although in discussing it with other people since then it seems to be a fairly common assumption.”
Wilber decided to challenge that belief, and began applying to his singing the same kind of disciplined study and practice that made him a world class guitar player. It took several years before he started reaching his goals, but he says it was an amazing journey: “Becoming a better singer was much more difficult and time consuming than I expected, but much more rewarding too. Improving my singing abilities has further deepened for me the joy of making music.”
By Wilber’s own admission, his vocal improvement project was a holy hassle at first, but in time, a master musician found a voice to match. The result is something like when a dominant speedball pitcher finds a devastating sinker, except what’s bad for a batsman turns out to be good for a listener.
You can hear all this for yourself on Echoes, Wilber’s ninth solo album and his first to focus on material written by other songsmiths. The material here—and material is as lousy a word as can be conjured for such artful beauty—arrived in Wilber’s care seeming disparate and disjointed. It emerges here seamless and certain. Songs from Leon Russell, David Bowie, Joni Mitchell, John Prine, Pink Floyd, Stevie Wonder, the Rolling Stones, Graffiti6, and others—are delivered here with gentle invention by Wilber and producer/engineer Paul Mahern, with aid from drummer Devon Ashley on “The Game” and “Annie You Save Me.”
And the vocals… it’s not like Wilber is singing in some new accent inflection, like Dylan did in his Nashville Skyline era. His fans won’t be confused as to who is singing for them. The difference isn’t character, it is range and resonance. And it’s notable. Sing along, or try to, with Wilber’s take on Wonder’s “Overjoyed,” and you’ll readily understand. You’ll understand something of the journey and the payoff. You’ll understand Jason Wilber’s deep empathy for the song, and his inspiration for the singing. You’ll understand why Wilber is Prine’s guy, and more than that.
Jason Wilber is an American singer, guitar player, songwriter, and recording artist. In addition to his work as a solo recording artist, he is also known as the long time lead guitar player for singer-songwriter John Prine. Other artists Jason has accompanied live or in the studio include Iris Dement, Greg Brown, Tom Russell, Sheryl Crow, Mary Gauthier, Todd Snider, Simrit, Hal Ketchum, Tim Grimm, Krista Detor, Greg Trooper, Carrie Newcomer, Kim Fox, Bill Wilson, and Over the Rhine.
Jason Wilber’s solo albums include Lost In Your Hometown (1998), Behind the Midway (2000), King For A Day (2004), Lazy Afternoon (2006), Live and Otherwise Volume 1 (2006), Ghost of Summers Past (2009), Live and Otherwise Volume 2 (2009), Secret Window (2014), and Echoes (2016).
Jason Wilber’s work with John Prine includes the Grammy Award winning CD Fair & Square, and the Grammy nominated CDs Live On Tour and In Spite of Ourselves (which spent 32 weeks on the Billboard Country Charts). In addition to playing guitar on John Prine’s 2017 album For Better or Worse, Jason also served as a Co-Executive Producer. Jason has accompanied John Prine on duet recordings with Iris Dement, Allison Krauss, Susan Tedeschi, Emmylou Harris, Miranda Lambert, Kathy Mattea, Amanda Shires, Fiona Prine, Lucinda Williams, Josh Ritter, Patty Loveless, Lee Ann Womack, Connie Smith, Melba Montgomery, Morgane Stapleton, Kacey Musgraves, and Sara Watkins.
From 2006-2016, Jason Wilber hosted the syndicated radio series, In Search of a Song, which featured long form interviews with singers, songwriters, musicians, and producers.
Jason Wilber served as C0-Executive Producer on the compilation CD Coal Country Music featuring Willie Nelson, Gillian Welch, Ralph Stanley, Jason and the Scorchers, Kathy Mattea, Justin Townes Earle, Natalie Merchant, Diana Jones, Tom T. Hall, Bonnie Raitt, John Prine, Jean Ritchie, and other artists, who all contributed their talents to benefit the Alliance for Appalachia’s work to stop Mountain Top Removal in rural Appalachia.
Jason Wilber’s past TV and radio appearances include Late Night with Seth Meyers, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Late Night with Conan O’Brien, The Colbert Report, Sessions At West 54th Street, The Grand Ole Opry, Live with Regis and Kathy Lee, CNN Entertainment Week, The Road, Mountain Stage, E-Town, Austin City Limits, and The Late Show with David Letterman.
For media resources see the Jason Wilber Media Kit.