Published on March 7th, 2018 | by Brittain Thompson
Remembering Oxford, Mississippi’s Soul Man and Master Cobbler Herbert Wiley
Herbert Wiley was a stalwart in the Oxford community and music scene. He was known as a soul musician with his performances dating back to the 60s.
In addition to his musical talents, Wiley was a renowned leather worker and operated his own shop for years in the location that is now Saint Leo. That building was also once home to Parrish’s, Taylor’s Pub, and from 1920–early 1960s, the B&B Cafe, which was owned by Wiley’s father.
As our own memorial to Wiley we’ve put together a collection of posts, videos, and messages from those impacted by his life.
“Mr. Wiley among his many talents was a gentleman of style and class,” said Allie Jo Moore. “He was sitting next to me at the bar for lunch at Ajax. It was a cold winter day. I was wearing a leather bomber jacket with an 8 inch rip along the front seam. He said to me, ‘Allie, you can’t go walking around here with a rip in your jacket like that, child. Bring it by the shop and I will fix it up for you.’ He sewed and soldered it. That was 15 years ago. It’s still holding strong.”
Nathan Robbins, local musician, recalled playing a gig with Wiley where he pulled aside fellow Oxford musician Mills Hawkins to consult with him in regards to his ripped jeans and taking pride in his appearance on stage.
“Mr Herbert Wiley was one of a kind,” said Mills Hawkins. “Back around 2006 or 2007 (can’t remember which) he was on hiatus w/ the Checkmates. During this period myself, Adrian Dickey & Austin Marshall had the privilege of playing w/ Wiley under the name ‘Mr Wiley & the Blu Flu’.”
“We rotated keyboard duties between Jared Spears & Tom Freeland. This was also around the same time that Wiley started his first battle w/ cancer and chemo. We played alot of shows, and I remember Wiley would sometimes have to sit down and rest for a set, so we would just improvise until he had enough strength to get back up and rock the house.”
“Not once did he ever complain, and he never canceled a show. That says alot about that man, and his passion for life and music. There will never be another Herbert Wiley, and I’m so thankful for the memories he gave me. Truly one of a kind, and I was just lucky enough to have crossed paths w/ such a great soul.”
Blues historian Scott Barretta posted his condolences for the master cobbler, spurring a flood of comments from those already missing him dearly.
Barretta believes a video of Wiley playing a tribute to his late bandmate, J.D. Mark, is one of the final performances the master cobbler and soul man ever gave. This was shot by Newt Rayburn at The Blind Pig in July of 2013.
“Growing up in Oxford in the 70s and 80s, I knew Mr. Wiley as a shoe and leather repairman,” said Newt Rayburn, local musician and Publisher of The Local Voice.
“He was everybody’s go-to guy when you had a problem with your leather duds, and growing up rocknroll, I needed his help many times.”
“Sometime in the early 2000s he restarted his band Wiley & The Checkmates, and everybody was just blown away,” explained Rayburn.
“Mr. Wiley called me up after J.D. Mark passed away and thanked me for filming him at the tribute show. He was deeply moved by the passing of his guitarist, and there really wasn’t much footage of him performing live, which is surprising.”