This is an mp3 blog attempting to document the gross amount of music I listen to. About once a day, I'll post something I like. If you're a copyright holder on anything I host, get in touch, and we'll settle things in a steel cage instead of a courtroom.

Friday, November 17, 2006

"I'm checkin' out for sure" - Webb Pierce

When I interviewed Hank Williams III a little while ago, we talked a bit about some of our favorite honky tonk records. Turns out we're both big fans od Webb Pierce. I guess it makes sense in retrospect. Even if Hank III hated every single song Pierce ever recorded, his the-fuck-with-Nashville attitude and bragadaccio essentially mirror the cocky attitude of the older man.

It's interesting to me how Webb Pierce has been forgotten by the public at large. In the 50's, he outsold luminous contemporaries like Hank Williams, Ernest Tubb, and Lefty Frizzell and was the face of country music. Yet I have feeling that if you asked the average person today who he was, they'd shrug and call you a weirdo.

I don't think his case was helped by the fact that he was a loudmouthed jackass who was prone to ostentatious displays of wealth. Before the days of people rapping about jewelry and car accesories, Pierce lined his cars with silver dollars and built a guitar-shaped pool, which is frankly one of the coolest things I've ever seen and is on my "if I win the lottery, I'm going to buy..." list. (The other two things are a yacht full of prostitutes and, to steal a bit from David Thorpe, a 1:1 scale replica of Michaelangelo's David made entirely out of cocaine.)

Bypassing the typical route of success in the country music business (playing for bad-suit-wearing industry types in Nashville), Pierce and his then-wife tried their luck in California, doing radio shows and playing clubs. It took them five years to get noticed, because I guess even in the 40's, Californians hated anything resembling the South. Anyway, he and his worse half each got seperate recording contracts - his panned out, hers didn't, and he moved to Louisiana in the wake of his 1950 divorce.

He managed to get a spot on the Louisana Hayride, which was a big stepping stone to success for a lot of country artists. He signed to Decca and started an incredible string of hits (it would eventually amount to four years of nothing but top ten hits, with ten going to number one). He got so popular, he was asked to replace the wildly popular Hank Williams when the latter man got fired by the Grand Ol' Opry. He would leave under a cloud of dispute, since he thought they treated him like shit and tried to keep him from doing anything other than the Opry.

Like all honky tonk artists that refused to change their sound (other than some pitiful stabs at rockabilly that are best left forgotten), Pierce's popularity sank after the explosion of rock 'n' roll and as tastes shifted in the country audience. As Nashville began churning out slicker and slicker records (that sounded more like pop with a twang than anything actually resembling country music - not much has changed), more and more older country artists began to sound tired and outdated. Pierce continued to have hits into the 60's, but sales continually dropped off. Finally, byt he 70's, he was all but forgotten by the public. He contented himself to live off residuals and investment dividends and spend his days pissing off his neighbors.

He never made it to the country music hall of fame, and he probably never will, despite being one of it's biggest-selling artists. Nashville doesn't pay tribute to the artists that don't bend over and take it from the country music establishment. Whatever. He left behind a stack of killer records. The best place to start is the excellent comp The Wondering Boy, 1951-1958. Get on it, losers!


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