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Pierce, Webb locked

  • Charles K. Wolfe

(b nr West Monroe, LA, Aug 8, 1921; d Nashville, TN, Feb 24, 1991). American country-music singer, guitarist, songwriter, and publisher. He performed as a guitarist on radio station KMLB (Monroe, LA) before 1950, when he joined the “Louisiana hayride ” on KWKH (Shreveport, LA). Recording contracts with the local Pacemaker label (c1950), Four-Star, and Decca (1951) allowed him to resign his part-time job as a clerk at Sears, Roebuck and concentrate on music. After his initial hit, “Wondering” (1952), he gained national attention with “Back Street Affair” (1952), one of the first country songs to deal forthrightly with adultery. An equally important landmark was “There stands the glass” (1953), a classic drinking song and the first country hit to use the pedal steel guitar, played by Bud Isaacs. It became the favorite backup instrument in country music for the next two decades, and Pierce was the first of many country singers whose slurs, octave jumps, and use of dynamics complemented its sound. During his peak years (1951–71), Pierce had eight no.1 hits, and 81 sides on the country chart; among the most influential were “Slowly” (1954); “In the Jailhouse Now” (1955), a remake of the old Jimmie Rodgers tune; and “Why, Baby, Why” (1955), a duet with Red Sovine. In 1952 he joined the cast of the Grand Ole Opry, where he inherited Hank Williams’s mantle as the show’s leading honky-tonk singer. With Opry manager Jim Denny he founded Cedarwood Music in 1953; it became a leading Nashville publishing firm whose writers included Danny Dill, John D. Loudermilk, Carl Perkins, and Mel Tillis. One of the most commercially successful of modern country singers, Pierce had a nasal tenor voice that was influential in defining the honky-tonk vocal style in the 1950s.

Recordings

(selective list)

(all recorded for Decca)

  • As soloist: “Back Street Affair” (1952, 28369); “Wondering” (1952, 46364); “There stands the glass” (1953, 28834); “Slowly” (1954, 28991); “In the Jailhouse Now” (1955, 29391); “Holiday for Love” (1957, 30419); “A Thousand Miles Ago” (1959, 30858); “Sweet Lips” (1961, 31249); “Memory #1” (1964, 31617); “Fool, Fool, Fool” (1967, 32167)
  • With R. Sovine: “Why, Baby, Why?” (1955, 29755)

Bibliography

  • T.E.W. Laird: Louisiana Hayride: Radio and Roots Music along the Red River (New York and Oxford, 2005)