"WEBB PIERCE IS GOD."
I first heard these words uttered about twenty years ago on the legendary hippie-country station, KFAT in Gilroy, California. Over the years, these fateful words have echoed 'round and'round in my head. Never were truer words spoken! Here's hoping you join the cult of Webb sometime soon... And here are some suggested CDs to help you get started!
A big, fat, honkin' four-CD box set representing the holy grail of Webb's work that's actually in print. The LP-sized package includes 113 tracks and a lavish booklet with great liner notes by Webb-ologist Otto Kitsinger, as well as a complete discography of Webb's Decca sessions, giving info on side musicians, writers, producers, etc. Plus, there's over an album's worth of this material which had never been released before! ... So why do I so seldom actually listen to these discs? Well, slowly I find myself coming to the conclusion that Bear Family might do better off if they made single CD "economy" versions of some of their fabuloso box sets... The multi-disc boxes are great fetish items, but somewhat pricey and a bit daunting to delve into once you actually shell out the cash and drag one home. Don't get me wrong, though -- this collection is ace bunny killer. Not a bad track on it. Worth every pfennig. And the second that Bear Family puts out a follow-up collection of stuff from the late-'50s and early-'60s, I'll be standing in line to pick up my copy.
Highly recommended!! A super-spiffy set of early recordings Webb made before he signed to Decca Records. Slightly rawer, boisterously fun hillbilly music from his days on the Louisiana Hayride radio show. A must-have for any serious Webb fan, and a perfect compliment to any of the best-ofs listed here... this is material not available on those albums, and it's quite good.
Webb Pierce "The One And Only Webb Pierce" (King/Starday, 1988)
More early 'Fifties recordings, made before he signed to Decca Records. This disc is instantly recognizable from its garish green cover. But even with the echo-y fake stereo remastering, this is killer material. A little rawer and rowdier than his major label work, and hella fun. Anyone who felt burned by the thin, echo-y sound quality of the old LP versions will be heartened to hear that the mix on this CD copy is much better, and closer to the original mono mixes.
Want a new label to worship? Try the Country Music Foundation in Nashville... Either on their own or in conjunction with various major labels, the CMF has done fabulous missionary work to bring the greatest classic country music back into print. They definitely picked up the slack for MCA when they compiled this incredible Webb Pierce disc: you couldn't ask for a better single CD introduction. A couple of my favorite weepers are absent, but all of the hits are here, and they sound awesome. HIGHLY recommended. A must-have. Very good. Yes. Yum.
Webb Pierce "The Wondering Boy: The King of 50's Country" (Edsel, 2000)
This UK collection is also pretty tasty... The reissue pros at Edsel have a great track record, and they certainly don't fail us here... Comparable to the American best-ofs listed here.
Webb Pierce "Sands Of Gold"/"Sweet Memories" (Mobile Fidelity)
You sometimes see this one around, a curious little twofer reissue of a pair of albums from the early '60s. This is material from the start of Webb's downhill slouch, remastered for the audiophile crowd. Schmaltzy and formulaic, but still groovy. See below for reviews of the albums.
In 1973, after two decades as one of Decca Record's top country hitmakers, Pierce was unceremoniously dumped by the label (which had reorganized as MCA, and had also dropped other old-timers such as Ernest Tubb, who were deemed too old-fashioned to make it in the countrypolitan era.) Webb then signed up with the independent Plantation label, owned by producer Shelby Singleton. This CD collects over a dozen tracks chery-picked from Webb's two Golden Hits LPs, from 1976 and '77, albums that were filled with peppy stereo remakes of honkytonk hits Pierce originally recorded in the '50s and early '60s. Many country fans reflexively dismiss these re-recordings as inferior to the originals, but they definitely have their charms, and show that Webb still had remarkable vitality, and an ability to work with modern studio backings. Certainly, for Webb fans, it's a treat to have some of these songs out on CD at last, even if it's a little deceptive of the folks at Fuel to note the Top Ten chart positions of the original recordings next to the track listings on the back: despite a strong push by Plantation, Pierce's '70s recordings never approached anything close to the hitmaking heights of his glory days. Still, it's nice stuff! Speaking of hits, an added bonus on this disc is the inclusion of Webb's last significant chart entry, "The Good Lord Giveth (And Uncle Sam Taketh Away)," a vibrant, fuzzed-out, poppy shuffle that, inexplicably, the folks at Plantation never included on a proper album. All in all, this disc is a nice find... it might not be Pierce in his true prime, but Webb's still kickin' some hillbilly butt!
Webb Pierce & Willie Nelson "Back Street Affair" (Columbia, 1982)
The grand finale of Webb's musical career, this album is one in a series of affectionate these-are-my-idols duet albums that Willie Nelson made in the early 1980s. An unintentional classic of country homoeroticism, things get pretty campy pretty fast, as Webb and Willie swap sweet-nothing romantic verses on Webb's old weepers. All snickering aside, though, this is also a very solid country album, a noble end to Webb Pierce's recorded legacy... in fact, it's one of my favorite Webb records! Many thanks to Willie for making this record happen... it's a goodie! (NOTE: This CD reissue also includes Nelson's duet album with Hank Snow... more bang for your buck!)
Webb Pierce "Honky Tonk Song: 22 Country Hits" (1998)
A Belgian import that apparently includes most of the fab 1957 album, Just Imagination, as well as a slew of other big hits from the '50s. Nothing to complain about here, although if you have the other best-ofs, this may be superfluous.
The stinginess of MCA's reissue department never ceases to amaze me. Certainly there's nothing wrong with the music on here -- it's all great stuff -- but could it really be that much more expensive for them to put 14 or even 16 tracks on one of these things, as opposed to a measly ten??? Hey, if you have never heard Webb before, and this is the only disc of his you can find, by all means go out and get it. It may change your life. But if you have other options, they've got to be more worthwhile; as it is, the most interesting thing about this CD is the concise, informative liner notes by Bear Family head Rich Kienzle. Otherwise -- get real, fellas: ten tracks just ain't enough material to motivate people in this, the golden age of reissues.
Many thanks to Gail Davies for organizing this all-star tribute to my personal honkytonk hero, Webb Pierce. The level of talent assembled for this project is staggering, ranging from grizzled old-timers such as George Jones and Charley Pride to contemporary Top 40 stars Trent Summar, Dwight Yoakam and Pam Tillis. The twangcore crowd and '70s mavericks also get in their licks: Emmylou Harris delivers a plaintive reading of "Wondering," while Rosie Flores and Robbie Fulks cheerfully plow their way through a pair of Pierce's rock-era hits. It's difficult for anyone to match the charm and immediacy of Webb's original recordings, but high marks go to Dale Watson for his explosive version of "In The Jailhouse Now" and to Guy Clark, who hits the goofy mood of "Honk Tonk Song" right on the head. Willie Nelson is also in on the fun, which is appropriate since his 1982 duets LP was the last album Pierce recorded. Here, Nelson takes his time with a bittersweet, appropriately mournful version of "That's Me Without Out You," one of Pierce's weepiest and best ballads. With an all-star cast like this, and such great material to work from, this disc should open a few new ears to the Webb Pierce legend. Check this out, and be sure to pick up one of the great Webb reissues out there as well.
Charming mid-'50s TV performances by these two country giants. Webb grows increasingly comfortable on camera as time goes by -- he starts out in '54 looking stiff as a board; within a couple of years he's learned how to smile and even sway a bit while he twinkles at the camera. Chet Atkins has a slightly sinister appearance -- as though perhaps he'd made a pact with the devil to be able to play the guitar like that. Their performances are taken from an Opry-related show that was hokey as could be, and pretty adorable... filmed in 33mm, with vivid, garish techni-colors that was perfect for Webb's nudie suits and the gingham outfits of all the gals.
I haven't seen this, but I believe it's a B&W cowboy oater, featuring Webb, along with Marty Robbins and Carl Smith. The film is available on VHS... somewhere...
Various Artists "Road to Nashville" (Rhino)
A hokey B-movie made in 1967 that captures a whole slew of Nashville old-timers in their heyday. I also haven't seen this flick yet, but I hear Webb's appearances are pretty cute. This is stuff from the mid-1960s; Connie Smith, Lefty Frizzell and other big-name artists also appear.
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