Webb Pierce - Biography
"The King of 50’s Honky Tonk Music"
Rhinestone Nudie suits, silver dollar Cadillacs and guitar shaped swimming pools might be some of the things that come to mind when you think of country singer Webb Pierce, but if you've never listened to his music or let yourself drift away with the high lonesome sounds of the Wondering Boy, then you don't really know Webb Pierce.
Throughout his long and illustrious career, one that extended into 1982, Webb Pierce charted 96 singles, 54 Top Ten songs and 13 No.1 singles. In 1955, three of his tunes topped the charts for an unprecedented 46 weeks... almost the entire year. Using a point scale that takes into account both chart positions and longevity, Joel Whitburn ranks Webb Pierce as the No.1 artist of the 1950’s, leagues ahead of Jim Reeves (No.14) Eddy Arnold (No.2) Hank Williams (No.6) and Lefty Frizzell (No.16). It is estimated that his record sales to date total over 65 million copies and his influence can still be felt throughout the world at every age level and in every musical genre.
Born Webb Michael Pierce in West Monroe, Louisiana, on August 8, 1921, Webb grew up on the music of Jimmie Rodgers, Gene Autry, the western swing bands of Texas and Oklahoma, and the raw Cajun sounds so common around his home town. Webb started playing guitar when he was 12 years old, and by the time he was 16, had his own radio show on KMLB. He served in the Army for three years before moving to Shreveport, Louisiana, in 1944, and, though music was his first love, he was not afraid of a little hard work and supported himself for many years as a shoe salesman at the local Sears and Roebuck store.
In 1950, Webb Pierce came to the attention of Horace Logan, the program director for Shreveport’s 50,000 watt radio station KWKH and the founder of their Saturday night broadcast The Louisiana Hayride. Pierce quickly became a major star of the radio show and, together with Logan, started Pacemaker Records. He signed with Decca in 1951 and scored his first No.1 single with a new arrangement of a 1937 Cajun song called Wondering. The song became the inspiration for Webb’s nickname as well as the name of his band, The Wondering Boys. The hottest group around, Pierce’s band consisted of future legends Floyd Cramer (piano) Tex Grimsley (fiddle) Tillman Franks (bass) Jimmy Day (steel guitar) Teddy & Doyle Wilburn and a talented, young hopeful by the name of Faron Young.
Pierce quickly followed the success of his first hit record with two more No.1 singles, a song he’d written to his wife, Audrey, entitled That Heart Belongs To Me (sometimes titled Don’t Do It Darlin’) and the Honky Tonk anthem, Back Street Affair, written by Billy Wallace. In the words of journalist Edward Morris, "Pierce worked his magic back when there was a real difference between country and city and when matters of right and wrong were less elastic than they are today. He was the voice of country boys excited by bright lights but fearful and suspicious as well. He spoke for simple guys whose hearts and loins tugged them toward barely imaginable delights while Mom and Jesus begged them to stay fast. In this territory where grief was bottomless and ecstasy walked on air, Webb Pierce was the truest voice country music has ever known.
In 1955, with three No.1 records under his belt, Webb Pierce was invited to come to Nashville and join The Grand Ole Opry. His No.1 records came at an astounding rate after that, It’s Been So Long and There Stands The Glass (banned by some radio stations for promoting drinking), Slowly (co-written with Texas fiddler Tommy Hill and featuring Bud Isaacs on the first pedal steel guitar ever recorded), In The Jailhouse Now, More and More, Even Tho, I Don’t Care, Love Love Love and Why Baby Why. All No.1 hit songs for Webb Pierce.
In 1953, Pierce aligned himself with Grand Ole Opry manager Jim Denny to form Cedarwood Publishing. They purchased a number of radio stations, along with some other investments, which eventually led to Denny being let go from the Opry for what they called a conflict of interests. Webb Pierce was one of the first recording artists to realize the wealth that was to be had on the business side of the music and for that, he was often unjustly criticized.
With the onset of television, Webb Pierce became a featured performer on the ABC television show Ozark Jublilee, out of Springfield, Missouri. He went on to appear in a number of film roles and even recorded with Broadway singer Carol Channing. When the rock and roll era of the late 50’s began to take over the music industry, the success of many country artists came to an abrupt standstill, but Pierce drew on the talented staff of songwriters he had amassed at Cedarwood Publishing including Danny Dill, Wayne Walker, Mari John Wilkin and a gifted, young songwriter named Mel Tillis. It was Tillis who furnished Pierce with such contemporary hits as I Ain’t Never, I’m Tired, Honky Tonk Song and Tupelo County Jail.
Webb Pierce died of cancer on February 24, 1991. He was finally inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame on October 5th, 2001. On June 11th of that same year, country singer and songwriter Gail Davies produced a tribute album to the legendary Webb Pierce entitled Caught In The Webb. Released by Audium Records, this album features 25 of Country Music's greatest performers including George Jones, BR549, Willie Nelson, Charley Pride, The Jordanaires, Emmylou Harris, Dwight Yoakam, Crystal Gayle and many others. Proceeds from this album will benefit two very worthy charities, The Minnie Pearl Cancer Foundation and The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.