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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 576

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This is the grave of Webb Pierce.

Born in 1921 in West Monroe, Louisiana, Pierce became a huge fan of country music as a child. He started playing the guitar and by the time he was 15, he had a short radio show on a radio station in Monroe. He joined the military in World War II. When the war ended, he moved to Shreveport, which was a minor center of country music. He worked in a clothing store while trying to make it big. He got another radio show in that city in 1947, singing with his first wife, Betty Jane.

They started having a bit of success. In 1949, they were signed to a small label out of California, mostly recording separately. He was popular, she was not. They divorced in 1950. He joined the Louisiana Hayride, that famed Shreveport challenger to the Grand Ole Opry. That Shreveport scene was pretty hot. It wasn’t uncommon to see Pierce playing with the great Floyd Cramer on piano and Faron Young co-leading the band with him. He had his own little label and recorded a bunch of stuff in 1950 and 1951 for it.

It was in 1952 that Pierce got the big call from Nashville. That year, “Wondering” became his first #1 hit, followed shortly by “That Heart Belongs to Me.” When Jim Denny fired Hank Williams from the Grand Ole Opry, maybe because he was a drunk and maybe because Hank wasn’t signed to his publishing company, he asked Pierce to replace him. They worked closely together on that publishing company. Pierce became the most popular country singer in those last years before rock and roll changed the music forever. He had some huge hits, most notably the great “There Stands the Glass” in 1953. He had two #1 hits in 1954–“Slowly” and “More and More.” And then in 1955, he had a #1 with his version of “In the Jailhouse Now.” In fact, Pierce had more #1 songs than any country artist in the 1950s.

But Pierce was not really a rock and roll type guy and his time at the top of the charts was relatively brief. He was reasonably successful until close to the end of the 50s, doing a bunch of pretty successful work with Kitty Wells. He recorded a rockabilly record in 1958 to get hip with the kids but it didn’t do much and he didn’t even use his own name on it. He resigned from the Opry in 1957 after refusing to pay commission on bookings, which I assume was Jim Denny trying to squeeze him for cash. He was around the industry for the rest of his life, but his days at the top of the charts was over.

Webb Pierce was pure unadulterated 100% country music class. He hired Nudie Cohen, known for his famous suits, to line two cars with silver dollars. He spent $30,000 on a guitar shaped swimming pool at his Nashville home and then let tourists come visit it. Soon, 3,000 people a week were showing up at his house! Things got so bad that his neighbors, led by the horrifying awful right-wing country “comedy” singer and 2019 Country Music Hall of Fame inductee Ray Stevens, to sue him to stop it. Pierce was a huge drinker and loved to party. This definitely helped undermine his career. He became known for showing up to shows too drunk to perform, a common feature of aging men of the genre, including his own Shreveport buddy Faron Young. But he was still recording until close to his death. His last top 10 hit was in 1967 with “Fool Fool Fool.” Always classy, he later recorded for the king of country music trash, Shelby S. Singleton, including a song called “The Lord Giveth (And Uncle Sam Taketh Away)” as well as at least two duets with Carol Channing!!!!

After Willie Nelson got huge, he was both big-hearted and a little lazy. This meant he mostly stopped writing songs and instead tried to give his friends and heroes a break by recording their songs or with them. His album of Kris Kristofferson covers is great and his duet album with Ray Price really gave the great man a boost at a time when his career was low. Willie was also a big Pierce fan and got him to record a duet of “In the Jailhouse Now” in 1982. It was the last song of Pierce’s to chart, but it was a low-charting song and didn’t make a lot of money for either man.

Pierce died on pancreatic cancer in 1991. In 2001, he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Let’s listen to some Webb Pierce.

That duet with Pierce and Channing…..hoo boy.

Webb Pierce is buried Woodlawn Memorial Park, Nashville, Tennessee.

This grave visit was supported by LGM readers and I am very thankful. I hope you will consider continuing to support this series. If you would like me to visit other members of the Country Music Hall of Fame, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Other members of the 2001 class that I can visit include Waylon Jennings, buried in Mesa, Arizona, and Phil Everly, buried in Central City, Kentucky. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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