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Caught in the Web(b) of Pierce

By Joel Bernstein, January 2002

Page 2...

In February 2001, WSM (Nashville) deejay Eddie Stubbs did a special program about Pierce, and Davies was one of those invited to talk about Pierce's importance. She mentioned on the air that she would love to do a tribute album to Pierce, and the next day had an email from his daughter expressing enthusiasm for the project.

Davies then tried to find a label that would put it out.

'Major labels weren't interested. They didn't think there was any money to be made on it. When I told them all the money was going to charity, they really weren't interested."

By this point, Davies was determined. "I called all my friends. I said you have to do it for free. Everyone said yes. I told everyone they'd have to do their vocals in one or two takes. Only a couple of people dropped out." (Davies recounts that one manager called her up and asked incredulously, "You mean he'll actually have to be able to sing?").

Davies rounded up veteran backup including bass player Bob Moore. "He played on some of Webb's original tracks." The Jordanaires, Hall of Famers in their own right, sing on four tracks. "On Matt King's song ('Even Tho') Pat Bergeson played a Chet Atkins tribute on his solo. All the solos were live."

"We didn't know if anyone would put out the album. I had artists come in every hour. We cut the whole album for free. The only thing we had to pay for was the studio time, and Mike Curb Studios gave us a very good rate. My husband and I put up $6,000 of our own money."

Davies ran into Audium Records head Nick Hunter at a grocery store. "I told him about the album. He said, 'Bring it to me.' I said that all the proceeds were going to charity, and he took it for a distribution fee."

The toughest part about a project like this is getting it organized. Not only do you have to figure out who's going to be on it, but you also have to determine who gets which song. Davies had reasons for choosing her artists.

"George (Jones) and Willie (Nelson) were friends of Webb's. I first met Webb on Willie's bus. I wouldn't do the album without Willie. I wanted to get Robbie Fulks because my son (musician Chris Scruggs) and his girlfriend said he was cool and did "Tupelo County Jail" in his live sets. Allison Moorer - what a voice! She was opening for Dwight Yoakam when I went to ask him. I wanted a woman to do "Back Street Affair," and she had to sound tough. Allison said 'You were my mother's favorite singer. (Sister) Shelby (Lynne) and I grew up on your music. Billy Walker (another Pierce contemporary) is a great singer."

There were also some unconventional choices. "Crystal Gayle is a very underrated singer. People think of her as just a pop singer. She grew up in the same house as Loretta Lynn. I toured with Lionel Cartwright in Europe in the early '90's as part of 'Nashville Unplugged.' I met my husband on that tour."

Matching artists with songs could also be tough. Davies talked about how she lost Mark Knopfler. After having to take one song away from Guy Clark, Davies assigned him "Honky Tonk Song." When Knopfler called asking for that one, Davies didn't want to take another one away form Clark.

Davies the producer almost lost Davies the singer, as well. "I was willing to approach it more as a producer than an artist. Everyone assumed I would do Webb's signature song 'Slowly' myself. I produced Mandy Barnett at Capitol when she was a teenager. I knew she should do it. Then I had 'No Love At All,' but Pam Tillis wanted to do one of her father's songs (Mel Tillis wrote or co-wrote many of Pierce's hits), so she got that one. I was left with 'Love, Love, Love.' I originally cut that song that when I was at Warners, but it never came out."

Almost everyone recorded their vocals during the two-day session. Davies traveled a bit to get Nelson's vocals on his bus with a portable 16-track recorder, and Yoakam did his own vocal and sent it in. "I've known Willie since I sang with Roger Miller. His daughter used to date my ex-husband. Willie did his vocal. I asked him to do it again. He looked at me funny, but he did it, and that's the one we used. When I told that to Dwight Yoakam, Dwight said 'You're kidding. Willie never does two vocals.'"

As for the other singers, "I told everyone 'I don't want to talk to your manager or your record company.' I'm not going to hassle with some person who thinks they're a big deal. Everybody checked their ego at the door. They did everything to cooperate. George Jones was an absolute doll, the easiest to work with hands down."

It was quite a challenge in terms of being a producer. "I had to deal with a different personality every hour."

Davies, whose own music has been leaning heavily towards bluegrass recently, is hoping to revive her recording career as well. Her recent "Unplugged" album is marooned in a sea of legal problems, but she hopes it will be officially released at some point.

Davies is also championing the Hall of Fame credentials of Carl Smith "He was the biggest singer in Nashville when Webb came to town. He was Elvis' favorite singer. He wouldn't kiss ass. He got out of the business and rides horses. It's a crime that someone of his stature is not in the Hall of Fame".

Davies has been such an outspoken champion of him that some people assumed she would do a Carl Smith tribute album next, but she squelches that idea. "I don't want to become known as the producer of tribute albums. This was a love-of-my-life project."

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