Wynn started to call me "Gentleman Jim Pierce."
It took a long to me to shake that nickname.
Jim Pierce has been involved in the music industry since the 50's, when he kept California and
the west coast buzzing about his hot country piano playing. Based in California, he became one
of the most-sought-after live and studio piano players on the west coast.
His career ranged
from playing with legends like Merle Travis, Wynn Stewart and Billy Mize, hosting his own
music television show; and running a recording studio, publishing company and even his own
record label; Poppy Records, where he recorded Del Reeves and Chester Smith.
He worked as staff pianist for RCA, Capitol, Republic and Challenge Records, playing on
sessions for Johnny Cash, Buck Owens, Ricky Nelson, Wynn Stewart, and Rose Maddox among
From 1958 to 1962, he was one of the most recorded pianists on the west coast,
having played on countless hit records, he also secured his first solo recording contract
with Republic Records in 1959.
As a young man Jim had taken to piano quite early on, but
it wasn't until after a term in the Air Force that he began to pursue his career beyond amateur
status. In 1954, Jim took a job playing piano with a Western Swing influenced country outfit
known as Bobby Champion & The Melody Wranglers at the Rouge Valley Ballroom. As Jim recalls,
Buck and Sonny Smith owned the club and it was a very popular venue in Southern Oregon.
"I had never played country piano before, although I heard it in the service. I didn't
know any of the songs and the bass player called chords to me to help me learn. I was with
them two weeks when the owner of the place asked me if I had ever heard of Merle Travis.
I said that I didn't know who he was. Buck Smith played some of his records to me. I enjoyed
them very much. Buck said I had to learn the songs, since I was expected to play some solos
on the songs. I was worried because, with the band, I had played mostly chords. I was just
learning how to play country style piano and I was insecure. Anyway it turned out to be a
ten day tour in the Pacific Northwest states.
came from West Coast bandleader and vocalist Chester Smith. As a recording artist, Smith
had some serious attention in 1955 with his single 'Wait a Little Longer, Please Jesus,'
a song that earned him the top slot on a new-talent poll by country music disc jockeys.
Smith had been working the Modesto area since the 1940s, and by the mid 1950s he was at
a peak as a successful bandleader, radio personality and recording artist.
We took off on the tour and the first time
Merle stepped on stage, I couldn't believe it. He plugged in his guitar and kicked off
the first song and the whole sound of the band changed, I can't really describe it.
When Merle played I was in total awe, I had never heard anything like it. His records
didn't have the sound of his playing live and I realized that I was playing on the same
stage with a true legend.
He found out that I was new to country and kind of took me under
his wing. I ate all the meals with him and he talked about country music and told me many
tales as well. He gave me suggestions and ideas and was the inspiration for me to really
try to be as good on piano as he was on guitar. One afternoon, I went to the place we were
to play that night and sat at the piano to practice. I started off with some of the things I
knew to get warmed up, like classical and pop numbers. After my fingers got limber,
I went to work on country. I didn't know that Merle was there. He was sitting in the back
and heard me play. After about 30 minutes or so, he walked up towards the stage. He surprised
me since I wasn't aware of his presence. He told me to hang in there and if I kept playing
the way he just heard me, that I would make it. What a boost for a young musician, I could
hardly believe my ears.
He was so nice to me and he didn't have to be. I recall that a few
years later I was called to record a session at Capitol Records in Hollywood. I walked into
the studio and here, sitting on a chair tuning his guitar was Merle Travis.
He just looked at me and said, 'See, I told you so.' He remembered me, I can't explain how I
felt, I was floating. That session turned out to be one of many times that I worked with Merle
in the recording studio. If it had not been for Merle Travis, I most likely would not
gone into country music at all.
We remained friends for many years, until he passed away. That was a sad day for me,
I'll never forget him.
While I was still in Medford, Oregon, I ran upon a gentleman
who liked my playing and he offered me the chance to have my own TV Show on channel five.
I formed a pop band, with horns and all and launched my own show. We did do some country too.
I became rather well known in that area. At that time, there was only one TV station in town.
If you watched TV, you most likely would have watched me as well.
I also had my own radio show,
It was country music, and the country stars who were traveling in the area guested on my
radio program. They would advertise where they were playing that way, so I met a lot of people,
Jim Reeves, Jim Ed and Maxine Brown, The Maddox Brothers and Rose, Jimmy Wakely,
Eddie Dean and many others.
I also met Jim Reeves lead guitar player, Leo Jackson, Leo
and I have been friends since that period. Today we jointly own Publishing Company:
Strawboss Music BMI.
When a record would end, I would play the end again live on the piano.
It was different and I had a large listening audience. Once in a while, I would play a solo
piece as well. I got a call from California one day and was offered a job there. The pay
was more than I had been making, so I decided to leave and take my chances."
" When I started with Chester, Chester was hot, everyone knew him and watched his television shows.
We drew huge crowds, Chester was a great showman and I loved working with him. It was a great
time in my life. The revolving group of musicians that Chester used included regulars like
Jim, Del 'Curly' Reeves and Lee Greenwood. At that point the rock 'n' roll had begun to cut
into the country market and Smith employed Lee as one of his sax players."
We played a
lot of Billy Vaughn songs with twin Saxes. We tried that for about a year and went back to
country. It worked real well for that year. Del Reeves sang harmony with Chester as
well as solos. Del did not become known as Del until a bit later, when he was with
Chester he was called 'Curly' Reeves because of his hair. He hated the nickname and changed
it just before he went on his own and left Chester.
Jim also got to work with Wills former frontman Tommy Duncan, who left Bob's Texas
Playboys in 1948.
Chester Smith also played mandolin, and we did all the popular country songs at that time.
I was able to play different styles on the piano, including western swing. That's why they
called me to work with Bob Wills.
Bob Wills' piano player got sick on a tour in central California and I got hired to play
in his band for a couple of nights. What an experience. I was working with Chester
Smith at the time and the dates did not conflict with Chester.
I never knew when I was going to take a solo. Bob would just wave his fiddle bow to
whomever he wanted to play. It might not be in the same place in the same song,
so I had to watch him like a hawk so I would play when the bow went my direction and
pointed at me."
"When I worked with Tommy Duncan, he used the Chester Smith band, so I went on the
dates as well."
In 1956 Jim built a small recording studio in Modesto, and formed his own independent
label Poppy Records. The venture was a learning process of how the industry worked, and
in 1957 he recorded Chester Smith and Del Reeves, as well as forming a publishing
company with Cal Veal who wrote "Penny Candy" for Jim Reeves.
On his off days,
Jim increasingly began to travel to other venues to check out other groups, sometimes
for the entertainment factor, in other cases to check out the opposition.
In 1958, during one of those trips, Jim had a chance encounter that led to a new job while
attending the Foothill Club in Long Beach with singer Tom Tall.
"When I went to the
club that night there was no piano player on stage, but there was a piano. Tom Tall and
I went there to meet girls and the Foothill Club's bandleader Gordon Terry called him
up to sing on the onstage radio show they were doing. Tom asked me to join him, which I did.
When Tom was through, he left the stage and I started to leave, until Gordon asked me to finish out
the program with the band.
Gordon Terry's band was known as The Tennesseans, at the time they included Billy Mize
(steel guitar, vocals), Roy Lanham (lead guitar), bandleader Gordon Terry on fiddle and
vocals, Cliff Crofford (bass, trumpet and vocals), and Mike Fury on drums. The group's
piano player Jimmy Wilson had just been let go, and this was the vacancy that Jim filled.
After the radio show, the band went on a break and Gordon invited me
As with most bands of the time, line-up changes were inevitable, Cliff Crofford remained
a semi regular, sometimes playing bass with touring country acts passing through
the West Coast scene.
With a record deal and a solo career starting to take off, Gordon Terry left the group
in 1959 to make personal appearances, this left Billy Mize and Cliff Crawford to take
over the band.
In 1959, another singer was added, female vocalist Jackie Burns who shared the regular
featured vocalist role with Johnny Western.
By this time, Jim was becoming a regular in the studio scene, achieving staff session status
for RCA, Capitol, Republic and Challenge Records, even signing with Republic Records as a solo
artist. As Jim Pierce And the Pistols he issued a series of instrumental sides like "Cajun Hop"
and "The Peel," these were non-country instrumentals in the rock style of the period.
Glen Campbell played guitar on Cajun Hop, and The Champs backed Jim on all of the Republic
In 1960 Jim received an offer to join the band at Georges Round-Up, which was led by singer Wynn
Stewart. A little younger than Billy Mize, Stewart had been recording since 1954 and had been
fronting groups for even longer. While not as well known as the televised Billy Mize, Stewart's
band the West Coast Playboys had built a solid live reputation in the mid to late 1950s and his
recordings were starting to sell at a promising rate.
"I was playing with Billy Mize and Cliff
Crawford at the Foothill Club and left to join Wynn Stewart at George's Roundup. Roy Counts was
playing guitar with Bobby Austin playing bass. When Wynn wanted to replace Roy Counts, I suggested
The Wynn Stewart band of Jim Pierce, Roy Nichols, Bobby Austin, Ralph Mooney
(pedal steel) and Helen "Peaches" Price on drums, became one the key bands of the west Coast
sound, the influence of which is still being felt today.
Although more a house band than a touring act, their effect on the local scene was incredible.
This was at a time when Buck Owens and others were spending more time traveling with pick-up
musicians, and other club bands hadn't quite achieved the full sound of a tight honky-tonk
band in a post Rockabilly scene.
Only a handfull of groups had come to this full West Coast sound in 1960, the main ones were
the Gene Davis Band at the Palomino Club in North Hollywood, Billy Mize & The Tennesseans
at the Foothill Club and Wynn Stewart's band.
Ralph Mooney played a large role in the developement of the new sound, he"d played guitar
with Wynn in the early 1960s, but his style and approach on the pedal steel was his
strength and had been used on 1959 recording by Wynn and Buck Owens. Mooney had also
shown his prowess on the Fender steel on the Palomino bandstand during 1959-1960 when
Mooney had been part of the group with Gene Davis just prior to re-joining Wynn Stewart.
The "classic" Wynn Stewart band didn"t enter the studio immediately, but in January 1961,
Jim Pierce and Roy Nichols went into the Capitol Recording Studios for a Rose Maddox session.
With producer Ken Nelson, the date included Rose Maddox, Cal Maddox, Billy Strange, Norm Hamlet,
Al Williams, and drummer Pee Wee Adams.
Several more Maddox sessions were held in July 1961,
with much the same session crew, except Ralph Mooney had replaced Norm Hamlet and Joe Maphis
was added on guitar alongside Roy Nichols.
These dates included Rose's version of "Long Black Limousine" penned by Vern Stovall and Bobby
George, and a song that Jim had the chance to play on for several different artists.
At this point Wynn Stewart and his band were playing six nights a week at George's Roundup
in Long Beach and appeared regularly on Cal's Corral, a Sunday afternoon TV show in L.A.
They were one of the hottest bands in the area, while Wynn Stewart"s records were selling well.
In 1961, Wynn received an offer to move to Las Vegas as a partner in a club, with the chance
to work as the bandleader of the house band. The club was called the Nashville Nevada Club
and remained open 24 hours a day, It was more of an upscale honky tonk than a Vegas showroom.
Wynn convinced the whole band including Jim to move to the Nashville Nevada Club and Las
Vegas, where they played six nights a week. For the new venue, they added female vocalist
Jackie Burns, who had been singing at the Foothill Club with Billy Mize and Cliff Crofford.
In 1961 Wynn and the whole Nashville Nevada band entered the United Recording Corporation
studio in Las Vegas to lay down some demo tracks in the hope of gaining a record deal for
singer Jackie Burns.
With the main band of Roy Nichols, Ralph Mooney, Bobby Austin, Peaches
Price and Jim Pierce, Wynn dueted with Jackie for a version of the Hank Thompson classic "Breakin'
The Rules," while Jackie sang lead on songs like "Wild One," "Pennies From Heaven" and "The End
Of The World."
A vocal group known as the Cut-Ups; (Joe Grant, Eddie Seals, and Sam White) were added to
fill the sound. Despite the high quality of the tasteful pop country recordings, Burns was
unable to secure a record contract and the tracks remained unissued until the release of
the Wynn Stewart box set in 2000.
On January 18th 1962, Jim went into United Recording
Corporation studios in Hollywood with producer Jimmie Haskell for a Ricky Nelson session.
The date included great studio musicians like Dave Burgess, Jerry Fuller James Burton,
Glen Campbell, bassist Joe Osborn, and drummer Ritchie Frost.
The next month it was one of Wynn Stewart"s best sessions for Challenge Records at Capitol
Recording Studios. Held on February 6th, 1962, producer Joe Johnson utilised the full Nashville
Nevada Club Band; Wynn, Roy Nichols, Ralph Mooney, Bobby Austin, Peaches Price and Jim Pierce,
for classics like "I Don't Feel At Home," "I Done Done It," "Loversville" and "Donna On My Mind."
On August 6th 1962, Jim returned to the same studio with producer Ken Nelson for a Rose
Maddox session. This date included Rose, Jim, Cal Maddox, Joe Maphis, Roy Nichols, Ralph
Mooney, Al Williams on bass and Pee Wee Adams on drums. They cut material for two singles,
including Rose"s version of Del Reeves" "Sing A Little Song Of Heartache."
At this stage the Nashville Nevada Club, was doing so well that a second shift band was added.
Led by singer Norm Owens, a friend of Wynn and band, the band included steel player Frank Arnett,
Roy Aldridge on bass, Speedy Young on drums and several guitar players over their 1962-1964 stint
at the venue. During this period Wynn"s band would open with Jackie Burns on vocals, as the
night progressed Wynn would join his group at the bandstand, then from 3 to 6:30 am, Thursday
through to Sunday each week, the late shift band would play.
In March of 1963 Jim with Roy
Nichols and Ralph Mooney traveled to Hollywood for more studio sessions for Rose Maddox,
others present included Cal Maddox, Joe Maphis, Lawrence Wooten, and Junior Nichols.
Around this time Jim played on several of Buck Owens recordings. In the past Owens primarily
used George French on piano, but for a short time relied on Jim for the sessions.
On March 19th, one such Owens session, with duet partner Rose Maddox, produced songs
like "Sweethearts In Heaven," "We're The Talk Of The Town," "Back Street Affair" and "No Fool
Like An Old Fool."
This date saw Jim working alongside Rose and Cal Maddox as well an early version of Buck Owens"
Buckaroos consisting of Don Rich, Jay McDonald, Kenny Pierce and Ken Presley.
Then in September, Jim, Ralph Mooney and Roy Nichols flew to Hollywood to another Ken Nelson
session for Rose Maddox. The initial session teamed the three Wynn Stewart sideman with Cal
Maddox, Glen Campbell, bassist Bob Morris and Junior Nichols, the drummer from Jimmy Bryant's
Further sessions for Rose were held in January and July of 1964. The band was identical except
for Lawrence Wooten replacing Morris as bassist.
That year Jim also played piano on sessions with Willie Nelson on Liberty records in
Hollywood, Leon Russell was another piano player who did some of the studio work and both
piano players are represented on Willie"s debut album from 1963.
As the year progressed, there were various changes in the main Nashville Nevada band's
line-up. For a time Merle Haggard joined the group on bass, replacing Bobby Austin.
It was during this time that Jim began to experience some ill health and was forced to leave
the group some time in late 1963 to recuperate. His replacement was piano player George French
from the Bakersfield bar scene and another Hollywood session player. Eventually Merle Haggard
left the band to concentrate on his fledgling solo career.
Meanwhile Jim and Bobby Austin
teamed up to front their own band. Although Bobby Austin was solo, he had found the scene
in Nevada hard to leave. When Jim had recuperated, the two joined forces to help open the
Silver Nugget Casino on Las Vegas Boulevard in North Las Vegas. The casino was opened by
Dunes owner Major Riddle in 1964, and was the first casino in the suburb's small casino cluster.
Early on the manager of the Silver Nugget mishandled the finances and the Nugget closed after
only half a year of activity. Eventually Jim returned to the Nashville Nevada Club,
although in a rather different capacity that his role with Wynn's band.
"I played with the second band with Norm Owens. I wanted to re-join Wynn but George was playing
piano. Wynn asked me to play drums and I thought that would be fun so I did. Before long George
French quit to go back to Bakersfield, and I went back to piano."
Eventually, the IRS closed
the Nashville Nevada Club for tax related debts. By this time Helen "Peaches" Price had left the
group, another drummer had been brought in as the group moved to the Lariat Club, after which
Wynn left the group altogether.
At the Lariat Club Bobby Austin took over the band, then he too
left, with singer Johnny Leggett brought in to front the band. Ralph Mooney and Roy Nichols
were still in the group with Jim, but not long after the move to the Lariat Club, Roy Nichols
quit and moved back to California where he would soon join Merle Haggard's Strangers.
They added a new guitar player and continued for a little longer before the group folded.
Ralph Mooney and Jim Pierce stayed in Las Vegas, although for almost a year, Ralph Mooney
would tour with Merle Haggard"s backing band the Strangers with ex-Wynn Stewart band members
Roy Nichols and Peaches Price.
In March of 1965, Jim Pierce played on another Rose Maddox session held at Capitol Recording
Studios with producer Ken Nelson. He kept doing sessions in Hollywood and playing gigs
around the Las Vegas area, even playing on the occasional Las Vegas session date.
The Jim Pierce Band became his next full time group in 1966. The band consisted of bandleader
Jim on piano, guitarist Joey Lemon, Norm Owens from the Nashville Nevada Club on bass and
vocals and a drummer. They played a casino in Henderson, Nevada for close to six months.
At the time Jim was still doing sessions, but found it hard to keep accounts because he
was living in Nevada, away from the main industry in California. Eventually the group split,
Norm went on to join the band of Judy Lynn, while guitarist Joey Lemon went on to join Bobby
Darin as part of his small backing band that was augmented with an orchestra on some of
Bobby"s shows. Lemon would also play on Darin"s 1969 folk rock album when he tried a more
serious image as Bob Darin.
In 1966 Wynn Stewart formed his first proper road band in
his career. Over the years Wynn had maintained a series of top flight bands such as the
Nashville Nevada group that Jim had performed with, but never a full touring outfit that
he would take on the road. Known as the Tourists, the new group consisted of Bobby Wayne
on guitar, Dennis Hromek on bass, Jimmie Collins on pedal steel guitar and Dave Allen on drums.
In October of 1966 Wynn and the Tourists entered the studio for the first time, to augment
the session, producer Marvin Hughes brought in Jim to play piano, while the Anita Kerr
Singers were added on backing vocals. On that date they recorded "It's Such A Pretty World
Today," released on February 25th 1967, it went on to hit the number one position for
two weeks, and spent a total of twenty two weeks in the charts.
Jim was called in for further sessions with Wynn Stewart and The Tourists in March and
July of 1967 at Capitol Recording Studios in Hollywood with producer Ken Nelson once more
at the controls.
By August Wynn and the Tourists recorded with Jim, but without founder
member Bobby Wayne, and not long after the Tourists split, although Wynn would continue
to use the name with different bands for some time. The positive side was that the Tourists
sessions of 1967 produced a series of Top 20 singles through 1967 and into 1968.
By this time Jim had taken a job with the Joanie Waco Band in Sacramento. Bandleader
Waco needed someone to run her group so she could concentrate on fronting the group without
having to deal with every aspect of day to day running of a band. Eventually fiddler Billy Jack
Saucier was brought in as bandleader, Saucier had played with country and western swing
bands since the 1940s, and planned to take the Joanie Waco Show on extensive tours.
Unconvinced such an approach to performing was workable, Jim decided that working the
casinos back in Las Vegas was more to his liking.
Through the mid to late 1960s Jim
became the on call piano player at the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas.
"I played in the
Golden Nugget in Las Vegas with Billy Gray, Leon McAuliffe, Bob Luman and Willie Nelson.
I played a lot of shows with Billy Gray, possibly not all his shows in Vegas, but there was
a bunch. I used to play the Las Vegas dates with Leon McAuliffe, who had a great stage
personality. He played his non-pedal steel standing up. I even flew with him to Salt Lake
City, Utah to do a show. He was a pilot and had his own plane. It was my first time in a small
plane and I was not too comfortable with the trip. I rode back with one of the musicians who
had brought his car. I was glad to get back to Las Vegas.
While in Las Vegas, Jim recorded
a few sessions over the years that he lived there. The artists he provided studio piano
for included The Young Americans (a spin-off from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir), Joe and
Rose Lee Maphis, Hank Thompson's band The Brazos Valley Boys, Kenny Rogers projects and Judy
Lynn, the latter of which he decided to join when an offer came late in 1967.
While working the Golden Nugget with Willie Nelson and Bob Luman, they used different
musicians from Nashville, except for me of course."
While with Judy Lynn's large band, Jim toured, recorded and played a lot of gigs in the Nevada
circuit and out of state. The Judy Lynn show of the late 1960s included various line-ups, with
members like Gene O"Neal on pedal steel, Jessie Cuno on lead guitar, Norm Owens (bass, vocals),
fiddlers Tommy Williams and Bobby Hicks among others. The group was a major attraction, but
there was still one gig that Jim seemed unable to say no to, playing piano for Wynn Stewart.
In 1968 Jim was hired to do some Californian dates with Wynn Stewart and The Tourists.
As Wynn was now based in Texas, his current Tourists were a band that Wynn had hired in
Texas from the Ritz Starlite Club earlier in the year. They were Dale Noe (lead guitar),
Junior Knight (bass), Cal Freeman (steel), Guy Nelson (bandleader, emcee, vocals), and a
drummer. Jim Pierce was basically added for a segment of a Buck Owens tour in California.
After the tour Wynn continued playing the Southwest circuit with the main group,
although Jim was not playing with the band, he was regularly in the studio for Wynn's Hollywood
Jim had already entered the studio that year with Wynn on the 3rd - 5th of
January for Capitol Records sessions produced by Ken Nelson. The studio crew included
Jim alongside of Wynn (guitar, vocals), Bobby George (guitar), Tommy Collins (guitar),
Clarence White (guitar), Ralph Mooney (steel), Bob Morris (bass), and Peaches Price on drums.
Further Nelson produced sessions were held in June, with Wynn and Jim working with Bobby
George (guitar), Dale Noe (guitar), Carl Walden (guitar, harmonica), Ralph Mooney (steel),
Tommy Collins (guitar), Bob Morris (bass), Peaches Price (drums), as well as fiddle players
Bobby Bruce, Darrell Terwilliger and Bill Wright.
In December 1968 Jim returned to Capitol
Records, for another session with Wynn, alongside Glenn Keener, Dale Noe, Clarence White,
Ralph Mooney, bassist Red Wooten, Peaches Price and Earl Ball who also played piano as well
By 1969 The Tourists had lost their bassist Junior Knight, who had left the
group in March. At this point one of Wynn"s old sidekicks Hap Arnold joined the Tourists and
not long after the Tourists were signed on for a Buck Owens package tour. When Wynn thought
that a piano player was needed for the shows, Jim was called to augment the group's sound once
The Buck Owens Road Show of early 1969 included Buck Owens And His Buckaroos,
Sheb Wooley, Susan Raye, Eddie Fukano and The Hagers. It was Wynn Stewart's band that backed
up all the acts except Buck Owens who of course headlined with the Buckaroos. It was Jim's job to
open the concert with a piano boogie number each night.
While on this tour The Tourists line-up changed again, with Dale Noe replaced by Larry
Wellborn on guitar. Larry was a veteran of the Texan country scene and had actually
played bass on "That'll Be The Day" by Buddy Holly and the Crickets.
"When I was doing
the Buck Owens Tour, with Wynn, we were traveling in a station wagon. We were in Iowa
and Wynn decided to ride the short distance to the next job. Wynn's band and I was to meet
up with the show, perform and return to the city we were staying in. We had car problems
and the garage could not get it fixed in time for us to get to the show. We rented a car
from the dealer and made the concert. On the way back, it started to snow. Larry was
driving and had not ever driven in snow before. I was sleeping in the front seat and
didn"t realize that Larry was unsure of driving in those kinds of conditions. We were on
a two lane road and started down an incline and a semi-truck that was trying to go in the
other direction was heading toward us. Larry pushed on the brakes and we went into a skid
and ran into the truck head-on.
At the end of the tour most of
the group split, the grind of touring was taking a toll and the Texan members of the band
had found the winter tour dates particularly grueling.
I got hurt by hitting the rear view mirror and dash board. I was taken to the hospital
and had surgery to stitch up my head. The surgery took over an hour and I hurt all over.
The accident happened around three in the morning and I woke up in the hospital room
after the surgery. The same afternoon, a state police car came to the hospital to pick
me up for the show that night. My right leg had very feeling in it, due to nerve damage,
and my head was all bandaged up. I told Buck I was in no condition to go on stage that
night but he insisted. The promoter made a big deal about the show must go on and that
I had insisted to play. I don"t know how well I played and I don"t remember much about
that nights show, but I got a standing ovation anyway."
Jim Pierce Band
After the Buck Owens tour the
Tourists were reformed with Hap Arnold still on bass, his friend Jodie Payne (lead guitar,
vocals), drummer Kenny Smith and Jim on piano. Hap Arnold and Wynn were trying to get some
more of Wynn"s old band back in the fold. They"d already failed to convince Wynn's early 1960s
drummer Peaches Price to rejoin, and now they were working on Ralph Mooney, trying to get him
to leave Las Vegas.
Without a steel player, they went into the Jewell Recording Company studio
in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1969. The Jewel studio"s main business at that time was selling studio
time and record pressing packages to Gospel Quartets. In those days Cincinnati was known as the
Gospel recording capitol of the world.
With Wynn at Jewel, were the Tourists of Hap Arnold,
Kenny Smith and Jim Pierce with Cincinnati studio players Junior Boyer (steel guitar), with
Jack Sanderson and Larry Wilson on guitars.
All the songs from this session remained unreleased until the Wynn Stewart box set was
issued in 2000.
Through April 29th to May first of 1969, Wynn once again entered Capitol
Records studios with producer Ken Nelson. The Tourists of Hap Arnold, Jody Payne and Ken
Smith played small roles on the dates, while Jim was part of the main band which included
players like Earl Ball, Al Bruno, Glenn Keener, Clarence White, Ralph Mooney, Chuck Berghofer,
and Sam Goldstein.
At this point Wynn and Hap Arnold had convinced Ralph to join the Tourists,
but for Jim it was the end of the line and this became the last time he toured with
the Tourists or Wynn Stewart, although he did do studio work with Mooney in the years to
"When I left, both Wynn and Hap came over to my house to try to talk me out of leaving.
I had made my mind up though and I was not going to change it. I just had enough."
With a few Nashville session dates in his past, 1969 was the year that Jim moved to Nashville,
where many of his West Coast collegues like Helen "Peaches" Price, Buddy Mize, Glenn Keener,
Earl Ball, and Jackie Burns had already made the move.
That same year he joined The Homesteaders, an outfit that had made it"s name through
founding member Jerry Rivers, who had worked in Hank Williams Snr."s band the Drifting
Cowboys, even backing Ray Price for a time in the 1950s. The Homesteaders comprised of
guitarist Jack Boles, Jerry Rivers, and Floyd Robinson on lead guitar, toured heavily
throughout the 1960s building a reputation as a top live act. With a revoloving rhythm
section, the group changed over the years with future Nashville session guitarist Gregg
Galbraith briefly playing bass, and Frank Evans replacing Robinson on lead guitar.
Even though Rivers released a 1967 album with The Homesteaders, he eventually left the
group to Frank Evans.
By the time Jim joined they were mainly a touring and demo band, their main gig was
recording demos at Tree Publishing Company Studios. Through this connection in 1970,
Jim became a staff pianist for Acuff Rose and Tree Publishing, playing on numerous
song demo sessions. That same year he also first appeared on the Grand Ole Opry as part
of The Homesteaders band.
Jim only stayed with the group about a year, he found
another band to work with and gave his resignation.
The Homesteaders continued with
various line-ups under the leadership of Frank Evans, at one point in the early 1970s,
Jeanie C. Riley hired the Homesteaders as her main touring band, a live aggregation that
is fondly recalled by fellow musicians of the period.
In 1970 Jim went on to work with Jim Ed Brown"s band on televsion and The Grand Ole Opry.
Now a solo artist, Jim Ed Brown had been part of the vocal act the Browns since the mid 1950s,
first recording solo in 1965, then concentrating on his solo career after the Browns split in
1967. In 1968, Jim Ed Brown formed a backing group to work a residency at the Sahara Tahoe's
Juniper Lounge, and by 1969, he was hosting syndicated television show The Country Place,
which ran until 1970. It was on this show that Jim appeared as part of Brown"s group.
By 1971 Jim Pierce had finished working with road bands and began to concentrate on the studio
opportunities that were on offer in Nashville. He began doing work with Roy Drusky and did
sessions with Webb Pierce. By 1972 he recorded with country singer Slim Whitman, for United
Artists Records, and also started his own label Round Robin Records. During this same period,
that he began to produce sessions in Nashville, mainly unknown artists to begin with.
In 1972 Jim appeared on Waylon Jennings classic album, Ladies Love Outlaws (RCA Victor LSP 4751);
which was recorded at RCA Victor Studios in Nashville. The album was cut with Waylon Jennings' band
the Waylors including steel player Ralph Mooney, drummer Richie Albright and guitarist Billy
Ray Reynolds mixed with a small group of session players like Jim. The album was one of Waylon's
earliest moves away from the Nashville Sound that RCA preferred, although Jennings would
later claim that RCA issued the album with unfinished vocal tracks, the music was without
a doubt excellent.
In 1973 he began working with the Bill Goodwin Agency as a booking
agent, he booked artists like Bill Anderson, Leroy Van Dyke and Roy Drusky.
By 1974 Jim took his working relationship with Roy Drusky to a whole new level. He became
VP of Roy Drusky Enterprises, which in effect saw him coordinating Drusky"s press and booking
The following year he became exclusive agent, manager and concessionaire
for Roy Drusky, a role that lasted right into the early 1980s.
During the late 1970s
Jim continued to do session work, while also playing piano on various Nashville based
television shows. This continued into the early 1980s, and in 1981 Jim became the
substitute pianist on the Grand Ole Opry.
In 1984 Jim made the decision to focus on
working as a producer in Nashville, and he went into producing records on a full-time basis.
That same year, his experience in the studio led to his developing a slide rule system for
reading the Nashville Numbers System.
A long running musical partnership also started in
the late 1980s, one between, Jim, Leo Jackson and Norwegian country artist Arne Benoni.
Benoni was born and raised in a seaport town in northern Norway, later taking a strong
interest in country music, which led to a series of Norwegian released country albums
in the early 1980s and a strong following in Norway and other Scandinavian countries.
Arne eventually made it to Nashville and began recording with producer/guitarist Leo Jackson,
who had played guitar in Jim Reeves" band the Lonely Boys. The two recorded some of Arne's albums
in Nashville with top flight session players, eventually teaming up with Jim Pierce as well.
Benoni's 1989 album, On Easy Street was not only a fine independant country album,
but also the first of his releases with the production credit of Leo Jackson as producer
and Jim Pierce as executive producer.
During this period Jim's work did not go unrecognised, and in 1989 he recieved a nomination
for the Independent Producer of the Year award by Cash Box Magazine. And for the next few years
Jim was further nominated for an Independent Producer of the Year award, a title he took
home a couple of times between 1989 and 1994.
In 1992 Cash Box Magazine named him as one of the top five producers and Record Labels
in the U. S.
The early 1990s found Jim working with the Miami-based Playback label, for which he produced
a series of comeback style records for artists like Tommy Cash (The 25th Anniversary Album,
1991), Charlie Louvin (50 Years of Makin' Music, And That's the Gospel; both 1991), as well
as younger artists like Michele Bishop (No Man's Land, 1991).
The guest employed for these projects were remarkable, stars like Johnny Cash, Tom
T. Hall, George Jones, Connie Smith, Jim & Jesse, Little Jimmy Dickens, Tammy Wynette,
Crystal Gayle, Waylon Jennings, Melba Montgomery, Willie Nelson, Charlie Daniels, and
Tanya Tucker were some of those involved on the Playback sessions. It was these sorts of
productions that got Jim named Independent Producer of the Year for 1991.
It was during this period in 1991 that Jim formed his country band, The Nashville
Express to work with major stars as an opening act or back-up band, this group i
ncluded pedal steel guitarist Smiley Roberts and guitar player Gene Breeden. Breeden
was also a studio owner and they often played on sessions for each other.
In 1993 he received a commission to coordinate an "Opry Spectacular" concert package
for the 1994 Winter Olympics in Norway. At the time the idea was well received, except
for one thing, they couldn"t actually use the Grand Ole Opry name in full.
1994 as the Opry Spectacular (aka the Opry Showcase), they played at the Winter Olympics,
with WSM deejay and the Grand Ole Opry"s staff announcer Hairl Hensley as emcee.
The show featured Grand Ole Opry Stars Johnny Russell, Connie Smith, Jimmy C. Newman,
Skeeter Davis and of course Norwegian country artist and one of Jim"s favourite artists,
Jim recalled that the show carried a full band and background singers, a
total cast of fourteen people. It was an ambitious concept; some of the artists had not
toured in the States for years, let alone Europe. At the time Connie Smith had left the
country charts for many years, mainly focusing on gospel material, it was rare for her to
tour, although she had remained a regular on the Grand Ole Opry since the early 1970s.
In January, 1994, Connie had suffered a serious ankle injury during a rare appearance at
show in Georgia with her future husband Marty Stuart. She was playing the Opry within a week
and still made her promised appearance at the Winter Olympics the following month. The show
itself was a complete success, and remains one of the non-sporting highlights of the event.
In 1996 Jim was called about a new project, a recorded history of country music with narration
by deejay Hairl Hensley, to be issued as a booklet and a double cassette through the Radio
Although not hired as a producer, during the preparations Jim used his contacts to
help organise the project, as well as writing the liner notes, while Hensley wrote his
own parts for his narration.
The result, 70 Years of Country Music By Hairl Hensley, was released in January 1997.
The set covered the early days of country, with Fiddlin' John Carson, Jimmy Rodgers,
The Carter Family, to the era of Bob Wills, Ernest Tubb, Roy Acuff and the Girls of
the Golden West, right through to crossover artists like Dolly Parton and Rebba McEntire.
The set was mainly sold at souvenir stores and at various online sources, and remains
In 1998, Leo Jackson, Jim Pierce and The Nashville Express played a series of shows as
a tribute to Jim Reeves and the Nashville Sound. With Jackson's role as a former member
of Jim Reeves Blue Boys, he was a natural choice, and the long running association with Jim
made the Nashville Express a perfect group for the project.
The band included Gene Breeden on lead guitar, Joe Diamond on bass and some vocals,
Smiley Roberts on steel guitar, Elvis Barnett on drums, and of course Jim Pierce on
piano and keyboards.
During Jim"s portion he would perform material like "Born To Lose,"
"12th Street Rag" and his Floyd Cramer tribute with a rendition of "Last Date." For the
Jim Reeves component of the show they"d add Leo Jackson and singer Arne Benoni, who
was not impersonating Reeves, but singing his songs in tribute, adding his own style to
Despite the success of the group over the years, Jim wound down the activities
of the Nashville Express band in 1999, to could concentrate his activities in Artist
Management & Development.
In the last few years Jim has remained a producer, mainly as part of his role in an artist's
In the studio, Jim uses the same musicians the major recording companies use, and proudly
notes that "The quality of production is high." A couple of his artists were signed to major
labels, which utilised the original tracks produced by Jim and his musicians.
He still goes on the occasional music tour, one in particular was serviced by twelve semi-trucks
and ten entertainers" coaches on a tour through Washington State, Canada, most of the Mid-west,
New England, the East Coast and some of the Southern states as well.
True to their ongoing partnership, Leo Jackson and Jim Pierce co-produced Arne Benoni's 2001
album One Life Stand. Jim was also involved in the Chester Smith/Merle Haggard duet releases
of a few years ago.
Chester and Merle produced it in Merle"s studio in California, while Jim worked on
promotion from Tennessee. It was sent to overseas radio stations as Hag/Round Robin
release and Jim manufactured the product.
To this day, Jim continues to work with more established artists as well as
producing and working with up and coming talent in a career that has spanned half
"I've been extremely fortunate in being involved in country music all these years.
It"s been a great ride, I guess some of the things we did were ground breaking but
at the time we didn"t realize it; we just sort of did our thing. The creativity of
the musicians and singers are continuing today and in years to come, they too will
realize they have made history, just as we did back then."
--Jason Odd with special thanks to Jim Pierce. 2004
101 Hurt Rd.
Hendersonville, TN 37075
Page updated October, 2004
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