Webb Pierce

Honky-Tonk Hero

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The back cover of Fuel 2000's Honky-Tonk Hero trumpets the chart position of each of the 15 songs on the collection: "Back Street Affair" (number one country); "In the Jailhouse Now" (number one country); "Wondering" (number one country). Too bad that the chart position, in all but two cases, refers to versions not heard on this collection. Webb Pierce did have a remarkable string of chart-topping country hits, but those were cut for Decca. The versions here are remakes Pierce cut in the mid-'70s for Plantation Records, a fact buried until the very end of Bill Dahl's typically fine liner notes (in fact, the liners are better than this deserves). These remakes aren't bad, necessarily -- they're professional, well-recorded, and Pierce is in good voice -- but they don't hold a candle to the originals, a comparison that can't help but be made because so many of the cuts closely adhere to original arrangements, thereby increasing the feeling that this is a bit of a scam. What is noteworthy are the two exceptions -- two largely unheard singles for Plantation that barely scraped the charts in the mid-'70s. Of the two, "The Good Lord Giveth (& Uncle Sam Taketh Away)," is the lost gem, thanks to its post-psychedelic country production, swirling fuzz-tone guitars, and funny lyrics, but the loping Tex-Mex beat of "I've Got Leaving on My Mind" (mildly reminiscent of Doug Sahm) is also nice to hear. These two songs aren't found elsewhere and suggest that Pierce's '70s recordings, while surely tied to the times, would be worth excavating on a real reissue, which this certainly isn't, but it's hard not to wish it was.

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