Honky tonk represented the first truly modern push in country music, and its poster boy was, of course, the haunted and tragic Hank Williams, but it could easily be argued that Webb Pierce, with his Nudie suits and big cars, his 96 charting singles (13 reached the top spot on the charts), and his love/hate relationship with the Nashville music establishment, did even more to present an identifiable and long-term face for honky tonk and the modernization of country. Pierce was also a prescient and astute businessman, establishing his own record label, Pacemaker Records, as early as 1950, and also set up a prosperous publishing company, Cedarwood Publishing, and purchased several radio stations as well, creating what was essentially a one-man music conglomerate that still stands as a viable template for contemporary artists. He also bought most of the songs he is supposed to have written, was a constant and ardent opportunist, and in general pissed off a lot of people, which is no doubt why his considerable legacy doesn't always get the respect it deserves with the country music establishment. The heart of that legacy is presented here in this generous 32-track anthology that covers the years 1949 to 1959 and includes Pierce's key sides for the Fourstars, Pacemaker, and Decca imprints (Pierce would record with Decca all the way into the 1970s, but his most memorable work with the label arguably took place in the late 1950s). Included are his canny remakes of Roy Acuff's "Freight Train Blues" and Jimmie Rodgers' "In the Jailhouse Now," two songs that Pierce made his own, his 1956 duet with Red Sovine on George Jones' "Why Baby Why," and both the country swing version of "Hayride Boogie" from 1950 and the rockabilly makeover he performed on the tune to turn it into 1956's "Teenage Boogie." For all his flash, bluster, and swagger, Pierce always knew what he was doing artistically, particularly if it was certain to generate some cash, and his awareness of the media in everything he did marks him as perhaps the first true modern country star. Nashville may not always give him his due, but the fact remains that without Webb Pierce and the calculated and deliberate ruckus he raised, country music would be a good deal duller.
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AllMusic Review by Steve Leggett
feat: Red Sovine