Golden Graham talks with the stars of country music

Gail Davies

Talking About Her
Tribute Album to Webb Pierce
Graham Lees

It's a pleasure to talk to you again Gail. As a long time fan of Webb Pierce I'm thrilled to see his memory being honoured with Caught In The Webb. It is an excellent album.

"Thanks you!"

What influenced you in putting this project together?

"You know I grew up on Webb Pierce music. My dad worked on the Louisiana Hayride at the same time that he was on. So I've always listened to Webb Pierce's music and I've always loved it. February last year, the date that Webb had passed away…10 years previous (24th February 1991), I got a call from Eddie Stubbs (WSM) asking if I'd do an interview…he had people calling to talk about Webb Pierce, because my first chart record was 'No Love Have I'. So I called in that night and had a great talk about it and I said that I'd cut 'Slowly (I'm Falling)', 'Love, Love, Love' and some other Webb Pierce tunes and ended up not putting them on the record, because the record company said they were too country…this was back in the 80's. So I told him that I wish I could do a whole album of Webb Pierce song, like a tribute to Webb Pierce. The next morning I got an e-mail from Deborah, Webb's daughter. She said that her and her mother had been listening to the show and were very excited that I was so very much into her dad's music and wanted to get together with me. So I said that I was doing the Live At The Station Inn release party, and it was to be broadcast on WSM as well. They showed up at the Station Inn for the release party…this was in March (2001). We got to talking and ended up saying, oh hell I'm just going to go and do it. I didn't have the money and none of the major labels were interested, they didn't want anything to do with it. So I decided to give all the proceeds to the Minnie Pearl cancer Foundation and The Country Music Hall Of Fame, so everybody came and played for nothing. We made the album for less than $6,000. An album that would have cost anybody else, like $200,000 to make."

You have involved some fine artistes and musicians on the album. What kind of response did you get when approaching artistes such as George Jones, Willie Nelson and Emmylou Harris?

"It was very easy actually really, because a lot of those people…like George Jones and Billy Walker and Charlie Pride were all friends of Webb Pierce. And of course Willie was one of his best friends. They were easy to get, and then other people like Robbie Fulks and Emmylou Harris were all fans. When they found out…when Emmy found out, I ran into her at the Country Music Hall Of Fame and I've known her for 25 - 30 years…and she said I've heard that you're doing a Webb Pierce tribute album. I said yeah and she goes: God I'd love to do 'Wandering'! And I say well you know, it's open! So there was a lot of people… BR549 asked if they could do 'There Stands The Glass'. I called Dale Watson about being on it and he goes yeah, I want to do 'In The Jailhouse Now' and I said, I've already got you down for that song! So, a lot people like the Jordanaires…they sang on the original stuff and they are old, old friends of mine, so it came together pretty easily."

How did you decide which numbers to include and which artiste would record a particular song.

"First of all I picked the songs. I went through the albums and picked those that were either #1 or #2, songs that would be very recognisable. I didn't pick too many that were obscure, because I wanted people to remember the wealth and volume of his accomplishments. After I had got the songs together, I started going down and deciding that this song would fit this person and pretty much picked out the tunes I thought would work out for the artiste."

As a record producer, you would have a good idea what would suite a particular artiste.

"Yeah, I think I got them all picked out pretty well." (laughs)

Some of the arrangements are a little different to the way Webb did the songs. Who actually put the new arrangements together?

"Well, I think there is only a couple that is different…the Kevin Welch (Why Baby Why) and the Emmylou Harris (Wandering) are quite a bit different. Before we cut each track I would play the Webb Pierce version to get everybody into that state of mind. But, I also gave everybody the freedom to interject their own style, because if somebody wants to hear Webb Pierce exactly as Webb Pierce sounds, then they can go and buy Webb Pierce! So I was trying to show the influences he had on the different artistes, so that when they did their version, it would sound like them, instead of trying to imitate Webb, because you just can't do it."

So was the main reason in putting this together because of your own earlier interests in recording Webb Pierce numbers.

"Yes! Because I have always loved his music and I was a little irritated that he wasn't a member of the Country Music Hall Of Fame. It is also an absolute crime that Carl Smith is not a member of the Hall Of Fame, because he was a major star when Webb and Audrey moved to town (Webb married Audrey Grisham in November 1952). This was like Lefty Frizzell, Hank Snr. and Carl Smith. And Carl isn't a member, nor Johnnie & Jack (Johnnie Wright and Jack Anglin), which I also think is a shame!"

There have been a lot of deserving people left out. Webb Pierce was nominated for the Hall Of Fame in August 1990 and though he was expected to be inducted, it didn't happen.

"That's right! There is a person in Nashville…and I've heard this from the inside track of people at the Hall Of Fame….But first, let me explain. A lot of people blame the Hall Of Fame for people who are not in the Hall Of Fame. But the Hall Of Fame only houses the plaques…they are a museum and they don't decide who gets the plaques. The CMA does that! So that is why part of the proceeds are going to the museum and also the Minnie Pearl Cancer Foundation. But I loved the music and I thought that it was a crying shame that he was forgotten. So I started asking around and I found that there was a lot of people who really loved him. We almost had Mark Knopfler on the album, because Richard Bennett had been out touring with him…Richard has been an old friend of mine and I said that I wanted them both on the album, but they just couldn't get their schedule round it. So we missed out on Mark and I had thought of asking Waylon… I did ask Johnny Cash. John Carter Cash kept ringing back and saying: Dad really wants to do it, but we're waiting for a day when he is feeling well. So after a time I just felt that it was too much for them. Waylon and Johnny were too sick and it was too much to ask."

How long ago was it that you started putting Caught In The Webb together?

"Well I cut the track in two days on June 11th and 12th , and they didn't announce that Webb was going into the Hall Of Fame until August when I got back from touring in Europe last year. So I was really thrilled, because it did stirrup a lot of excitement and noise about him. But there was one person that I was going to tell you…who voted from the CMA for the people who gets into the Hall Of Fame…and I had been told, said that Webb would not go into the Hall Of Fame as long as they were alive. Well that person is still alive and Webb is in the Hall Of Fame, so to Hell with them!

It is so political and it is so very sad to me that there are some people like….no disrespect to George Morgan who only had one hit record, Webb Pierce had 96 charted records. There was a particular pole that Ed Morris quoted, where they said going by the number of hit records and the amount of time on the charts, that Webb Pierce surpassed Hank Snr, Lefty Frizzell and even Jim Reeves, and Webb dominated the charts, I think in 1946, for almost the entire year at Number 1….and nobody has ever done that! It was politics and you know…not played the game. I have also found that in my career as well, if you don't kiss-up to the right people….and I just refuse to do it! The music stands on its own without all the political BS."

It should Gail, but the problem is that there is too much money involved.

"Yes! When you get millions of dollars involved you get some nasty people."

What kind of response have you received so far from radio and the record buying public?

"Oh! It's been amazing. The record is selling great. Audium Records says that they have had more press on this than any other record that they have got out there. The Washington Post, the Boston Globe….everybody's writing about it. In fact when I did the interview with Eddy Stubbs on WSM about the album, Barbara Bush (the president's mother) called in and requested a Webb Pierce song. You know, it's pretty phenomenal what's going on all over the country people are just raving about the album. It has been touted as the best tribute album ever made."

Well I have to agree, it is an excellent album.

"Thank you! And do you know that my duet with Ralph Stanley is up for a Grammy Award?" (laughs)

No, I didn't know!! Congratulations.

"Thank You…I'll be happy with that too."

Has there been any concerts in the States by the artistes involved…in a similar fashion to the O' Brother Where Art Thou project.

"We're working on that. The Minnie Pearl Cancer Foundation had asked me to put together a tribute show at the Ryman Auditorium with some of the artistes, but it seems that we can't, you see George and Dwight and Willie are out touring, so we are trying to decide whether to go ahead and do it without them. If we do, it will be April 3rd."

I hope it comes off Gail….What about your own concerts? Are we likely to hear a selection of the numbers included on this current tour?

"Yeah we are going to do a few of those. This tour is primarily to promote the Webb Pierce tribute album, but also you know, my Live At The Station Inn album, which was picked by the Nashville Scene as one of the Best Ten Records of the Year, right next door to Down From The Mountain. But it is interesting on this tour that I've got my brother Ron coming over with me. So that is kind of exciting. I was talking with Bob Harris today for Radio 2, that Ray Davies always got credit in Europe, because they think that the R. Davies on the Ziggy Stardust 'It Ain't Easy' is Ray, but it is in fact Ron, so we were laughing about that."

So you've put that to rights.

"Yes I did, I got the Kinks out of that one." (laughs)

Your own popularity has been boosted quite considerably in the UK over the past 6-7 years. What significant changes have you found with your fan base over the past few years.

"You know it has been a little difficult over the past few years, because I retired of 12 years to raise my son Chris. Chris is out on the road with Rosie Flores tonight and my husband (Rob) is in Switzerland playing in Mandy Barnett's band, so he lands here in London an Saturday. But I think that when I took those 12 years off, a lot of people forgot me. And I walk a fine line and I've got to show today…I don't want to appear to be blowing my own horn…but if I'm not for me than who is?!! And I found that a lot of people have forgotten some of the things I've done. That I was around in the days of Roger Miller…singing with Roger. That I organised the first Female Writers In The Round at Austin City Limits. There are a lot of things like that that I seem not to get due credit for. I've come back to say very loudly that I do intend to get credit for these things."

Well you have also been one of the biggest and can we say the first female producers for record companies.

"Yes I was! Gee I don't think anybody else ever did it. I'm not sure, but I think Dolly may have been on something as a co-producer. You know, she told me that she doesn't really produce stuff. You know, really to have total control since me, has been Alison Krauss. And Alison does a wonderful job. It's sad, because there should be a lot more women involved. You look at the Top 100 on the Billboard charts and there's not anybody."

But aren't we going back to these politics of it all.

"Yes! That's Right. I've been writing a book for the past 15 years, called the Pee Wee Comradary. And it's all about women in Nashville and the South. My mother…I was born in Oklahoma…the way women think from that genre and that attitude that they have…Men rule!

The last time we did an interview two or three years ago at North Wales…you were telling me about the reaction you got when you recorded John Prine's 'Unwed Fathers'.

"John Prine and Bobby Braddock were co-writers and they brought it to the studio when I was recording and said please cut this song. It would be great if you would cut this song. I said God this will destroy me! But it was such a great song and we went ahead that day and cut it. It was magic, then Dolly came in and sang harmony and it just got better and better. Then they released it and it just bombed. I think I told you, that Newsweek magazine said it was the best country song of 1984. But it wasn't a hit…there were too many unwed fathers programming the radio stations. You know, Tammy Wynette was a friend of mine and she cut it a few years before. When I cut I it…I ran into here at lunch…and she goes: God I hope that song doesn't blow-up in your face like it did in mine! But it is a great song.

Perhaps times will change.

"Well I think they have. The fact that the girls have some out with the likes of 'Independence Day' (Martina McBride) and some of these other songs, 'Earle' (Dixie Chicks) and that stuff. It is very different to my day. When I did 'Round The Clock Lovin' The record company didn't want to release it as a single, because they thought it would alienate men, because it was so strong and feminist. And I said...that's Bull! You know we need to catch-up with the rest of the world. I put it out and it was one of the best selling records that I had."

With the success of Caught In The Webb, are there any plans for a tribute to any other artistes?

"Well you know, I love Carl Smith and everybody keeps asking if I'm going to do a tribute to Carl. But I don't want to become pigeonholed as a tribute producer. You know, she does all the tribute albums! So we'll just see…I don't know yet.

Thanks for your time Gail, it has been lovely to talk with you about your new project Caught In The Webb. I wish you every success with it.

Yeah, thanks and I hope we see you for the show at the Mirage.