Blues and Tonks from the Delta : BILLIE and DEDE PIERCE
Billie Pierce (p) and vocal on Side 1: #1, 3, 5 and Side 2; #1, 3, 5 DeDe Pierce (cnt) Albert Jiles (drs)
Recorded in New Orleans; January 27, 1961
St. James Infirmary (3:19) (trad./ arr. Pierce)
Exactly Like You (2:35) (Fields – McHugh)
Pinchback Blues (3:30) (Billie Pierce)
Milenberg Joys (2:46) (Rappolo, Mares, Morton)
In The Racket (3:15) (Billie Pierce)
Dippermouth Blues (2:42) (Joe Oliver)
Goin’ Back To Florida (5:27) (Billie Pierce)
You Tell Me Your Dram (3:00) (Daniels – Rice – Brown)
Racetrack Blues (4:04) (Billie Pierce)
Shoe Boogie (4:04) (Billie Pierce)
Baby Won’t You Lease Come Home (2:34) (Warfield – Williams)
Abut fifteen years after the U.S. Naval Department had ordered Storyville Street closed down, the stately Vieux Carre buildings along Decatur Street housed rough dives not unlike those that had once flourished in the District. The riverfront could never match Storyville’s past gaudiness, but seamen and other visitors were able to hear the music of small jazz bands and blues singers. “The joints were tough and there were plenty of fist fights,” says Billie Pierce, “but considering the depression, there was a lot of money spent. If you got disgusted with one place, you could always get a job right next door.” The pioneer jazzmen who for one reason or another had never left New Orleans now formed a closely knit old guard and it was from their ranks that may of the bandsmen in the riverfront tonks came. When Alphonse Picou was at the Blue Joy with Billie, George Lewis was across the street at the Humming Bird. Up the block in the saloon where “Big Eye” Louis played there were two bands, one in the bar and another in the upstairs room. Albert Jiles played at the Last Roundup, which remained open after all the other “jitneys” had closed, and it was always well past dawn when he finally got his drum kit packed and started for home.
The word along Dectur Street was the band “raising the most sand” was usually the one that had DeDe Pierce on cornet. DeDe was by this time a colorful and inventive musician. His family had provided him with some music lesions – but following the advertising wagons on which Kid Rena. Chris Kelly, and his other favorites played and second-lining at their parades taught him more. During the ‘20s most of the popular leaders in New Orleans were trumpet players nd it was common practice for them to hire a second trumpet to do the work while they took it easy, chatting with the girls. DeDe welcomed such chances to play with the city’s better bands.
Another who had much to do with shaping DeDe’s style was Louis Armstrong, although he left for Chicago a year before DeDe’s career got underway. In the late ‘20s and ‘30s Armstrong was an influential musician in New Orleans through his recordings and an occasional personal appearance. DeDe listened to the Armstrong hits as they came out and there is much of the Louis of this period in his playing. (In spite of the fact that DeDe developed one of the most embellished cornet styles in the city, a comparison between his playing and these Armstrong records reveals, among other things, just how straight the hometown New Orleans horn concept remained.)
DeDe has a round, warm tone strengthened by many afternoons of marching in brass bands. Before he became blind a few years ago, he was the lead trumpet with The Young Tuxedo, which was then a match for any brass band in the city. Appropriately enough, when Louis Armstrong was crowned King Zulu at Mardi Gras in 1949, it was DeDe who played first trumpet in the band that marched before the royal float. (on this recording DeDe uses a cornet, which he prefers to the longer trumpet, but he ahs always been at home on either instrument.)
Before setting in New Orleans, Billie Pierce was briefly but irrevocably a part of that world of traveling tent shows and vaudeville houses that natured the classic vocal blues style. Billie was a member of Ma Rainey’s troup and an accompanist for Bessie Smith and Ida Cox. Her own singing stems directly from their rich tradition. Everyone in Billie’s Florida family seems to have played piano. Billie’s playing packs a terrific wallop, and she excels on stomps as well as blues. Among New Orleans bandsmen who have no use for the showy “butterfly” approach and demand vigorous foundation piano playing, Billie has long been held in high esteem. From the first time they worked together on Decatur Street, Billie and DeDe have been an outstanding blues team and doubtless the encouragement they have given each other throughout the years has played a big part in their preservation of an almost forgotten style.
The drummer on this date, Albert Jiles, began his career back in the ‘20s when he played with Chris Kelly. Jiles led the lat band at Happy Landings, on the lake, where such New Orleans veterans s DeDe Pierce, Albert Burbank, Emma Barrett, and Johnny St. Cyr performed at various times. The row of four tuned bells that Albert plays is a part of his ancient drum kit, which also includes a set of hand painted Chinese tom-toms and is a legacy from his uncle, Clay Jiles, drummer with the old Excelsior Band.
By the ‘40s things had quieted down on Decatur Street, but there was still plenty of traditional jazz to be heard in the neighborhood dance halls that were scatted all over New Orleans. Billie and DeDe played these clubs with small groups which usually featured the trombonist Harrison Brazlee, and/or the clarinetist Emile Barnes. Although without any widespread fame, the Pierces built up a devoted local following, but the careers of both husband and wife seemed almost certainly ended when, during the mid-1950s, both were stricken with severe illnesses. However when Riverside came to New Orleans to record in January of 1961, the Pierces had been out of the hospital and playing irregularly for over a year. They had not reorganized a band, since most of their favorite sidemen of the old days where no longer active and DeDe was still fighting a personal battle to regain his confidence after the loss of his sight. The promise of regaining his old form that DeDe gave in his fine performance at the Tulane Five Arts Festival in April of 1960 is surely fulfilled on this LP.
DeDe was using a brand new cornet for the session and he and Billie began with slow and medium tempo blues. Here DeDe demonstrates his mastery of the subtle art of blues accompaniment. Then Billie announced that both DeDe’s lip and his cornet were fine and they were ready to cut loose on “some Stomps and fast tonk tunes.” Tow of these umbers are great “natural melodies” out of New Orleans; Jelly Roll Morton’s Milenberg Joys; and Dippermouth, so closely associated with King Oliver and Louis Armstrong.
This is an album of direct and strongly earthy music, without a doubt. The verses of many of Billie’s songs, notably, In the Racket, are inspired by the ribald verses of the famous “dirty dozens” and “three sizes”, and the music itself is in the rough gutbucket vein. Working men spending two bits for their beer have been the patrons of this kind of music, and they have demanded of it a tremendous vitality.
DeDe at 56, and Billie at 54, are young enough to have quite a few good playing yeas left. Their performances here strongly indicate that New Orleans has regained tow important voices to both preserve and add to its traditions.
This album is part of an extensive group of recordings of traditional jazz as it is played today made by Riverside in New Orleans during January, 1961, and issued under the general series title, “New Orleans: The Living Legends.”
A previous album in this series by the Pierces is –
BILLIE and DE DE PIERCE: vocal blues and cornet in the classic tradition (RLP 380; Stereo 9380)
Produced by CHRIS ALBERTSON
Cover photo by RALSTON CRAWFORD
Back-liner photo by FLORENCE MARS
Album design by KEN DEARDOFF
Recording Engineer: DAVE JONES
Riverside gratefully acknowledges the valuable assistance of Herb Fiedwald in the planning and recording of this material. We also wish to express thanks for the cooperation extended by Henry Zaccardi, assistant to the president American Federation of Musicians; and by New Orleans Locals 174 and 496, A. F. of M.
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are produced by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS, Inc.
235 West 46th Street New York 36, New York