Puremusic interview with Pierce Pettis

In the last dozen years, I've spent most of my time in Nashville. I've always been the kind of person who floats between different crowds and cliques, more like the birds and the bees approach, a pollination kind of thing. As a songwriter, though, it was the folk crowd in my peer group whose company most interested me. Many of them had other aspects to their art and craft, bluegrass or pop, R&B or Country. A few of us liked the jazzier side of the tracks, and there were more than a few scattered rockers, especially Southern rockers.

On the one hand, one paid a certain attention to the writers who were getting cut a lot, especially the small percentage of them who got there with what were considered good songs, not stupid songs. But mostly what gets the attention of the good songwriters I've known are the people who are just writing the best songs, for the sake of the song.

One person who always came up in this regard was Pierce Pettis. His name was always treated with respect, even among the most opinionated and self-important. I really didn't know the man's music, but he had a hell of a reputation. In the first several years of Puremusic, we hadn't covered his records, just hadn't gotten there yet.

Last year I finally got to see him play, at The Basement in Nashville. I remember Carrie Newcomer was on the bill, maybe with Tom Kimmel and Colin Linden, I think. Even in that level of songwriting company, what stood Pierce out was his understated, undeniable way with a song. He's one of those performers that gets out of the way and lets the song rule, for real. He plays and sings very well, but it didn't feel at all like it was about him. There are all kinds of valid approaches to entertaining people, I just happen to be enamored of that one. His amazing song about Leonardo Da Vinci stayed with me for a long time after that night, and one about Alabama.

Pierce first appeared on the national scene recording with the High Street division of Windham Hill, and was critically acclaimed right from the top. Since those days, he has gone on to make now four CDs with Nashville's Compass Records. Those recordings have featured many classic Music City players, both the above and underground varieties.

It was big news when Pierce landed a cut on a Garth Brooks record, since most of those were the property of people who wrote for Music Row. But Garth's like that, his instincts have led him to the songs of a number of writers who have nothing to do with cookie cutter Country. Sometimes, anyhow. And God Bless him for that, it's a lot more than you can say about Shania Twain, after all. And people said that it couldn't happen to a nicer or more deserving guy than Pierce, so there was that, as well.

A serious family man, Pierce still gets out and gigs with regularity. If he comes to your town, that's not a show to miss. If you love great songs, or want to write great songs, these are definitely records that belong in your collection. He's a real Southern gentleman, and it was our pleasure to have a long conversation from the other side of the world with Pierce Pettis, last night around midnight.    continue to interview