Billie & DeDe Pierce
Gulf Coast Blues
Arhoolie Records / Originally Released in 1959 (

cd cover When they were "discovered" in the early 'Sixties, Billie and DeDe Pierce had been entertaining for forty years. (Billie's big break came in 1922, playing piano for Bessie Smith.) They worked dancehalls for decades; nothing fancy, just good solid boogies to get the crowd moving. An good example is "Eh, La Bas." Billie pumps strong, bluesy patterns with cute little flourishes, DeDe storms in, his trumpet is none too accomplished, but what enthusiasm! His tone is dark and gravelly, he screams the lyric and Billie responds. Kid Ory's version was more polished, but this one has heart.

Billie can belt 'em herself. She weeps "Gulf Coast Blues" in a big throaty vibrato. (There's a hint of Bessie, who cut this tune in 1923.) "Some of These Days" was made for the vaudeville stage: Billie teases, DeDe whispers in the background, and the washboard skitters like a tap dancer. There's something reassuring about this music. These people found a style they liked, honed it to a fine edge, and stuck to it steadfastly. DeDe is a riot on "The Peanut Vendor." The theme is a little too much for his horn, so he shouts a vocal in French, apparently improvised. Billie shows sass on "Mama Don't Allow," and has her best moment on "Down and Out," a lament with a smile. "Panama" bubbles with a honky-tonk spirit and Lucius Bridges tells "John Henry" in a gentle, sly voice. He played tom-toms on one song and only sings on this one. Three bonus tracks have Billie by herself; the sound is cloudy but she is boisterous. "Working Man" lets us know what she wants. "In the Racket" says the same thing in a naughtier way. She boogies up a fine solo, while "Panama Rag" serves an old dish in a new way. Fans of blues and traditional jazz should have a ball. This is real music, played by people who mean it. - John Barrett

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