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Ask Gail Davies about Webb Pierce, and she can barrage you with statistics. "In 1955, he had three No. 1 hits that dominated the charts for 46 weeks, almost a year," she declares. "He is estimated to have sold 65 million records. And he had 96 charted records - 54 of them in the Top 10, and 13 No. 1s. He was a megastar!"
But Webb means a lot more than facts and figures - he was a friend to Gail, and her first hit was a cover of his 1959 hit "No Love Have I."
"I was a little girl when I met him," she recalls. "My father played on the Louisiana Hayride with him, so I grew up backstage with people like Webb."
Gail followed in Webb's footsteps as a hit-maker, scoring with songs like "I'll Be There (If You Ever Want Me)," but she also emulated his example as a Nashville rule-breaker - he rubbed Music City the wrong way by shrewdly taking charge of his own business affairs, and Gail bucked country convention when she insisted on having more control over her music than any woman before her.
"Am I the female Webb Pierce?" she chuckles. "Yes, I would say so."
And now Gail is paying tribute to the man who helped shape her path. She organized Caught In The Webb, an all-star salute to the man who churned out classics like "In The Jailhouse Now," "Love, Love, Love" and dozens of others.
In putting the album's lineup together, Gail assembled everyone from friends of Webb - like George Jones, Willie Nelson and Charley Pride - to current marquee names like Dwight Yoakam and up-and-comers such as Allison Moorer. "I wanted young and old," she says, "and we have people from ages 18 to 77 on this album."
She was also looking for pros - limited time and budget meant the album had to be recorded very quickly. "Everyone who sang on this album got one or two shots at their vocals," she recalls, "so I tried to pick people that I knew could sing. I said, 'If you don't think you can do it, don't come' - and a couple of people backed out. The people that are on the album came in and nailed these vocals. So there you have it - it's a real record."
In picking who would sing what, says Gail, "I tried to find songs that would fit the person. I guess that's what makes me the producer - that's why I get the big bucks!" She laughs heartily. "Actually," she adds quickly, "I got nothing for this album except the joy of getting to do it."
That's because Gail, and all the other performers, are donating all profits from the album to the Minnie Pearl Cancer Foundation and the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. The decision to help out a cancer charity was an easy one: Webb died of the disease, and he wasn't the only person close to Gail who has succumbed to it.
"My mother died of cancer, my best friend recently died of cancer," says Gail. "The list goes on and on. That seemed like an easy choice."
As for the Hall of Fame - which inducted Webb late last year, months after Caught In The Webb was recorded, and 10 years after his death - Gail figures country music should support the caretaker of its history. "The Hall of Fame needs all the support it can get, and it needs positive reinforcement from the Nashville community," she says.
When she asked all involved to pitch in for these good causes, Gail was amazed at the response. "I called all the musicians and said, 'Look, this is gonna be a charity project, you won't get paid, and you're gonna have to record 20 songs in two days' - and nobody said no!" she recalls. "It was an atmosphere of contribution.
"I have a love/hate thing with Nashville - I don't much like the industry, I have a lot of issues with some of the record executives and radio stations, but I love the music community. The people here are generous. You give a benefit for somebody, they're there. They don't ask for anything, they just genuinely love the music. And that's what happened!"