Few outfits have rocked Preservation Pub as ferociously, or as authentically as Trae Pierce and his T-Stone Band. Their performance at the Pub a couple months back was a cathartic, sweat-drenched funk-rock maelstrom, deadlocked bassmeister Pierce leading the charge with his frenetic four-string chops and eruptive stage presence.
But for all of his varied influences and his many high-profile bass gigs through the years — the well-traveled Pierce has backed up the likes of The Ohio Players and Dr. Hook and the Blind Boys of Alabama (with whom he won the first of four Grammies), to name just a few — Pierce says his band’s unparalleled live energy is best attributed to his early days, playing with a church band in his hometown when he was scarcely just a ‘tween.
“Our vibe, it’s like an old camp meeting, gospel-style,” Pierce says, during a recent phone interview. “If you went to a gospel concert back in the day, that’s what it was like, people making noise and having fun. And I come from a gospel background.
“People may not get that when they see us, but that’s what I have in mind. We’re having a camp meeting.”
It goes without saying, then that Pierce got an early start on his impressive and ever-surprising career as a top-flight touring and session musician and, now, leader of his own band. Learning piano, and then guitar before taking up the bass, Pierce was only 11 years old when the manager of The Ohio Players happened to catch his church band open a local show for a national touring act.
Pretty soon, Pierce was playing fill-in gigs with the Players, flying in and out of town on weekends so he could be back at school on Monday mornings. After a couple of years of intermittent gigging, Pierce made a fateful decision: “I was 13 years old, and I decided to hit the road, full-time,” he says. “I haven’t come back since.”
While he was able to earn a spot on The Ohio Players roster years before he was old enough to earn a learner’s permit on the strength of his stellar bass chops, Pierce wasn’t content with being just another gonzo player. “The greats always told me, ‘there are a lot of good players out there,'” he says. “‘So what can you do to make yourself different?'”
Inspired by Peter Frampton, the ’70s blues-rock guitar ace who made the so-called “talk box” effect a standard part of the six-string lexicon with his platinum-selling “Frampton Comes Alive,” Pierce pioneered a talk-box style for bass guitar. And he is perhaps the first (only?) four-stringer to take up a slide and coax trad-blues and pedal steel licks out of the instrument.
“I was doing the talk box at home for a long time, and never had a chance to play it out,” Pierce says. “Then I finally did it live, and people were like, ‘I’ve never heard that before!’ And it caught on.”
Pierce founded the T-Stone band in 2013, as an outlet for his own creative muse. The band includes players whom Pierce met over the years of touring and recording with other artists — with the exception of one, that is, that exception being singer/rapper Ramon “Rae” Pierce, Trae’s son.
Trae says the younger Pierce, a child of the hip-hop era, is a key to the T-Stone band’s verve and authenticity. “To mix hip-hop and funk convincingly, you have to have a real rock player,” he says. “That’s our guitar player, Andrew Beckner. And you have to have a real hip-hop artist. That’s Rae. He’s also a big part of our live show. His energy really comes through on stage.
“And me? I’m in the middle. I’m the funkateer. And I take all the people I’ve played with over the years and put it all in a jar. And when i pour it out, it comes out T-Stone.”
Trae Stone and the T-Stone band will play Scruffy City Hall Friday, July 15 at 11 p.m.