An unconventional singer/songwriter from the musical wellspring of Lubbock, TX -- home to the likes of Buddy Holly, Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, and Butch Hancock -- Jo Carol Pierce was as much a monologuist and performance artist as she was a musician. Her songs, a blend of country and postmodern folk sung in a shaky, conversational style, were steeped more in theater than in any traditional musical idiom; nonetheless, her work proved so popular with other performers that a tribute LP was ultimately recorded in her honor.
Pierce was born on July 20, 1944, near the old Route 66 in Wellington, TX. After her father was killed in Korea, she and her mother moved to Lubbock, where she attended school with the likes of Ely and Hancock. In 1963, she married her high-school sweetheart, Gilmore; after having a child, Elyse, the couple divorced in 1967. Pierce moved to the state's capital of Austin in the early '70s, where she found employment as a social worker. After hours, she also began writing a novel and composing the occasional song. By the next decade, she had become a playwright and screenwriter, authoring such works as Falling, Papergirls, New World Tango (a musical scored by Ely), Bad Girls Upset by the Truth, and In the West, a drama performed at the Kennedy Center in 1991.
Pierce did not begin to take songwriting seriously until the middle of the 1980s, when Ely and fellow Lubbock alum David Halley started encouraging her to become a performer. After enlisting backing vocalist Robert Jacks and accordionist Mike Maddux, she quickly became a popular fixture on the Austin club circuit. Friends and fans Michael Hall (formerly of the Wild Seeds) and Troy Campbell (of the Loose Diamonds, named after a Pierce song) began organizing the 1993 album Across the Great Divide: Songs of Jo Carol Pierce, a tribute LP compiling renditions of Pierce songs performed by musicians like Ely, Gilmore, Terry Allen, Darden Smith, and Kathy McCarty and Gretchen Phillips. A group tour in support of the record followed, and in 1996, at the age of 51, Pierce finally made her own recording debut with Bad Girls Upset by the Truth, a semi-autobiographical performance piece drawn from her earlier absurdist musical comedy. ~ Jason Ankeny, Rovi