The Tasting Panel magazine

October 2017

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Soul/R&B singer-songwriter Chris Pierce performs at Wente Vineyards as part of his side project Reverend Tall Tree. And when one has a relationship with wine and music as inextricably linked to friendship and family as Pierce does, it's safe to bet he's rarely left alone when the time comes to imbibe—especially if it's with Ledbetter Syrah, the label he co-founded with close friend Geoff Whitman in 2004 and helps run with his wife, actress Tara Buck. In addition to his solo work span- ning two decades, Pierce also per- forms as part of the classic roots/R&B project Reverend Tall Tree and the contemporary blues/Americana duo War & Pierce with singer Sunny War. Reverend Tall Tree has previ- ously played at Wente Vineyards in Livermore, and Pierce has performed numerous times over the years in Napa (he'll play at one of his favorite venues there, JaM Cellars, on Oct. 26). "A lot of the folks who have built the wine community work so hard every day to tell a story through their wine," Pierce says. "Soul music is about wearing your heart on your sleeve; it's about emotion and rawness, and I think that adds to the whole experi- ence of being up in wine country." The Ledbetter name resulted from a trio of coincidences: Pearl Jam, Whitman's favorite band, has a song named "Yellow Ledbetter"; the late Huddie William "Lead Belly" Ledbetter is Pierce's favorite blues musician; and Pierce and Whitman first met at Leadbetter Beach in Santa Barbara, California. Since Pierce began per- forming in Napa in the late '90s, he's invested mind, body, and soul into the parallel expressions of creativity and vulnerability that define any music or wine worth remembering. Pierce says defining himself as a "lifelong student" of music ensures he makes time for his passion no matter how consumed he is with other professional projects. "Like music, I feel like wine shows a little bit of the character of who you are, and it's very therapeutic to be a part of the whole process," Pierce explains. "It's very personal to present it, and it's very personal to experience it." Fittingly, some of the most highly personal and vulnerable moments of Pierce's career unfolded during the recording sessions for You've Got to Feel It! in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. The collection of songs originally sung by prolific artists like Al Green, Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding, and Tyrone Davis features members of the Swampers, the Muscle Shoals Horns, and the Shoals Sisters—musicians Pierce has idolized since his childhood (both of his parents were avid soul fans). "It was so surreal in so many ways, making that album and feeling the power of the area and the majestic vibe just from being there," Pierce recalls. "My only goal going in was to be as honest as I could through my voice. It wasn't to make these great songs better or outdo anything; it was to go in with these living legends in the studio and present a reinterpretation of these clas- sics that I'd be proud of, so that maybe some folks who haven't grown up on these songs would hear them for the first time and find the same joy that I did." On the heels of those stu- dio sessions, Pierce got an invitation from Siddhartha Khosla, the Main Composer for the hit NBC show This Is Us, to help write a song for the notorious tearjerker's most emotional episode to date. The song "We Can Always Come Back to This" plays at the climax of a main character's final trip to Memphis with his terminally-ill father played by Ron Cephas Jones, whose moving perfor- mance reminded Pierce of his own late father. The track was performed onscreen by actor Brian Tyree Henry and was an immediate hit, reaching the number-one spot on the Billboard blues chart (Pierce made a cameo and also recorded an acoustic version that appeared in the subsequent episode). "When I actually watched the show on TV, it was so emotional for me there was a puddle of tears under- neath my chair," Pierce said. "The whole thing has been so exciting, and I think there's so much life in that song that's hopefully going to touch a lot of people for a long time." For more on Pierce, including upcoming tour dates, visit Q&A with CHRIS PIERCE What are your three favorite bands or artists? Solomon Burke, Bill Withers, and Aretha Franklin. What was the first concert you attended? The first concert that I attended was Etta James at The Coach House in San Juan Capistrano. I was 9 years old, and I went with both of my parents even though they had just gotten divorced. That night, everything seemed alright. Thank you, Etta. Name a song that has made you cry. "Don't Give Up on Me" by Solomon Burke. The first time I heard it, I was driving up PCH and I had to pull my car over to listen and weep. What song would be your "walk up to the plate song" if you were a Major League Baseball player? "Trouble Man" by Marvin Gaye. Which other art form inspires you? My wife Tara is an actress and I witness her dedication in the dramatic arts on a daily basis, which is incredibly inspiring. october 2017  /  the tasting panel  /  97 PHOTO COURTESY OF WENTE VINEYARDS

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