When soul singer Chris Pierce was 15 years old, he was diagnosed with a condition called otosclerosis, a condition that restricts the ability of one of the three small bones connected to the eardrum to vibrate. Put simply, he went deaf and was devastated. While it's a crushing condition for anyone, Pierce had already realized that music would play a big part in his life, and his career was now in jeopardy.
“Once I was diagnosed, I had about 3 percent [hearing] in each ear,” Pierce says. “They were able to do a surgery in my right ear called a stapedectomy, where they take out the stapes bone and replace it with a little prosthetic piece. So I was able to regain about 70 percent of my hearing in my right ear. At the time, 30 years ago, they wanted to wait a few years to see how my body took to the surgery, see what kind of hearing I was getting back.”
So they waited, but Pierce didn't sit still. He had already been singing in church and high school bands, and he appeared on TV talent show Big Break. Following his diagnosis, he received a scholarship to study jazz with a vocal emphasis at USC. He did that for several years, then began singing and touring with the R&B/rock band Sonia Dada. In addition, he started writing his own songs and performing at open mics in coffee shops. And then he got his big break.
“I was invited to a house party in the early 2000s, and Seal was there,” Pierce says. “I kinda got discovered by him, and he took me out to be his opening act on his world tour. That opened up a bunch of different things. I signed an independent record deal that lasted a few years, got some song placements on TV and film, and I've been doing everything independently for the last 10 years probably, on my own. I'm doing Chris Pierce shows and albums.
“I also have a band called Reverend Tall Tree. I wrote a piece called Reverend Tall Tree's Blues Opera that I've been performing as of late a lot. That's a stage play — 21 songs about a 1930s street preacher, and I'm gonna be doing some performances of that coming up. I also play in a band called War and Pierce. That's myself and an amazing woman called Sunny War.”
So yeah, Pierce has been doing more than fine, but of course if procedures are available, he would want to fully fix his hearing. So 30 years after that first surgery, he made the decision to go back in and get the work done on his left ear. Up to that point, this professional musician was operating on about 73 percent hearing total (70 in one ear, 3 in the other).
“I went in in June, had the surgery, it went well, everybody was happy with the way it went,” he says. “In July, my hearing started going away again in that ear and basically I'm back to 3 percent now. I've been trying to find the power and the purpose of all of it, spending a lot of time alone meditating on it. I kind of have come to the conclusion that these things are way greater than us, and I've gone 30 years becoming a professional musician with what I have and possibly that's one of the reasons that I'm able to reach as deep as I do when I'm playing, in the way that I do. Because it's reaching even further within than I'd have to if I had perfect hearing.”
He really does, too; Pierce's take on soul is heart-wrenching, achingly honest, raw and authentic. He considers himself a soul singer, pure and simple. But the many and varied influences from both of his parents' vinyl collections have had an inevitable impact.
“My dad was the biggest Aretha Franklin fan that I've ever known,” Pierce says. “He had every Aretha record known to man. But between him and my mom, I grew up in a very diverse household. I'm a biracial kid. Between him and my mom and all their influences — my mom mostly folk, rock and soul, and my dad soul, jazz, blues and gospel — I grew up listening to some great, great records. When my dad passed, I inherited his record collection — that was 19 years ago. I studied them like books. I have a really lovely library of vinyl in my home. I listen to at least an album a day.”
Pierce's album You've Got to Feel It! came out in 2017, and the singer-songwriter says he has been working on a new one, although his aforementioned blues opera has been taking up a lot of his time.
“I think we're probably going to record early in the year,” he says. “The main thing I've been concentrating on these days, besides writing a record, is Reverend Tall Tree's Blues Opera. I wrote it with a friend of mine, Mark Malone, and we've been writing it for about four years. We're going to be performing it a few times in the next few months, looking to try to get that going and on the road, and possibly even to New York at some point. I'm staying busy.”
He really is. In addition to his music, he's the co-owner of a wine label called Ledbetter Syrah. Meanwhile, he's performed at Uncabaret before and is happy to do so again if invited.
“I love everything they do, and love Beth [Lapides, producer and host],” Pierce says. “I'm a huge admirer of the scope and how much work they've been doing. It's always fun to be a part of a night of comedy with my music. It makes me reach in a different way.”
For more information, visit chrispierce.com.