July 14, 1923 – May 31, 1996 Remembering Lonnie Pierce

Remembering Lonnie Pierce (July 14, 1923 – May 31, 1996) Simply listing some of the players who have passed through the Bluegrass Alliance in its various incarnations provides ample evidence of how important this outfit was in the development of bluegrass. The band was originally formed by fiddler Lonnie Peerce in the late ’60s and within a few years was already busy with gigs at fairs, clubs, festivals, and colleges. The group appeared on the Grand Ole Opry at least a dozen times over the next decade and cut three albums.
Sam Bush, Mando; Tony Rice, guitar; Ebo Walker, bass; Courtney Johnson, banjo and Lonnie Pierce, fiddle.

Blog from the Bluegrass Alliance Tribute

Thursday, September 11, 2008
Defections lead to New Grass Revival & Lazy River (Lonnie chasing Vince Gill with a mic stand!)
Current mood: insubordinate

In the summer of 1976 the Vince Gill era of the Bluegrass Alliance was the house band at a legendary club in downtown Louisville, Kentucky called the Great Midwestern. Band leader and fiddle player Lonnie Perce had weaseled himself into a partnership position with the club owners. We were on a weekly salary, and Lonnie had told the rest of the band that our pay was to be split evenly 6 ways. (We had 6 guys in the band at that time, that included Vince Gill, who had recently slunk back into the Bluegrass Alliance after a humiliating 3 months playing electric bass for Ricky Skagg’s new band called Boone Creek… the last gig I saw of Vince playing bass for Boone Creek, he and Ricky Skaggs were not speaking to each other. Vince spent the entire night at the Holiday Inn lounge in Louisville sitting on his bass amp, back to the audience, face to the back wall of the stage. After that Vince asked me if he could come back to the Alliance.).

Anyway, one night the club owner of the Great Midwestern came back and paid Vince and me the band’s weekly salary, because Lonnie, who normally handled all money matters, was home sick. Vince and I were surprised that there was more money than we expected. Thinking that perhaps a bonus had just been meted out, we gushed our profuse thanks to the club owner, who promptly informed us that no such bonus had been paid, just the usual weekly amount. Putting 2 and 2 together, it took little time to realize that Lonnie had been shorting his band mates for well over a year. It would have been ok if he had been upfront and said “I’m gonna’ take a % off the top for booking the gigs guys”. Not long after we confronted Lonnie about the missing fundage. Lonnie claimed that he had been withholding the amounts in escrow to cover taxes for us individually (which he forgot to tell us about). However, we recalled stories that Sam Bush, Courtney Johnson and Garland Shuping had told us regarding the same type of behavior by Lonnie while they were in the band. Which was one of the reasons that caused them to leave The Bluegrass Alliance.

And so, the Vince Gill era of the Bluegrass Alliance stumbled on for another few months, until we all quit Lonnie Peerce in mass to form a band called Lazy River (see Lazy River photos and newspaper articles in this site.). Vince Gill was also lead singer of that band, which lasted until the fall of 1976 when he got a call from Byron Berline to join Sundance, who had just scored a major label record deal. Lazy River also backed up a young Mark O’Connor on club dates in 1976 & 1977 (see Great Midwestern calendar photo on this site.). I have live tapes of all that stuff and you can listen to live performances of Lazy River with Mark O’Connor on the web at Monte Barry’s Festivarian site:


Monte Barry was soundman for The Bluegrass Alliance and Lazy River

Monte was our soundman at one of the last Bluegrass Alliance gigs with Lonnie Peerce in the Vince Gill era, at the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar in Jackson Hole, Wyoming (see attached photos in this site). We were so pissed and disillusioned with Lonnie and his then girlfriend nurse Joannie, that we took off from Louisville without them for that gig, a hell of a long drive from Louisville! We arrived and set up, hoping that the “Loon” would not show up. But there he was, tuning up his fiddle before the opening set, with nurse Joannie at his side. Dang! So we set about with mischief and torment, playing songs he had never heard before, having soundman Monte run his fiddle though massive phase shifter effects (Lonnie, who was obviously medicated, thought he was hallucinating!) and to top it off, Vince yanked the coveted emcee spot away from him, because soundman Monte turned off Lonnie’s microphone between each song, so he could not speak to the audience. Looking back it was mean spirited and humiliating, but our attitude then was I’m sure no different than Sam Bush, Courtney Johnson, Curtis Burch and Ebo Walker when they left Lonnie to form the Newgrass Revival. (See “Piercing Fiddle Tones of Lonnie’s Golden” blog about Sam on this site.) But Lonnie got us back. He had signed the contract at the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar and they paid him direct, not us. We eventually got paid, but not without a huge scene on Lonnie’s front yard back in Louisville involving our final pay and switching some sound equipment, ending with Lonnie Peerce chasing Vince Gill down the street with a mic stand!!! Ha..! Vince still tells that story.

Bill Millet
Banjo Player | The Bluegrass Alliance (1974-1976)

About the author

I enjoy researching Bluegrass, Bluegrass Gospel, and Country birthdays, anniversaries and interesting trivia dates. I am a piano/organ performance major who has taught privately and served as church accompanist since 1968 in North Carolina and Central Kentucky. Although classically trained, I appreciate all genres of music. My mother, who was also a church musician and taught public school music grades K-12, knew that Bluegrass music was the purest American music. She always introduced her students to this fine genre and began my musical studies with her at age 2. Bach to Berachah Valley, Mozart to Jimmy Martin, Sibelius to Stanley Brothers, the list goes on, I hope you find some moments of enjoyment and learn a few interesting facts along the way.
I am thankful for the many resources we have at our fingertips including Google. FaceBook and BluegrassBios by Wayne Rice. It was he who inspired me to tackle the task of trying to pass on knowledge about Bluegrass music. Thanks Wayne~!
Lou Ellen Wilkie

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