Matt’s Hat Interviews – Trae Pierce and RaeDarrell Pierce

I had the privilege of sitting down with Trae Pierce, four-time Grammy Winner, leader of Trae Pierce & The T-Stones, and member of The Blind Boys of Alabama, The Ohio Players and many more. With him was also his son and band mate RaeDarrell Pierce.

Trae has had an extraordinary career, having played with George Clinton, Parliament Funkadelic, James Brown, Peter Gabriel, The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, The Main Squeeze, The Revivalists and many more.

These days, you can find Trae out on the road with his son RaeDarrell and their new band, Trae Pierce & The T-Stones. They bring a funk-filled blend of rock, hip hop and R&B all wrapped up in a nonstop party of a stage show.

MFN: You started playing when you were really young, seven years old, was there ever a moment when you were
playing when it just clicked and you thought ‘This is what I want to do’?

Trae: Honestly, I knew it when I was 9. When I first picked up my instrument I just knew this was going
to be something. I had a band with about three other guys. Some guys were older than me. We’d just sit in
my room and play music and it just felt… I just knew that was it. I just had so much passion. I just knew.
My mom said she knew I was going to be a musician when I was 2.
MFN: (To Rae Darrel) What about you?
RD: I started on drums. Drums are my favorite. I played bass a little bit. I ran away from that though.
Trae: He was pretty good too!
RD: Yeah I wish I’d stuck with it – I’d be a bad boy now.
Trae: He plays piano too.
RD: Yeah, and I’m doing producing now.
Trae: We’re both producing a lot now. Pretty much everything I’ve produced, he produced it with me.

MFN: That leads into another question of mine – how do you balance being a band leader but also being
a father to someone in the band and also a member of a band? That’s a lot to juggle.
Trae: That’s a haaaarrrd thing and without help, to have someone like Rae to have my back when I’m
not around. See, Rae handles most everything. I just kind of point on stage. He makes sure everyone
gets to the show, everyone soundchecks and pretty much everything else besides the stage. Me, I just
get to turn around and get on everybody on stage. Though he does that too! He pretty much runs
everything off stage, which makes it a lot easier for me. I’ve been doing this a long time, and pretty much
everything aggravates me (all laugh). When you’ve been doing it a long time you are *easily*
MFN: So he takes the pressure off?
Trae: Yeah, absolutely
RD: I try to, I try to.
MFN (To RD): What about you? Let’s face it, band members butt heads, it’s going to happen. Add in a
family member but especially add in a Dad, there’s got to be times when you get pissed off at Dad.
RD: Things happen, you know? It’s all about balance and also understanding the main person. That’s
what you have to understand first – what they want.

MFN: Have you been in another band outside Trae Pierce & The T-Stones? Is the dynamic different or is
it still the same?
RD: I think it’s the same. I started in my first band, a gospel band, playing drums. Then I went off to LA
with a rap group there. Then I came back on this side, and it’s different on this side. But it’s still all the
same, you know?
Trae: He’s been at it a long time. You know Flava Flav? That was his roommate for a few years, and
they’ve done a lot of studio stuff together.
RD: I just… I watch Trae a lot, you know? Ever since I was a little boy. And I’m still doing it. Watching,
learning. Learning to shut up.
Trae: That’s the hardest part. I had to learn that with all the bands I played with.
RD: Yeah, just learn to shut up.
Trae: How you going to learn if you don’t shut your mouth and open your ears, you know? Both can’t be
RD: Nope.
Trae: Listening brought me everything that I’ve learned. If you think you know it already, how can you
learn? I just sit back… you want to think you know everything… when I played with James Brown and all
those people… I shut up. I had no opinion. The way I thought it went? If he said it was different I was like
‘OK!’ The way I thought it went doesn’t matter right now. Because he’s… you know… It’s just a matter
of knowing when to shut up. That’s a big point in the music business – period. Just Learn-When-To-Shut-
RD: I’d rather be quiet and just watch.

MFN: You talk a lot about being positive and being uplifting with your music. I know you all are out there
hitting it, living in a van for weeks at a time. How do you keep that positive tone even after sleeping in a
hotel room with five guys and driving in a van for 12 hours a day?
RD: Food.
Trae: [Chuckles]
RD: Food is everything. It makes you happy, man.
Trae: [Still chuckling]
RD: If you think about it – if you’re out on the road and you don’t eat? You get grumpy, you get
Trae: The thing about us – we EAT.
RD: I think food does it for you. And just being brothers, you know?
Trae: And you also need space too. That helps you so when you come back around ‘em… anything you’re
around 24/7 you get tired of.

MFN: Whenever you all go out on the road, if anyone has a vice, whatever it may be, it can start to have
an effect on the band as a whole. How do you manage that while still leaving room for everyone to have
Trae: We don’t do any drugs at all; we will drink some, sure.
MFN: Does that make it easier, do you think? Or is there something to that idea of the whole band being
able to go off for a night, get weird and blow off steam, though that can also make things worse too.
RD: Drugs or whatever has always been around and always will be. My pop (Trae) always has always
said: Balance. It’s all about balance. If you are going to be out there smoking or drinking or whatever you
still have to go on that stage and… and get it done. If you can’t do that, then maybe that’s not for you.
Trae: We have fun, man. We have fun. We have fun. But you gotta realize what the reason for the season
is – that is to do this music. Fun comes second. And you have to explain that to some guys. They come
out here and the think ‘Sex, drugs and rock and roll.’ Nobody mentions music in that sentence. Guy
came in with that attitude and that saying and he got fired, you know? I’m out here to do music, first.
Everything else comes along with it.
RD: If you do music first and everything else second – you’re cool.
Trae: Everybody, we are all grown men, you know? They do whatever they want. I can’t tell ‘em that, but
have respect for my organization and the music.

MFN: You mentioned on FB a while back that you went through something serious. I got the impression
it was a medical issue. Is that something I can ask you about?
RD: I think it was the car accident.
Trae: The only time I would likely mention that would be, yeah, the accident. We got rear-ended. We got
into a very bad car accident in West Palm Beach. We all got hurt. Rae got hurt. I was in the hospital for
32 days in West Palm. Not knowing where I was. My mom and my girlfriend came back and forth from
Daytona to West Palm. This one nurse, every time she was there she made me feel like family. She made
me feel like my family was there. She would come in at night and talk to me and make sure I was good.
She would ask me questions about my life, she made me feel like a person. The other nurses were not at
nice. They were very abrupt. This nurse though, she comforted me, you know? Every single rib in my
body was cracked. The ribs punctured both lungs and my collarbone was broken. We got rear-ended and
the van spun around into oncoming traffic. They had to cut me out of all that.
MFN (to Rae): You were injured as well?
RD: Yeah I was hurt. My back. Trae got the worst of it, though.
Trae: His back and his collarbone. At first at times I was conscious but I had no idea what was happening.
I was heavily medicated, you know, and I had no idea where I was. When I started realizing what was
happening, she was always the one that I looked forward to coming in, to see me. She just really picked
up my spirit and made me feel comfortable. Francine was her name.

MFN: Is that experience something that has changed you at all?
Trae: It changed me mentally and physically. I can’t do the things I used to do you know?
RD: Yeah, it has.
Trae: I was just telling him the other day when we were in the airport in Iowa the other day and I said,
‘Boy, I can still feel this sometimes… that I’ve been broken up. I can still feel it.’
MFN (To Rae): How about you?
RD: Not as much. I was blessed. Blessed to have strength to carry on. Trae, too. We’ve been blessed. It
was bad. Really bad. And we’ve snapped back.

MFN: So what drives you? What pumps you up?
RD (Immediately): My dad. Him (points to Trae). Yeah. I’ve been watching him since I was a little boy.
Seeing him do that. Hearing people talk saying you’ve gotta do this thing or it’s going to take so long or
you can’t do that. No. He did it. He’s got the highest achievement in music. That’s motivation to me. I
would love to get one of those. At least one!
MFN: You gotta get one more than him, though, right?
RD (grinning): Yeah! 20 more!
Trae (laughing): He’s got to one-up me! I knew this guy was going to be a musician, too. When he was
young, he used to jump on stage with some of the bands I played with at festivals, and he’d dance and do
every step and everything. So it’s in him.
MFN: Do you still get to play with some of those old bands at all?
Trae: I played with the Blind Boys (of Alabama) two weeks ago. At Jazz Fest. I have a couple more shows
going on with them. Since the lead singer of The Ohio Players died… that was my buddy, that was my
boy. Since he died I haven’t done anything with them. Mostly though I’ve been concentrating on this
[Trae Pierce & The T-Stones] where it needs to be, but I’ll still do Blind Boys.
MFN: How do you balance creating this and keeping this moving forward, but I imagine it’s still got to be
fun to jump out with Blind Boys or whomever and do that as well.
Trae: Man, I played Jazz Fest, and it was so much fun. Lionel Richie headlined it.

MFN: I know Trae Pierce & The T-Stones is your focus now, but I do want to touch a little on some of the
things you’ve done in the past. You’ve toured with James Brown, correct?
Trae: Yeah. Not long but yeah.
MFN: Was that a tough gig?
Trae: Oh yeah. It was tough. Now when I think back on it though, it was best. Because now I’ve got my
own thing, and I understand. He wanted what he wanted, HOW he wanted it, and WHEN he wanted it,
because he paid. We worked for him. If I tell you don’t wear no slacks, then don’t wear no slacks around
me. Now that I’ve got my own band, I see he wasn’t wrong with all that stuff. Everything he wanted, he
wasn’t wrong. It’s his thing. You go to work at Burger King, you gotta put on that ugly little hat, you
RD: It’s just what you gotta do.
MFN: Did you play with Peter Gabriel as well?
Trae: Yep, him too.
MFN: Recorded or played live?
Trae: Both. Recorded and played live shows with him. Growing Up was the recording. The song was “Sky
Blue.” Did it for about a year.
MFN: Do you have a favorite from all those bands and places you’ve played?
Trae: Blind Boys would be a favorite. Ohio Players, too. Dr. Hook was great. I was a music director. They
all were great, though, because they all took me places. The biggest I would have to say though is Blind
Boys and Ohio Players. Won a Grammy with the Blind Boys so I have to say them!

MFN: So what’s next with Trae Pierce & The T-Stones?
Trae: New album coming out. Trying to have it out by the end of July. Got some good songs on it though.
More talk box on this album. Kind of pop/rock with a little hip hop flavor on it.
RD: First album was more bluesy, and this one is more rock.
MFN: Any tracks really jumping out at you yet?
RD: There is one…for me… “My Friends.” That song kind of means a lot to me. Trae has me singing on the
album, rapping, all of it.

MFN: Anything else new coming up?
Trae: We just signed with a new agency. Empire Agency.
RD: They are out of L.A.
Trae: We have a couple of Northeast tours coming up.
RD: The biggest thing, once we get the album to where it needs to be, we want to go overseas.

MFN: Anyone ever given you any life-changing advice?
RD: I don’t want to be cliché, but yeah, my Dad. Going back to what I said earlier, the stuff about
listening, you know? Just shut up. Keep your mouth closed and see what’s going on around you.
Trae: On my part, I have to say, I’ve heard pretty much every boss I’ve had said this: I’d rather take a guy
that’s not as talented with a good attitude than someone who is really good with a bad attitude.
Everybody I’ve ever played with has said that. That sentence has always stuck with me, and now that I
have my own band I understand more than ever.

MFN: Do you have any secret shame music loves?
RD [laughing]: Man, let me see. I listen to everything. You might catch some Justin Bieber on my list,
some Phil Collins, MC Hammer. See, I’m a producer, so I listen to everything. Everything inspires me. Any
little sound, everything…
Trae: When you’re a producer you listen to everything.

MFN: Does it make it difficult to record your own stuff when you have also been doing a lot of
producing? Is it tough to just step back and not keep getting into it?
RD: I’d say yeah. You want to make it so perfect, you know?
Trae: Yeah our album is the hardest album…
RD: I think because we just want to be careful.
Trae: Our album is the hardest album I’ve ever had to do. Picking songs, picking topics. The writing is
hard. Not the music, the writing.

MFN: Who does most of the writing?
RD: Both of us. [Pointing to Trae]. We have another partner we bring in now and then, but mostly it’s
just me and Trae.
Trae: I’ll do the hook, and he does the verses.

MFN: Do you prefer instrumentals over vocal music?
Trae: I prefer a song, you know? The only two instrumentals I can listen to, one is the one by Kool & The
Gang… it’s slow… [Editor’s note: suddenly both Trae and Rae are vocalizing the music to the song they
are trying to remember the name of. I believe they are referring to “Summer Madness”]. The other one is
“Moments,” “Moments In Time,” something like that. [Ed Note: They again both spontaneously start
vocalizing this song as well]. Get me words and a melody, though I don’t listen to words [both laugh]…
like I can hear a song, and I couldn’t tell you the words in it but if I like the melody of it and how they are
singing it and the music… then I like the song.

MFN: How much do you improvise when on stage?
Trae: It’s pretty much all improvised. We learn just by looking at each other. Me and him [points to RD]
we can handle the front well because we can bounce off each other plus I just… it’s all improvised man.
RD: He just goes!
Trae: I call the song between each song. We used to do a setlist, but I’d look and see a song coming up,
and I’d just know it’s not gonna work right now. Setlists just don’t work for us. I can kind of feel what the
crowd needs. I learned that playing from the old-school guys. They never used a set list.
RD: I had to learn it like that, yeah. I think it works better that way.

MFN: Do you still get nervous on stage?
RD: I get nervous when it’s less people.
Trae: I kind of get the same way too. It’s harder to play to less people. It’s not a nervous thing for me, but
it’s different when it’s fewer people.

MFN: Anyone out there that you would still really like to play with?
Trae: Anybody
RD: Right. Yes!
Trae: Now that Prince is gone, yeah… anybody.
RD: My main person, I met through Trae, Beyonce. I would *love* to do something with her. There is
nobody bigger.

MFN: I know you have a show to do, so I’ll let you get to it. Thank you very much for taking the time to sit
down and talk. Anything special you’d like to end with?
Trae: Watch out for the new album!

Trae Pierce & The T-Stones

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