In 1985, almost 4,000 people crowded into Longshore. They were excited to hear Hall & Oates. The duo — known for smash hits like “She’s Gone,” “Rich Girl” and “Private Eyes” — were about to perform, as part of Westport’s 150th anniversary celebration.
Except no one told Hall & Oates. A local nanny — claiming to represent the group — scammed the town.
Fortunately, the crowd got a bit of music. A local band called Pseudo Blue stepped on stage. It was their first paying gig.
Not bad for a bunch of Staples High School students.
Cary Pierce remembers that day well. He and his good friend — fellow rising junior Doug Dryburgh — were in Pseudo Blue.
The band did not last beyond graduation. But in his first year of college, Cary met Jack O’Neill. They formed their own duo: Jackopierce.
They shared stages with Dave Matthews, Counting Crows, Sheryl Crow, Lyle Lovett, Matchbox Twenty and Widespread Panic. They performed in clubs and at colleges across America — and before 500,000 people at the Texas Motor Speedway.
Thirty years later, they’re still going strong. Jackopierce has just released a new single. “Young & Free (The 80s Song)” is an homage to growing up listening to Joan Jett, Joe Jackson, General Pub, Pretenders and Book of Love.
In fact, the song mentions 85 bands and singers — Flock, Till Tuesday, Talking Heads, Tears for Fears, Big Country, Devo, Smithereens. You name it, they’re there.
But it’s the first line that is of particular interest to “06880.”
I remember lying on my bed
Borrowed guitar across my chest
Mean streets Westport, Connecticut
The New Wave running through my head
My sister dated drummer boy
Parents’ basement we made some noise
The Call, the stage, the lights, the girls
Who doesn’t want to rule the world?
“Young and Free” channels Cary’s youth. For years, he and Jack have joked about growing up on the “mean” suburban streets. (Specifically Greens Farms, Cary notes.)
This might be the first time our town has been mentioned in a song since Pearl Bailey’s “I Caught Her in the Kitchen Playing Westport.”
Its influence on Cary is strong. It was here that he learned to play guitar and keyboard. At Staples, he and Dryburgh started an annual Band Bash that grew to include a dozen groups.
He listened to New Wave bands on WLIR. He watched the new sensation — MTV videos — at his friend Matt McClellan’s house.
Cary figured he’d go to a small New England college like Wesleyan. But, he says, “my guidance counselor had a better handle on my grades.” She suggested Southern Methodist University.
Cary had never been to Texas. But he fell in love with the Dallas school, and applied early decision. “It was the best decision I ever made,” he says.
He was involved in theater program and journalism. But his time there was most defined by his collaboration with Jack O’Neill, who he met in 1988, on one of his first days on campus.
They quickly learned covers of songs by the Eagles, Jimmy Buffett, John Denver and James Taylor. They played fraternity and sorority dances, then branched out to colleges across Texas and Oklahoma.
Fans who heard them told friends and siblings. Soon Jackopierce was driving 9 hours to play at the University of Kansas, and flying to gigs at the University of Michigan. They’d sell 100 CDs, which paid for the trip.
Jackopierce’s first record — independently done — sold 45,000 copies. An attorney in Nashville got them a contract.
The label connected them with T Bone Burnett. The legendary producer (Los Lobos, Gregg Allman, Roy Orbison) helped move them from “earnest frat boys” to appearances on Rosie O’Donnell and Conan O’Brien, and stories in Rolling Stone.
Their first album with Burnett sold 100,000.
So did the second. Not seeing any growth, Cary says, “the label yawned.”
Management talked Jackopierce into a farewell tour. Jack moved to New York. He and Cary did not speak for 5 years.
“It was my first divorce,” Cary says. “I didn’t see it coming. It was painful. I learned a lot.”
Five years later, he went through an actual divorce. He felt “completely broken.” But then — providentially — Jackopierce reunited.
That was 2002. They’ve been together ever since.
Jackopierce has devoted — even rabid — fans. They’re all across the country. Most don’t know Westport.
But Cary does.
“I have no idea if people there will be offended” by the winking “mean streets” reference, he says. He hopes not. He still loves the town.
“I had no idea what I had back then. It’s an incredibly beautiful, very privileged place. I had an old 14-foot Boston Whaler. I’d go from Longshore to Peter’s Bridge, get a sandwich, then head to Cockenoe. It was la la land.”
“Young & Free” has been released in “a strange time,” Cary says. COVID has canceled live shows. He and Jack are marketing it the old-fashioned way: grassroots, by themselves.
They’ve contacted all 85 artists mentioned in the song: Depeche Mode, Billy Bragg, Hooters, Toto, Blondie, Men at Work…
Now all of Westport can enjoy Cary Pierce’s musical trip down memory lane too.
“Young and Free (The 80’s Song) is available on Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube, Pandora and Amazon Music. Click here for links.)