Music Music therapy 

Local friends unite for a tribute to paralyzed Bay Area musician Dax Pierson

Dax Pierson might be the best-known obscure musician on the planet.

Pierson - a brilliant keyboard player for Bay Area underground groups such as Subtle, 13 & God, and Themselves - hasn't sold a lot of records or established himself as a fixture on contemporary radio, but his fan base of musical peers seems to know no stylistic or geographic boundaries.

click to enlarge mucis-daxpierson_330jpg
Dax Pierson: beloved for his personal warmth, and admired for his musical knowledge.

These friends and admirers have joined forces in recent months to assist Pierson, who suffered a catastrophic neck injury on February 24 in Iowa while touring with Subtle. The band's bus flipped after hitting a patch of black ice, leaving Pierson with a crushed fifth vertebra and paralyzing him from the chest down. After a brief stint in a Nebraska hospital, Pierson has spent several weeks in a Houston rehabilitation facility working on occupational and physical therapy, struggling to develop his weakened arm muscles and coping with breathing difficulties. On top of that, Pierson must confront exorbitant financial costs: $30,000 for an electric wheelchair, and untold thousands of dollars to make his home wheelchair accessible.

Benefit shows have been organized in New York, Boston, San Francisco, Chicago, Minneapolis, Vancouver, Berlin, and Zurich, among other places. At a London benefit last month, Blur frontman Damon Albarn appeared as a guest turntablist. Go to the guestbook at his website ( and you'll find nearly 200 highly emotional testimonials by well-wishers.

A San Antonio benefit for Pierson will take place on Friday, June 17 at Saluté. It will include DJ Jester, Prince Klassen, Hyperbubble, and Transponder. Some of the performers, such as DJ Jester, are friends of Pierson's, and all of them share his electic musical tastes and fascination with the combination of live and electronic sounds.

"A lot of the integral part of the music is based on stuff that he's done."

Josh Herrin

Benefit organizer - and local musician - Josh Herrin met Pierson years ago after a gig by Themselves at Emo's in Austin.

"It was one of those things where those guys were my heroes," Herrin says. "Getting to meet them and sit around and talk for four or five hours was really cool."

Herrin and Pierson stayed in touch over the years, exchanging e-mails and getting together whenever one of Pierson's bands was in the area. "He's very, warm, genuine and sincere," Herrin says. "He very much cares about what you have to say. When I met him, I said, 'This is a real guy who is just like me in a lot of ways and has the same goals and focus in his life.'

"He's trying to make music. He doesn't really care about being a star or anything like that. He just wants to make enough money to keep doing what he's doing. They're not trying to get on the map, they're just trying to sustain a career."

Pierson also worked behind the counter at the vaunted Amoeba record store in Berkeley, California, and built a reputation as an outgoing guy with an astounding knowledge of every imaginable music form. He applied that knowledge to the six-piece Subtle, which has consciously mixed the traditional with the technological: live drummer bumping up against programmed beats, and instrumental improvisation shaped by digital sampling.

"A lot of the integral part of the music is based on stuff that he's done, the loops and that kind of thing," Herrin says. "With Subtle, they would get together in a room, record seven or eight hours, and Dax would cut it down to five or six minutes and take samples out of that. He'd go into the computer, reconstruct them and turn that into the foundation for a song. With the Subtle record, they actually list him first as the creative force behind the group."

Dax Pierson Benefit:
Dj Jester, Hyperbubble, Transponder, Prince Klassen

Fri, June 17
$5 (extra donations accepted)

2801 N. St. Mary's
Herrin first heard about Pierson's injury from another of Pierson's local friends, DJ Jester. Herrin didn't yet know how severe the accident had been, and attempted to contact Pierson by cell phone. He received no answer. Not long afterward, Pierson's Subtle bandmate Jeff "Jel" Logan told him that Pierson would be out of pocket for quite a while. Herrin has not spoken directly to his friend since the accident, but monitors his progress with the help of the members of Subtle.

"He's been rehabbing in Houston for the past few weeks, with his family," Herrin says. "They actually live there, and because of expenses, they figured it would be good to be as close to him as possible. He's still in his neck brace and they have him in a wheelchair. He uses his chin to control it, and he's trying to acclimate himself to his new abilities."

True to his history, the indefatigable Pierson has spent part of his recovery time working on the musical score for a film called Dark Heart. Given his unquenchable creative drive, that might prove to be the most valuable therapy of all.

By Gilbert Garcia



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