Blues Bytes


September 2008

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Bernie Pearl
Old School Blues
Bee Bump Records

Bernie Pearl

Old School Blues, the latest release by Bernie Pearl, is a tribute to the numerous guitarists who have influenced Pearl over his nearly 50(!) years as a blues guitarist. Pearl worked in Los Angeles at his brother’s Ash Grove club as a youngster, chauffeuring blues artists around town before and after their gigs. He met and eventually played with artists like Mance Lipscomb, Fred McDowell, Howlin’ Wolf, Brownie McGhee, Sonny Terry, and most importantly, Lightnin’ Hopkins, who inspired Pearl to become a blues musician. Although it was a hard go at the time (there were very few white guys playing the blues at the time), Pearl stuck with it. He also became L.A’s first all blues DJ on FM radio (on KPPC and later KLON), later helped found the KLON Blues & Gospel Festival, and won a Handy Award in 1987 as Blues Producer of the Year. He also led his own band and enjoyed a fruitful 15-year partnership with the late Harmonica Fats.

Old School Blues consists of two CDs, one acoustic and one electric, and features songs from his mentors and influences. On the acoustic CD, most of the songs will be familiar to longtime fans, but Pearl does a good job interpreting them and giving them a little twist, such as Jimmy Oden’s classic, “Goin’ Down Slow,” which is taken deep into the heart of Texas via Mance Lipscomb. He also tackles Lipscomb’s “Blues In The Bottle,” and puts a Delta touch on it. Other songs worth noting on the acoustic side are Muddy’s “I Be’s Troubled” (a.k.a. “Can’t Be Satisfied”), which features some glorious slide, McDowell’s “Shake ‘em Down,” Blind Willie Johnson’ Titanic lament, “God Moves On The Water,” and a little Piedmont turn with “Pawnshop Blues” from Brownie McGhee. It’s a great set of acoustic blues guitar that seems to end too soon.

CD number two features electric blues, but thankfully it’s not the same old chestnuts that you usually hear covered (not a “Sweet Home Chicago” in sight). This is electric blues for the most part from the early days of the genre, featuring three more Lipscomb-influenced sides (“Cherry Ball,” “The Ballad of Freddie,” “Rocks & Gravel Boogie”), another Brownie McGhee song (“If You Lose Your Money”), and another Hopkins classic (“Automobile Blues”). Pearl also moves forward a bit and covers Junior Parker’s “Driving Wheel,” Otis Rush’s “You Know I Love You,” and “Crosscut Saw.” The fact that most of these songs are rarely heard these days make this set even more exciting.

Pearl sounds great. His warm, confident vocals are perfectly suited for the material though they sound like they are a little bit too far back in the mix. Fortunately, the guitar is right up front. His guitar work is fluid and never disappoints. Pearl’s regular band (Michael Barry – upright and electric bass, Albert Trepagnier, Jr. – drums, and Dwayne Smith – piano), provide tasteful support on the electric disc, plus a couple of the acoustic.

Blues guitar fans won’t be disappointed with Old School Blues, which is an entertaining journey from beginning to end. Bernie Pearl has been toiling away for nearly half a century, playing the music he loves and, fortunately for us, he shows no signs of letting up.

--- Graham Clarke


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