The Bernie Pearl Blues Band returns to the ABC Friday, July 2.
Two Jammin' Blues Bands - A Night of Real Blues!

The Bernie Pearl Blues Band

Hi and Season's Greetings. I wanted to share a couple of new items with you before the end of the year.

First is the video clip of "Jailhouse Blues" from our concert at the B.B. King Museum in Indianola, recorded during our recent trip to the Mississippi Delta. They have a lovely little concert room in a terrific museum. We will be returning to Mississippi in April to play at Clarksdale's Juke Joint Festival, and will again be stopping in Indianola to make music and do some teaching.

Second item is that Chris Hanlin has asked me to play one of the tunes from the new CD with him at the CD release party next week. It's an original of his, as is all the music he will be playing, with a down-home feel and charming lyrics. I hope you will be there. December 22, at the Wednesday, December 22, at the Gypsy Lounge,
23600 Rockfield #3A, Lake Forest 92630.
(949) 206-0990.

And, lastly, I will performing in Concert at Boulevard Music on Saturday, February 5. We will be recording the two sets with an eye to putting out a new CD. In addition to my traditional country and urban blues favorites, I will be playing a bunch of my originals, several of which have not yet been recorded. I'm looking to make it a very special show. Boulevard Music, 4316 Sepulveda Bl., Culver City 90230. (310) 398-2583.
Save the date!

Have wonderful holiday season, and I'll see you next year.

Download Electronic Press Kit (EPK)


"Tim Grobaty: Long Beach's Bernie Pearl is all about the blues"

Long Beach Press-Telegram
By Tim Grobaty

The world has lost two great musicians already in this young year. We talked about Johnny Otis and Etta James with the great blues man and Long Beacher Bernie Pearl, who knew them both.

Q: Let's start with Johnny Otis. He wasn't really a blues player, was he?

A: No, his form was more big band, but he was a participant of the rhythm and blues, jazz, blues. I knew him from back in the days at my brother's club (Ed Pearl founded and ran the Ash Grove from 1958 till 1973). He was always a kind of mentor. We exchanged ideas and thoughts. He was a real social progressive. He did some wonderful things with his life. He was very strong in preserving jazz and R&B and worked hard at giving black people their due.

Q: To the extent that a lot of people thought he was African-American.

A: Johnny's parents were both Greek, but they had this little store in the black part of Berkeley, and those are the people he came up with.

He came up around the time when everyone started going electric, all part of that post-Dylan-electric-folk. Johnny played the Ash Grove then, T-Bone Walker played. I played with Big Mama Thornton in '66. It was all happening around then. And I kept in touch with him over the years. I booked him at the Long Beach Blues Festival in 1987.

Q: How about Etta James?

A: I booked her a couple of times for the blues festival - I think it was in 1984 and 1987. She went on before B.B. King both times. She was tough, and she could also be sweet. She wasn't getting anywhere near the money for performing that she did later on. I had the good fortune to get ahold of her early, and we always got along great. I remember, she'd just got out of prison at Terminal Island for drug possession, and I put her on a bill with Screamin' Jay Hawkins - this was in the '80s. Many years later, I tried to book her again, but by then she was making more money than I could afford. She was very apologetic about it, but she said to me, "Bernie, you gotta get it while you can."

Q: When did you start playing?

A: Again, it was back in the Ash Grove days. I started taking lessons from Brownie McGhee, then Lightin' Hopkins, then I started backing bands at the club and other places.

Q: More big names, please.

A: Oh, shoot, there were so many. Eddie Cleanhead Vinson, Charles Brown, Lowell Fulson. I guess the biggest names were B.B. King and Stevie Ray Vaughan. My band backed them up for a promotional show for the Benson & Hedges Blues Festival, the last of the great cigarette-sponsored blues fests.

Q: Now there are hardly any blues fests anywhere, especially since the Long Beach one folded. How were you involved in that?

A: I was director the first year, 1980. We didn't have the big names we had later, but we had Big Joe Turner, the Chambers Brothers, Smokey Wilson. We had that one in July at Vets Stadium, back before it moved to Cal State. I did talent booking with Dan Jacobson until he left in 1987, and I stayed on until 1990.

Q: What blues greats do you wish you'd played with?

A: Well, all of the old ones who died before I came up. You know, Robert Johnson, people like that. I never saw J.B. Lenoir, never saw Elmore James. I knew Albert King real well, and he wanted us to back him, but that's a real mixed blessing. He puts his back-up bands through the wringer. But I wish I'd played with him at least once.

Q: Muddy Waters?

A: Never played with Muddy. I asked him once if he wanted me to come to Chicago and back him up and he said no.

Q: Do you miss doing radio?

A: Radio was great. I started in 1968 at KPPC. It was the first FM station in L.A. and I was the first all-blues DJ. Then I moved "Nothin' But the Blues" over to KLON, where I did the show for 10 years, from 1980 to 1990.

Q: Could you play anything you wanted?

A: Definitely. The show was 99.9 percent my taste. Every once in a while I made a mistake and played something that I thought maybe I should, even though it wasn't to my taste, but hardly ever. The music was largely from my own vinyl collection. There was never a time, in all those years on radio, that I didn't absolutely love it. It's really a joy to share my unvarnished taste with listeners who appreciate it.

Excerpts from articles on Bernie Pearl

For pictures of Bernie check out the photos page

Old-school bluesman Bernie Pearl honors the masters

Louis Sahagun - Los Angeles Times original article

The son of eastern European Jewish immigrants has devoted his life to playing and promoting the blues. He's calling his CD 'Old School Blues.'

Bernie Pearl bent over his vintage Martin guitar at a Westside recording studio, listening to the playback of his interpretation of the Muddy Waters classic "I Be's Troubled."

It's a powerful don't-mess-with-me Mississippi Delta blues song with a slashing slide guitar riff that underlines a sense of rootlessness, bravado, jealousy and threat of violence conveyed in the lyrics.

Pearl frowned.

"I hear glitches," he groaned, "like my fingers got tangled in the strings."

Sound engineer Glenn Nishida tweaked some knobs, then replayed the song. No dice. They fiddled some more. "We've messed with it so much that it sounds technically great -- but lost its raw qualities," said Pearl, shaking his head. "It's got to be right, or it's no go."

Read the rest of the article on the LA Times web site.

Bernie Pearl - Living Blues Magazine

Bernie's latest ad in Living Blues Magazine original ad (PDF)

Bernie Pearl - Better Late Than Never

John Heidt - A review written for the Vintage Guitar original article (PDF)

"Bernie Pearl... an acoustic guitar wizard who fully understands the nuances of the music."

Bernie Pearl - Somebody Got to Do It!

Karen Nugent - A review written for the The Boston Blues Society original article

Bernie Pearl's new disc is a feast of back-porch Delta blues – a live performance with just the man and his guitar doing old-time Mississippi country style tunes. And they're incredibly authentic.

The 10-song disc has everything you'd expect from the guitarist-singer who was taught by the likes of Lightnin' Hopkins, "Mississippi" Fred McDowell and Mance Lipscomb. It doesn't get more informed than that. All three are covered on the disc, with three from McDowell - including the famous "61 Highway," two by Lipscomb ("Bumble Bee" and "Rocks and Gravel Boogie,") and "Shotgun Blues" from Hopkins, one of the best songs on the disc. Pearl included Eddie Boyd's "Five Long Years" as well. The songs are excellent choices, showcasing the style, but unusual enough to be fresh.

Pearl included one, terrific, original, "Blues for Lightnin'," an instrumental tribute to the older man's haunting Texas style.

Throughout the album, Pearl's finger picking demonstrates a unique quality of making the acoustic guitar sound electric, and sometimes like two guitars. His Delta guitar is unbelievably true-to-form, emoting a nagging melancholy.

Naturally, there's lots of applause from the audience at Boulevard Music in Culver City, Calif.

The disc opens with "Laundromat Blues" from Albert King, one of the tougher-sounding songs. Although Pearl's guitar playing is super throughout the disc, his voice sometimes goes off key, and is at its weakest on this song. As one would expect, there are laughs about laundry jokes with sexual double entendres in the song, i.e.: "I think she's using Duz, I wish she'd use some ‘don't'."

Somebody Got to Do It is Pearl's second solo CD. The first, released in 2002, was an earlier live performance at the same venue.

Pearl began his musical journey in his brother's Los Angeles coffeehouse-gallery-folk music center, Ash Grove, which opened in 1958. The club hosted blues artists such as "Lone Cat" Jesse Fuller, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee – who also showed Pearl some licks. Hopkins, McDowell and Lipscomb played at the club as well.

Pearl's big break came one night at the Ash Grove when Big Mama Thornton sacked her guitarist on opening night, and gave the gig to Pearl.

He then went on to play at that club with J.B. Hutto, Johnny Shines & Big Walter Horton, Koko Taylor, and Freddie King, to name a few. He even booked the legendary Howlin' Wolf, Albert Collins, and Albert King in their Los Angeles debuts. That's quite a resume.

In 1968, he became L.A.'s first all-blues DJ on FM radio, hosting a show called "Nothin' but the Blues" on KPPC. In 1980, he founded a family-style blues festival which has evolved into the Long Beach Blues Festival, one of the most popular in the country.

FAME Review: Bernie Pearl - Somebody Got to Do It!

Mark S. Tucker - A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange original article

Out here in the swamps and bayous of the tiny little out-of-the-way burg we call Los Angeles exist a number of fairly well-known blues venues packing in the big names, but some of the best music issues instead from the dives, seaside saloons, and backalley holes. A few years back, Barry Levenson released a marvelously bona fide CD, Heart to Hand, reflecting not only his work with Lowell Fulsom, PeeWee Crayton, Big Mama Thornton, and a host of others, but placing a spotlight on the electric side of his well-honed hand. Levenson's pretty much a purist when it comes to black blues but, trust me as one of many connoisseurs of the dirty-white side of the house, it was immensely pleasing to us as well, perfectly blending the two much as the best 70s Brits had.

The other day, Bernie Pearl's agent, knowing my affinities, asked if I'd like to try out his new CD. Sure, said I and I'm now rather embarassed I had no real knowledge of the guy beforehand, but....holy sweet Marie, gawdammit this guy is a phenomenon! However, where Levenson's a flatpicker, Pearl's a fingerpicker and an awesome one at that. More, he cleaves very tightly to the trad roots of the genre, which is how he, like Levenson, played for Thornton, Crayton, and Fulsom, then moved on to Freddie King, Albert Collins, Big Joe Turner, and a mean mess of others. No one, and I mean no one, can fake it and play with those gods and goddesses, so Pearl's the real deal and then some.

He sticks to classics but not standards, though he makes his choices seem so. Covering Lipscomb, MacDowell, Boyd, and others, the ace guitarist turns in a set of peformances riveting the listener with their technical finesse, jaw-dropping chops, and ungodly authenticity. His sole original, Blues for Lightnin', is an instrumental and a sheer pleasure, but it's in Rocks and Gravel Boogie that you'll at times swear there are two guitarists, lead and rhythm. T'ain't so, Jerome, it's only Pearl his own damn self and then bassist Mike Barry, who is, through much of the gig, as slow and lazy a lower register hound dawg as can be found, nicely laying down the firmament for his partner's dazzling picking. 61 Highway repeats the feat, and more than once you'll be wide-eyed at the dexterity this guys carries off with ease.

It's difficult to convey in words exactly what constitutes truly soulful blues, so let me just opine that the big name white boys are missing out here…BIG TIME. Pearl should be guesting with the Stones or Peter Green and Nigel Watson, and I'll bet Rory Gallagher, rest his maverick soul, would've considered it one of the biggest pleasures of his life to have played with this cat. Robert Cray would marvel and the aging first-line masters, what few of them are left, would be very happy knowing the tradition will not be neglected. There's so much here, and the closest I last heard to it all was in Leon Redbone calmly setting the house on fire in his virtuoso spots on Saturday Night Live and a couple of other very striking television guestings. Recall the infamous Jamming With Edward LP (Jagger, Cooder, Hopkins, Wyman & Watts) and you'll be somewhat in the arena, but I guarantee there won't be many times in your life you'll hear blues like this.

THING NO. 1: Bernie Pearl. We have been listening to Bernie Pearl play guitar since we started out in the music business back in the '70s, and he was playing long before we caught up with him. We had the pleasure of hanging out with him for the day at his Long Beach house back then, and have been spinning his numerous platters on our CD component ever since.

Now, thanks to the genius of whoever books the talent at La Palapa, you can catch Pearl playing every Tuesday evening at the civilized time of 6:30 'til 9:30 starting tomorrow and continuing through September at the fine semi-al fresco restaurant at 4020 Olympic Plaza (basically, on the west side of the Belmont Plaza pool at Ocean Boulevard and Livingston Drive). There's no cover charge, but shouldn't you at least pop for a cocktail? For dinner reservations, call (800) 758-7729. (more...)

Bernie Pearl CD Reviews

Sittin’ On the Right Side of the Blues

          Live at Boulevard Music series   Major Label Records  2011

“…Pearl’s music and voice evoke the unpretentious, truth-telling qualities of the blues. The sparse arrangements that grace this 15-song set only heighten the soulful and spiritual nature of the music. Pearl’s guitar virtuosity is evident, whether his playing lead, rhythm, or slide guitar…his version of (Son House’s) Shetland Pony Blues would make the old master proud. As a testament to Pearl’s musicianship, most of his compositions nearly rival the well-chosen cover songs. Indeed, fans of traditional unadorned acoustic blues will find “Sittin’ on the Right Side of the Blues” to be a real treat.
Stephen A. King, Living Blues  

"I was struck, as I always am, at the evolution of Pearl's playing, here with a significant addition to his normal tendency to dig ever further into historical authenticity while injecting formidable personal voicing...crystal clear evocations of the deepest origins of the blues,
wellsprings Bernie is impeccably schooled in
… his guitar work is just stunning no matter what, sophisticated in so many ways that it'd take pages to parse and praise."
Mark C. Tucker, Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange ( 

 “In the early '60s, Bernie Pearl was able to do something that almost any folkie, especially those of the blues persuasion, would have done unspeakable things to be able to do. He got to meet, play with, and learn from Lightnin' Hopkins, Mance Lipscomb, and Mississippi Fred McDowell. He appears to have learned a thing or two.

In particular, his slide playing in open tuning is marvelous. He has a crisp attack, expressive vibrato, and impeccable time. He owes a large debt to Fred McDowell and, to my ear, Booker White, but has developed his own
“I Just Keeps on Wanting You” is my favorite song on the
CD. It's by Louisiana singer Herman E. Johnson. Pearl's slide guitar
takes a more melodic approach on this tune. It reminds
me of Blind Willie Johnson's melodic work. Pearl's vibrato is especially good on this one.
In his slide playing, Pearl has developed a personal style that extends the work of pre- WWII players, but respects it. He has the big three
elements of blues slide playing: syncopation, melody, and vibrato. Pearl has the ability to approach an existing song from his own point of view and make the listener think about it in a different way.”
Joel Fritz, Golden Gate Blues Society Newsletter (Golden Gate Grooves)

“Bernie Pearl, in a word, is a master.  Thanks to him and his love of the music, this material will live for yet another generation. … More than a simple CD, Sitting on the Right Side of the Blues captures a moment in time…a moment that should not be missed by any fan of traditional blues.”   
Bill Wilson, Billtown Blues Notes, (Billtown Blues Society, PA)

 His powerful singing continually diverts your attention from his masterful guitar work. More impressive is Pearl's ability to capture the essence of the Lightnin' Hopkins guitar style on "Jailhouse Blues".

"Shake 'em Down”... Pearl's fingers dance across his guitar's fret board as he uses his slide to create the propulsive drive required for this tune. At the same time, his unforced, warm vocal contrasts nicely with his metallic guitar tone. There is plenty to enjoy on this project. Blues lovers who are looking for a more traditional blues sound should snap this one up right away.”
Mark Thompson, Crossroads Blues Society of Northern Illinois

I am not a nice guy.  There are no friends on the bandstand.  Either you cut it or you don’t. 
From the opening guitar break on track one of this album the listener will know they’re in for a treat.  Most blues guitarists around today have harnessed a half a dozen or so licks and play them with some imaginative variation if the listener is lucky. Not so with Bernie Pearl. I am amazed by the variation of linear melodic improvisation, otherwise known as ‘licks’, that Bernie comes up with.
   One of the stellar pieces on the CD for me is Bernie’s composition, “Outside Boogie”. In my opinion it is one of the most progressive acoustic blues guitar compositions ever written.  If Thelonious Monk had played guitar it would have sounded just like this. An engaging rhythmic pattern harnessed to an advanced harmonic concept that simply displays a thought process truly tweaked and off the charts!
     Finally, the unsung hero of this outing deserves more than a tip of the hat. Mike Barry is a most sensitive accompanist whose perfectly-in-pitch acoustic bass playing may be felt more than heard…Barry is a god-send to an artist such as Bernie Pearl.
My friendship with Bernie has not in any way influenced this review.
It’s quite simple:  he cuts it!
Art Johnson
Guitarist, composer, producer, educator, performer
Grammy Award participant – Academy Award participant

Pearl rips through a 15 song set that features six original compositions mixed with nine well-chosen covers. Though some of these songs will be familiar to most blues fans, Pearl manages to breathe new life into them. Pearl’s warm, confident vocals are spot-on.
Bernie Pearl has presented us with an enjoyable recording of acoustic blues favorites, along with some cool new songs, that deserves a spot in any acoustic guitar fan’s steady rotation.
Graham ClarkeBlues Bytes

Old School Blues, Acoustic/Electric

Bee Bump Music 2008

This is a worthy disc for every blues-lover's library...The acoustic disc is especially great...I think the only acoustic guitar player that compares is the great Doc Watson. This is the way Doc Watson would play blues if he played blues...It is terrific blues music played with soul and taste and command."   Bruce Edwards - MoBlues Assn. (Missouri)

"If you are going to buy just one blues CD this year, consider this one before any others."
Joel Okida, FolkWorks e-magazine,

“And what a superb CD it is, one of the finest releases of its kind in many years…If radio knew talent, Pearl would be heard on the hour every hour.”
Willard Manus, What’s Up Magazine, September 2009

"…a two disc treat that offers more of his acoustic prowess and introduces us to his fine electric side. A veritable textbook on the blues."
John Heidt, Vintage Guitar Magazine, January 2008

"...a fine recollection and distillation of the songs and performance tips of this Los Angeles singer and guitarist picked up from the likes of Mance Lipscomb, Lightnin' Hopkins, John Lee Hooker, Harmonica Fats, and many others...The electric set is the same - but even better...with a fine vocal and the kind of guitar playing all too rarely heard over the last three to four decades.."
Norman Darwen, Blues & Rhythm, The Gospel Truth #232
(U.K.) 2008

" truth every track is a diamond in its own right. Would I recommend this set? What do you think! Just buy it!"
Mick Rainsford, Blues in Britain, 2008

"It goes without saying that Bernie Pearl consistently produces some of the most genuine blues in the country, or the world for that matter..."
Mark S. Tucker, Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange, July, 2008

“Few performers would even attempt such a broad range of styles, but Pearl pulls it off with indisputable success and panache.”
Steve Daniels, Santa Barbara Blues Society, July 2008

“This is a fantastic record…To make it simple, blues fans all over the world should cherish Bernie Pearl for recording this album.”   
Przemak Draheim,  “The Voice of the Blues”  Radio Sfera, Poland

Bernie Pearl "Somebody Got To Do It!" Live From Boulevard Music

"It is good to hear that Bernie can play all these styles with ease, but even nicer to note that he has assimilated more than just the instrumental prowess.
…huge amounts of skill, self-confidence, and audacity – in about equal measures!…this is an extremely welcome set."

Norman Darwen - Blues & Rhythm, U.K. #215, 12/06

Singer and guitarist Bernie Pearl is probably best known to many B&R readers from his long lasting and musically (I can't comment on the financial aspects of it) very successful partnership with the late Harmonica Fats. However, his own musical experience reaches back to the fifties when his brother Ed opened the renowned coffee house, the Ash Grove, and Bernie was able to meet and hear many of the greats who played there – learning first-hand from a whole range of people, from the likes of Doc Watson and Bill Monroe to Jesse Fuller, Pee Wee Crayton, and Big Mama Thornton.

This live set finds Bernie on stage with just bassist Michael Berry (sic) providing unobtrusive but effective support. Anyone who can start their set with such a seemingly limited line-up and then successfully pull off Albert King's 'Laundromat Blues', whilst also managing to recall the Memphis bluesman with some well-chosen licks has just got to have huge amounts of skill, self-confidence and audacity – in about equal measures! Bernie's favourites are fairly obvious from the remaining track-listing – three lovely items from from the repertoire of Fred MacDowell, two from Mance Lipscomb, Eddie Boyd's 'Five Long Years' – which could have come from a variety of people, Lightnin' Hopkins with 'Shotgun Blues' and the sole original 'Blues for Lightnin', an instrumental compendium of Hopkins' guitar licks.

It is good to hear that Bernie can play all these styles with ease, but even nicer to note that he has assimilated more than just the instrumental prowess. His MacDowell numbers, for example, never descend into slide guitar flash for its own sake, but stay close to Mississippi Fred's ethos (though there is never any mere copying). Likewise, listening to this set is a salutary reminder that the blues is primarily a vocal art, and Bernie seems to pay more attention than most to achieving the right sound.

To sum up then, this is an extremely welcome set. In his excellent (though too brief) booklet notes, Bernie writes about how his mentors were concerned that he should continue their legacy. This can sometimes seem to be mere convivial encouragement, but in this case it certainly rings true.

Somebody Got To Do It - Friday, 17 November 2006 original article

Bernie Pearl is hands down, one of Southern California's premier Country Blues artists. Somebody Got To Do It is a must have if you are a Delta blues connoisseur.

Bernie was raised in Los Angeles and his older brother was the proprietor of the legendary Ash Grove. Rubbing elbows with many of our countries elite blues icons like Mance Lipscomb, Mississippi Fred Mc Dowell, Lightnin' Hopkins, Big Mama Thornton and others helped Bernie develop and mature into the virtuoso he is today. "They were my teachers" he says, "and it wasn't just music they were teaching. If you took Mance or Lightnin' out fishing you got philosophy, history, and lessons in life". You got philosophy, history, and lessons in life".

Somebody Got To Do It is a stellar example of Delta blues at it's best. Covering artists: Lightnin' Hopkins, Mance Lipscomb, Mississippi Fred Mac Dowell, Albert King, and an endearing original Blues For Lightnin' dedicated to Sam "Lightnin'" Hopkins, spotlights Pearls warm, rich touch.

This CD is available at and at his gigs

If Bernie is ever blowing through your neck of the woods, make sure you check him out. He gives up a great show and serves up some wonderful blues.

"Bernie Pearl Sings the Blues"

Long Beach Press-Telegram
Joe Stevens

Long Beach jazz (sic) legend to play at Pasadena Summer Festival

Who is Bernie Pearl? The name may sound familiar to blues fans or Long Beach residents. Others may ask, Bernie who? Take this pop quiz to find the truth. Is Bernie Pearl

  1. a blues guitarist
  2. former KLON-FM disc jockey
  3. founder of the Long Beach Blues Festival
  4. professor at Cal State Long Beach?

Well, the answer is all of the above. Pearl may not be as visible as he was 20 years ago when he founded the Long Beach Blues Festival and was a KLON disc jockey, but he is still glued to the blues…At noon Sunday, Pearl and his band will perform at the Playboy Jazz Festival in the Old Pasadena Summer Fest.

"My whole existence is involved with the blues," said Pearl, who recently turned 60.

For those familiar with KLON…it may be hard to believe that Pearl has been gone from KLON for 10 years. He started the popular show' "Nothin' But the Blues," which was KLON's highest-rated program when he was suddenly fired from the station in 1990 after cultivating a following there for 10 (sic) years.

Time could have healed Pearl's wounds with the incident, but when pressed about it, he doesn't sugarcoat what happened. He just sounds honest.

Pearl has played with his blues band for 16 years and keeps working on various projects. He recorded three albums with his longtime friend Harmonica Fats, and plans to record a solo album in the future.

But no matter what he does in the studio, Pearl will continue to pop up in local venues and remain an authoritative, yet approachable, bluesman.

"He's a real salt-of-the-earth guy," said bassist Mike Barry, who has played in the six-man Bernie Pearl Blues Band for 14 years. "We all are. That's why we've been able to play together for such a long time."

Pearl's personality seems strong and caring, and that comes out onstage. He's an expert on the blues musically, intellectually and verbally. He leads his band with a sense of humor and professionalism.

…Pearl has come a long way after growing up in L.A. and working at his brother Ed's legendary club, Ash Grove, where he first practiced his skills in blues and folk music.

Pearl remains closely linked to the Long Beach music scene, a relationship that started in the early '80s when Pearl and his wife were two of a small population to live on Terminal Island.

"I was thrilled to live there, and it was perfect and lovely," he said. "We had safety in our little place, our little nest."

About 20 years later, Pearl's nest in Long Beach is far from terminal.

Bernie Pearl

Pasadena Weekly

…He grew up in L.A. and his older brother Ed operated the Ash Grove on Melrose Ave. from 1959 (sic) to the early 70's. It was the most important showcase for folk and blues music on the West Coast.

For Bernie, as many other young players like Taj Mahal, Ry Cooder, the members of Canned Heat and others, it was nothing short of a music university.

"I only had a few formal lessons on guitar," Pearl recalls from his Long Beach home, "but the people I hung out with would gladly show you how to play what they were playing. Lightnin' Hopkins, Brownie McGhee, Mance Lipscomb, Skip James, Son House - these were my teachers. They were roving rabbis, quite grandfatherly to us all and very philosophical… And it wasn't just music they were teaching us. If you took Mance fishing you got some life lessons. Sadly, the kind of education I got can't be had nowadays.

Pearl sees his current activities as passing on what he learned.

"When I lead a song," he says, "I'm usually doing something I've learned from the traditionalists, yet I've learned to find that place where the song resonates within me… I've always regarded the blues as a living, ongoing thing. I have no problem playing with younger musicians who didn't know a Mance or a Lightnin'. Anybody who can give that feeling that I came to know from the older guys is alright with me. I've got some New Orleans guys that I play with and they put their twists on the music and it's great. I learned it from sitting next to Lightnin' and I know how it's supposed to feel."

Bernie Pearl

Inland Valley Daily Bulletin
Rick Mortensen

Growing up in Los Angeles, Bernie Pearl saw the folk music scene grow from a hootenanny at his sister's house to a hotbed of political and artistic activity. In the early days, Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie shared the scene with backwoods blues artists like Leadbelly and Brownie McGhee.

After high school, Pearl went to Israel to live on a kibbutz for a year. He returned in 1958 and worked at his brother's recently acquired folk café, The Ash Grove. His duties ranged from washing dishes to playing back-up guitar for blues legends such as Lightnin' Hopkins and Big Mama Thornton.

When electric blues hit the mainstream in the '60's, Pearl was also in on the ground floor, attending the major festivals. At one such festival he loaned his amplifier to a young upstart named Jimmy James, who later changed his last name to Hendrix.

What he learned from Lightnin' Hopkins

"In retrospect. The most important thing I learned from Lightnin' was how to play backup. I learned what the feel was supposed to be."

Learning to listen

"Lightnin's playing was not erratic. It was eccentric. That is to say, he didn't play with the band, he didn't stick to 12 bars; he was playing strictly from feel. A lot of times he'd end the measure soon, or he'd end the verse and make another change, so I learned to listen and anticipate where he was gonna go."

Blues legends he knew

"Most of these guys were just warm, giving, loving people and very interested in passing their music on because they were afraid it would be lost."

Bernie Pearl Festival Review Quotes