Bernie Pearl is the guy with the guitar and Harmonica Fats is, well, living proof of truth in advertising. Monday night in Ventura, they will be playing some acoustic blues at Cafe Voltaire, not just a coffee shop named after a cool French guy but also a place with a couple of relaxed cats, entertainment every night and about a million kinds of beer.
Pearl and Fats, longtime fixtures on the Southland blues scene, have been playing together regularly for some years now, or long enough to release a pair of CDs. The most recent, "Two Heads Are Better . . . " was nominated for a W.C. Handy Award. Most of the songs were written by Fats and are unpretentious and funny including one called "Just Like Richard Nixon," a man who gave many the blues.
Harvey Blackston (the round one) was born in Louisiana in 1927 and came to California in 1946, bringing the harmonica that made him famous. Bernie Pearl was born in California in 1939 and has had a long and varied career. He launched the Long Beach Blues Festival in 1980 and helped promote the blues with his "Nothing but the Blues" radio show on KLON for many years.
Both players have been in a lot of bands, but it's easier to split the money as a duo.
Pearl spoke about what's what recently.
Did you guys win a W.C. Handy Award?
No, we didn't win an award, but we won by just showing up in New Orleans. We were presenters, so we got to be on stage. At the end, everyone did a tune, "I Got My Mojo Working," and Fats just sort of took over. That song is one of our show closers. Now we're getting gigs on the festival tour. We just did the Chicago Blues Festival, and we're heading for another festival in Moline, Ill.
So the blues biz is doing better?
Obviously, there's more blues out there in terms of commercials, and there's the House of Blues and B.B. King's, those places. I'm not sure if there's more blues in general, but more blues awareness. If I had to compare now with 10 years ago, I'd take now because there's an absolute abundance of blues men of quality. Plus, there's a lot more work now than there was 10 years ago.
Why acoustic blues?
Acoustic blues sort of fills a niche. There's not too many people doing that stuff right now. There's Tom Ball & Kenny Sultan from Santa Barbara, and a few others--that's about it. A long time ago, I started out acoustic, but then I had [electric] bands. In 1991, I went over to Fats' house to rehearse, just the two of us, and it was just sort an accidental duet. Now, we're having a ball as a duet. And Fats is a combination of country blues and soul music. He's a unique artist, a real showman, sort of like an old time medicine show.
Don't most people think blues is about being sad?
That's the one thing, but I call blues social music. Most of it's about sex, too much or not enough. It's about dancing and partying, not getting together to cry in your beer.
Is Richard Nixon just like Elvis, a Capricorn gone bad?
I have this sheet of paper from the Nixon Library you should see. It turns out the guy in charge is a music fan. When he heard about the song, he wanted to hear it, so I sent him a CD. It turns out he's a very open-minded guy. He sent the song to Julie Nixon Eisenhower, whose son is learning to play guitar, so now it's a part of their family.
Radio used to be cool--what happened?
I'm kind of vague about the whole radio thing. I remember I walked into KPPC and told them I wanted to do a blues show, and I thought they'd turn me down, but they said OK. After that, I went to KLON, which, I believe, led to the resurgence of the blues in Southern California. I was on the radio from 1980 until 1992, almost 11 years on KLON. I thoroughly enjoyed it. You get to play records you like and thousands of people hear them. It was a creative sort of an adventure and no one ever told me what records to play.
What was your strangest gig?
Back in 1966, I was playing with Big Mama Thornton, and we had a gig at Soledad [prison], which I thought was a country club. I wasn't ready for it when the gates closed behind us. Then later, one of the band members dropped a joint on the stage. What was he thinking? The only thing dumber would be to bring a pistol or something. Anyway, one of the stage guys picked it up and no one got busted.
So what's The Plan?
We want to put the next CD out later this year and keep the pressure on. I've taken all the money we made on the CD and put it back in advertising. For example, I've sent it to 600 stations all over the world, and I would think about half of them are playing it. We've also advertised in all the blues magazines. We have to take the modest approach that we are unknown. So what are we gonna do? Well, we have a CD, we got some reviews, now we're getting the work. The way I look at it, there's 52 weekends a year, and only about 20 of those will be summer festival weekends, so by next year, I'd love to tour the world.
* WHAT: Harmonica Fats & Bernie Pearl.
* WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Monday.
* WHERE: Cafe Voltaire, 34 N. Palm St., Ventura.
* HOW MUCH: $7.
* CALL: 641-1743.