Pearline turn the Blues upside down to reveal the most important elements

Dripping with the sweat of a drunken dancing mob at a recent party, I was slave to the heat generated by Pearline, who reminded me, if I ever knew it, that Cincinnatians do know a thing or two abo

Apr 11, 2002 at 2:06 pm
Jymi Bolden


Dripping with the sweat of a drunken dancing mob at a recent party, I was slave to the heat generated by Pearline, who reminded me, if I ever knew it, that Cincinnatians do know a thing or two about being damn funky. I danced so hard that it felt like the music was coming from my limbs and not their instruments. But enough about my dancing ass. Let's talk about Pearline's ass.

Pearline is: Reuben Glaser, who licks his guitar with freewheeling Blues slide while screaming in tune, bass-playing genius Jesse Ebaugh (of the late Heevahava), recently instated drumming fireball Hazen Frick (from the Middle Fingers) and rhythm guitarist/harmonica crazyman Johnny Walker (also of the Soledad Brothers). These musically and otherwise tight chaps channel their passion for Delta Blues into a funk-inflected explosion of charged Swamp-Punk Rock & Roll.

On the floor of a local Korean eatery, I shared spicy food and thought with Glaser and Ebaugh, as well as original drummer Dan Alair, who moved to L.A. to tour with the Brian Jonestown Massacre, and Greenhorne Brian Olive, a regular Pearline guest who filled in for Walker on rhythm guitar and saxophone at a recent York Street Café show.

According to Glaser, Pearline grew out jam sessions where similar musical interests collided. "We played a lot of Son House, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Houndog Tailor. Gritty, out-of-control, drunk Blues."

"It was messy, and nobody gave a fuck, so it was really fun to do and it was really fun to listen to," says Ebaugh.

The first Pearline show I witnessed was nothing short of a sonic orgy. Sudoriferous electricity swirled out from the band to the crowd and back into the sound. At the recent York Street Café gig, the band plowed ferociously through their set, and to powerful effect: They're solid enough to be a blast to watch even if your butt is glued to a chair. But the emotion wasn't full volume.

"There's a certain place that things either reach or they don't, and it's fun either way, but when it gets to this groove, where everybody that's dancing makes sense with what you're doing ... you get to this point in yourself where you're letting everything out and expressing everything that you're kicking around in your head," says Glaser.

A band that can turn off their heads and play from somewhere else takes talent and passion in every corner, and these guys have it. They take the old Blues hook and latch it around everything from Gospel to Captain Beefheart.

"We are getting our inspiration from stuff that's been done before — we're not stealing anything," Glaser says. "We're doing something that's always been true and just trying to add something to it. I respect trying to blaze new frontiers, but you can't forget that there was a reason that music happened in the first place. (Musicians) were trying to communicate something before they were trying to show how different they were."

With singing influences, Glaser looks for the transcendental. "It's hard ... really great vocalists have just blown every bit of self-consciousness out of their voice — Aretha Franklin, Sly Stone, the old Blues singers," he says. "It's comin' from some place higher. And I'm not saying that I'm there — at all. But I feel like — especially live — I don't know if it comes off like screaming, but it feels good. It's a release."

Ebaugh names John Entwistle (The Who), Geezer Butler (Black Sabbath) and John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin) as his bass superheroes.

"It's cliché ... the sound I like is that huge Rock & Roll sound" Ebaugh says. "The way that a bass player like that, that has a force, attaches his playing, or her playing, to the drums in a situation where there's not a whole lot of instruments going on. To keep the rhythm interesting and interactive between the drummer and the melody on the guitars takes some bravery."

A self-acknowledged bass-playing whore, Ebaugh also plays upright bass in a number of local Bluegrass ensembles.

"That's one of the reasons I like living in Kentucky," he says. "Because one of the formative types of American music still exists vitally here like no other place in the country. I was just in New York City, and Old-Time Country and Bluegrass is all the rage ... but it's so far away from being honest. I hack away at these gigs with these cool musicians that exist here, and it feels really honest and really vital. And it's another situation where it's not about songwriting. It's about performance and interpretation."

The band's wall-to-wall record collection is visual proof of their ocean of influences, but besides listening to the same music, they feed off one another for inspiration.

Of the most recent Pearline addition, Ebaugh says, "Hazen's really sharp. His beats are different than Dan's. Dan's on the front edge — more of an upbeat, sorta skipping beat. Hazen is a little more laid back. Dan sounds like a Chicago Blues club player from the '50s, and Hazen sounds more like Frank Beard (from ZZ Top). Hazen's shuffle is suuuper steeaaddy, he's really solid."

A five-song mini-disc recorded in Pearline's home studio is a nice cross-section of their sound. "The good thing (in our recording) is I think we all hear what's important in the music. We try to get something that's great sounding, sonically, but not perfection, because perfection is boring, sterile," says Glaser.

The recording does manage to capture some of their live fire, but nothing can substitute for standing in the smoke. If you're the type who hasn't gotten over those divider plates from grade-school that kept your peas from touching your Tater-Tots, you're not ready yet. Otherwise, see this band. If you put out, they'll put out ... and then some. ©