I first heard about Black Pearl from Lester Bangs. Not first-hand, of course. But from his 1971 Creem magazine essay â€œOf Pop and Pies and Fun,â€ reprinted in the essential (and first!) anthology of his inspired and gloriously lunatic writing, Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung. Hey â€“ how do you discover â€œnewâ€ old bands? Especially when youâ€™re on the hunt, antennae at the ready, for specific sounds to quench your lo-fi jones, and another trip through the Nuggets/Pebbles/Rubble anthologies isnâ€™t cutting it? Itâ€™s a little game I like to play â€“ call it â€œfollow the musical breadcrumb trail.â€ If I like Band X, and in an article, review, column or what-have-you, Band Y or Z gets mentioned in the same breath as Band X, then it stands to reason that I should like â€“ or at least check out â€“ Band Y or Z, too. Especially if the author is Lester Bangs, and weâ€™re talking about garage rock or slabs of garage rock-inspired noise. Sometimes this method of musical discovery pays off, sometimes it doesnâ€™t. In the case of Black Pearl, it paid off.
The specific quote in the above-mentioned essay â€“ a typical Bangsian 3,000 word rant subtitled â€œA program for mass liberation in the form of a Stooges reviewâ€ â€“ that made my lo-fi antenna quiver was this:
â€œBlack Pearl appeared with a promising first album â€“ no real experiments, but a distinct Yardbirds echo in the metallic clanging cacophony of precisely distorted guitars. Their second LP fizzled out in bad soul music.â€
Yardbirds echo? Metallic clanging cacophony? Precisely distorted guitars? Oooh, yum. Time for a little online research and, hopefully, sonic discovery.
Turns out Black Pearl was a Boston band. Well, ultimately San Francisco-based, but originally from Boston (and coming from that area myself, thereâ€™s always a place in my heart for a Boston band). And their backstory is one of those classic gems you love to uncover when doing musico-archeology.
Black Pearl was Bernie “B.B” Fieldings (vocals), Oak O’Connor (drums), Tom Mulcahy (guitar), Geoffrey Morris (bass), and Jerry Causi (guitar) and Bruce Benson (guitar). Morris, Causi and Benson had been members of the Barbarians, a mid-â€˜60s garage band from Cape Cod noted for a couple of reasons. They had longer hair than most bands at the time (which was still a big deal in the mid-â€˜60s), and their drummer, Victor “Moulty” Moulton, played with prosthetic hook, having lost his left arm in an explosion at the age of 14. He actually held one of his drumsticks with the hook! (You can sort-of make it out in the picture at the right. Best I could do, sorry…) And, not only that, the Barbarians wrote and performed a rather melodramatic (albeit slightly humorous) song chronicling the drummerâ€™s life and loss, â€œMoulty.â€ But the Barbarians were perhaps best known for their appearance in one of the first rock concert movies, The T.A.M.I. Show, with such big-timers as James Brown, Chuck Berry and the Rolling Stones, as well as their chart hit â€œAre You a Boy or Are You a Girl?â€
Black Pearl was formed in 1967 after Moulty refused to travel to Boulder, Colorado for a two week engagement, and Morris, Causi and Benson recruited a new drummer (O’Connor), plus Mulcahy and Fieldings. Initially based in Boston, they relocated to San Francisco shortly after forming. They released two albums, Black Pearl in 1969 and Black Pearl â€“ Live! in 1970. Bangs doesnâ€™t have as high an opinion of the second album, but so far I havenâ€™t been able to track that one down to confirm or deny his opinion. But here are all the tracks from their self-titled 1969 debut (available for purchase from N.E.H. Records) and itâ€™s pretty much exactly as Bangs described. In a word, awesome!