All music tells a story, but it takes a special kind of talent such as blues singer Big Pete Pearson to tell a story straight from the heart.
Pearson, Arizona's King of the Blues, will headline the next benefit concert for musician Danny Rhodes who's battling stomach cancer on Sunday, Nov. 25, from 2 to 5 p.m.
An international recording artist, Big Pete is revered by both fans and musicians. He recently returned from a European tour where he played to standing room only audiences. His latest CD, I'm Here Baby, released in February, still remains at the top of European blues charts. The album has also been nominated for Best Blues CD in Europe for 2007.
Pearson had been part of Phoenix blues scene for many years, performing with several bands including The Blue Sevilles, which lasted 15 years. He and Rhodes have been inducted into the Arizona Blues Hall of Fame.
Pearson's story begins in 1936 in Kingston, Jamaica, where he was born Louis Paul Pearson. From age 6 he was raised by his grandparents in St. John's Texas, a Baptist community outside Austin. His grandfather was a minister and his grandmother ran a mission.
"My grandmother was my biggest influence," Pearson recalled. "She was the one that taught me how to use my voice. She'd sit me down and teach me how I should express my words. She'd tell me 'When you hit a high note, you turn it loose from down home, you bring it up from here,' " pointing to his belly.
Another early influence was T-Bone Walker. "T-Bone done things on guitar ain't been done before or since. I like his style of music, the way he arranges music. T-Bone influenced everybody," Pearson said.
Another T-Bone Walker admirer was a Memphis upstart named B.B. King. Pearson spoke reverently of his longtime friend.
"B.B. was like a big brother to me. B.B. was my idol. I learned from B.B. more than I could say. I love everything about the man."
Through the 1940s, '50s and '60s, Pearson traded licks with some of blues' best storytellers such as Little Junior Parker, Little Milton, Albert King, Guitar Slim, John Lee Hooker, and Bobby Blue Band. He also did studio session work for the likes of Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, and shared billing with Ray Charles, Aaron Neville, Big Joe Turner, Ike Turner, Percy Mayfield, Marvin Gaye and many others.
As Pearson said, "It's one thing to sing the blues, anybody can do that, but a blues singer, now that's somethin' else. When I was a kid, they tell me bring it from the heart, sing from the soul. B.B. King told me this. When I got older, I understood what they meant. The blues is real; it's somethin' you feel down deep."
Big Pete's ability captivate an audience is second to none. His powerful voice has been described as one of the most soulful ever to sing the blues.
This powerful, towering musician has a heart as big as himself. He's always ready to help, as illustrated by his directing a youth choir in Phoenix called "The Big Pete Singers."
When asked to perform at this benefit for a fellow bluesman he said, "Danny is in my heart."
Rhodes has stopped chemotherapy and is expected to have surgery at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix after Thanksgiving or in early December, said local keyboardist JD Duncan who's organizing these benefit gigs.
In addition to Sunday's music, there will be another live auction as well as a soon-to-be announced online auction. All proceeds go to help cover Danny's mounting medical expenses.
These Sunday performances will continue through December from 2 to 5 p.m. at Relics Restaurant and Nightclub at Rainbow's End, 3235 W. 89A, in Sedona. 282-1593. Suggested donation is $10 per event.
Those unable to attend the concerts but would like to help can deposit donations for Danny directly to the Danny Rhodes benefit account at any Bank of America branch. For details or to donate items for the auctions, call JD Duncan at 634-0629.