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MBS FEATURE STORY: EARL “THE PEARL” BANKS...

(Originally published in the Memphis Blues Society September 2013 Newsletter) 

As Told to Mark E. Caldwell


Earl “The Pearl” Banks has been playing music on Beale Street for over 50 years. During his music career he’s been honored with some distinguished awards. In 2004 he received the ‘Beale Street Entertainer of the Year’ award. In 2009 he received The W. C. Handy ‘Authentic Beale Street Musician’ Award. On Saturday August 03, 2013, Earl was honored as the recipient of a Beale Street Brass Note. Congratulations to Earl on this well-deserved, yet overdue honor. With this highlight, it’s a good time to look back at Earl’s storied career. A few days after the Beale Street Note ceremony, I had the privilege to talk to Earl and Brad Webb at Brad Webb Studio. This is Earl “The Pearl” Banks’ story as a Bluesman.
 
Rural Germantown, Tennessee

Earl was born in Germantown, Tennessee in 1936. In the 1930s Germantown was a rural community that was a distant drive from Memphis. Corn & cotton fields draped the landscape. He became interested in the piano at age 5 after his Grandfather bought one for his aunt. Buddy Grimm would come over on Saturdays or Sundays and play the upright piano while Earl watched. He learned to play by watching Buddy. Earl’s Aunt never played that piano and Earl still has it.

 

Earl and his friends (including Charlie Mathis) liked to get to school early so they could play the piano in the school chapel. The first one to get to the piano could play it before the principle came to get them to start school. Earl recalls one morning after the bus arrived at school, he jumped off the bus in a hurry to get to that piano. He ran around the front of the bus and a car coming alongside hit him. Earl traveled about fifty feet in the air before he hit the ground. Surprisingly, he wasn’t hurt from the accident. Earl remembers Ms. Bowden was driving the Packard that hit him. However, the accident was Earl’s fault since he ran out in front of her car.

 

Earl grew up listening to old piano Blues. He remembers listening to ‘4’oclock Blues’, and Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup’s Mean Ole Frisco’. When Earl was 10, he was slipping away from home on Fridays & Saturdays to visit Sam’s Place, a juke joint in nearby Moscow, TN. There he met musician Joe Hill Louis. Joe let Earl play piano for him. One weekend, Earl told his mom he was spending the night at a friend’s house. Earl had other plans though. He hitch-hiked a ride and stowed away in the trunk of a car and went to Roosevelt Lake in Mississippi to see B.B. King play. B.B. King was about 21 years old then. It was there he first played with B.B. King. Earl’s mom never knew he was away.

 

Memphis: The Bands, the Musicians and the Records

In 1954, Earl turned 18 years old. He moved to Memphis so he could be closer to the Beale Street music scene he had been hearing about. He started playing the Blues on Beale in 1957, joining a band called The Jets. Earl quickly learned there were few clubs that had a piano for him to play. He sat in the corner many nights while the band played because the club didn’t have a piano. At 19, Earl bought his first guitar, a Sivertone from Sears Roebuck for $44. With the help of guitar player Fred Ingram, Earl learned to play. Earl then formed Banks & the Blue Dots with bass player James Edward Thomas, song writer, guitarist Mabon “Teenie” Hodges (Hi Rhythm Section), Willie Moody (drums) and Leroy Hodges Sr. (piano). Earl taught “Teenie” Hodges how to play guitar when he was 12. You can see information displayed about Banks & the Blue Dots at the Brownsville (TN) Community Center. Later, Earl bought an amplifier and his second guitar, a Fender for $315 from O. K. Houch Piano Company on Union Avenue. Earl now plays a 1971 Fender Stratocaster he bought in the early 1980’s. Like B.B. King has “Lucille”, Earl fondly refers to his Stratocaster as “Ruby Jean”.

 

In the late ‘50s, Earl’s cousin got him to host a 15 minute show on Saturdays for Rufus Thomas on WDIA radio. For (30) minutes each day, the show was broadcast over the airwaves. After three weeks, the show ended. A disagreement between Rufus & Earl over a gig in Memphis vs. Somerville led to the cancellation. In 1961, Banks and the Blues Dots first played on Beale Street at The Flamingo Room (Gayoso @ Beale Street). They also played at The Elks Club (R.R. Church Lodge). The Elks Club was on Beale Street, east of Fourth Street (two columns still stand on Beale Street next to the church location). He also played at the Hippodrome Club (500 Beale Street; on Beale Street across Danny Thomas Blvd.) The Hippodrome was part of the Chittlin’ Circuit, and was known for many wild nights on Beale Street. Some of those nights included Bluesmen Howlin’ Wolf, and Muddy Waters. Earl continued playing at clubs on Beale and the surrounding area including Millington, Rossville & Moscow. Some of the clubs he played included Danceland, The Stomp, and the Gay Hawk. In the mid 60’s, Earl’s band The Blue Dots went on to become the Hi Rhythm Section, and the house band for Willie Mitchell’s Royal Studio.


1962- The Blue Dots. L to R- Earl “The Pearl” Banks, Willie Moody Jr., Ottie Golden, Leroy Hodges Sr., Mabon “Teenie” Hodges.



Earl formed The Soul Soothers and backed musicians Little Johnnie Taylor, Koko Taylor, Al Green, Rufus Thomas and others when they came to Memphis to play. In addition to B.B. King, Earl also played with Etta James, Little Milton, O. V. Wright, Syl Johnson, Ted Taylor and Willie Cobb. In the late 70’s Earl formed P.C.I. (People Company, Inc.), and The Blues Busters. In The Blues Busters, Earl shared guitar roles with Lee Roy Martin. The rest of the band included James Price (bass), "Chicken" George Walker (drums), and Thomas "Blue" Cornes (keyboards). Earl sold his first Sivertone guitar to Lee Roy. In 1986, The Blues Busters recorded the LP ‘Busted’ on Dr. David Evans’ High Water label at Memphis State University. In 1999 the record was reissued on CD.

In 1985, Earl opened a nightclub called Into The Night (named after the B.B. King song) at the corner of Kerr & Bellevue. It was there he met and played with Albert King. Earl invested in many welcomed improvements, including new furnishings for the club. Unfortunately the club was short lived. Although the lease was paid monthly by Earl, the landlord wasn’t paying the utility bill for the club. After just (6) months, the club was closed. Shortly before the club closed, Michael Donahue with the Commercial Appeal interviewed Earl for a story. Earl moved to playing on Beale Street afterwards.

 

After The Blues Busters, Earl played with The Fieldstones where he again shared guitar duties with Lee Roy Martin. In 2003, Memphis Blues Society musician Brad Webb engineered, produced and recorded Earl’s current record ‘Why Don’t You Do Right?’ The musicians on the record with Earl are “Teenie” Hodges (guitar), Brad Webb (guitar), Leroy Hodges (bass), Melvin Lee (bass), Randy Westbrook (keyboards) and Honey Mac (drums).

 

Earl likes to listen to Blues music, including Little Milton, Howlin’ Wolf, B.B. King, and Albert King. When Earl’s not playing music he likes to hunt and fish. He also enjoys watching reruns of some of the TV shows he grew up with including Gun Smoke & High Chaparral.

 

Carrying on the Blues Tradition

 

Earl is an old school Bluesman who plays guitar without playing loud and without any effects, including slide. He tunes his guitar one-step up, so he doesn’t play with a standard tuning. He says many of the younger guitarists trying to play the Blues don’t realize it takes time to play the songs. You don’t have to play loud; you have to feel each song as it’s played. Earl plays in Memphis clubs frequently. His current band, ‘People of The Blues’ includes Leroy Hodges on bass guitar (Hi Rhythm Section/Willie Mitchell's Studio), Archie “Hubby” Turner on keyboards (Hi Rhythm Section), Jessie Dodson “The Bench” on keyboards (Albert King), Eric Lewis on guitar, Brad Webb on guitar, Dennis Flanga on drums & David Hudson on Harmonica. Earl also plays Memphis venues with Brad Webb, and Memphis Blues Society musician Redd Velvet. Earl is planning to get back in the studio this fall to record a new record. As this story is published, Earl and his bandPeople of The Blues’ play every Tuesday evening 6-10pm at Blues City Cafe on Beale Street.

 

The Blues Foundation HART Fund

 

Several years ago, Earl had a medical condition with his eye that couldn't be corrected without a surgical procedure he couldn’t afford to pay. The Blues Foundation’s HART Fund (Handy Artists Relief Trust) stepped in and worked with Earl and paid for his surgery. This vital fund established by the Blues Foundation provides financial support for Blues musicians and their families for health issues they don’t have the financial means to pay. For more information visit www.blues.org and click on the HART Fund logo.


Big thanks to Earl “The Pearl” Banks and Brad Webb for taking the time to share their history and the stories that made this feature possible.
 
The interview for this article took place on August 05, 2013.

 

 

All Photos by Mark E. Caldwell

 

©2013 Mark E. Caldwell, All Rights Reserved.                                                                                

 

 

Earl "The Pearl" Banks


Active Musician Since: 1957
 
Active MBS Member Since: Legacy
 
Location: Memphis, TN
 
Band Members: 
  • Leroy Hodges (Hi Rhythm Section/Willie Mitchell's Studio) Bass guitar
  • Archie “Hubby” Turner (Hi Rhythm Section) Keyboards
  • Eric Lewis: Guitar
  • Brad Webb: Guitar
  • Dennis Flanga: Drums
  • David Hudson: Harmonica
  • Subs: Jessie Dodson “The Bench”: Keyboards (Albert King)

 
Manager:
  • Name:  Eric Lewis
  • Phone: (901) 289-8671 cell
  • E-mail:  elewis1969@aol.com       

  Contact Information
 

Musician Profile


Earl "The Pearl" Banks was born in 1936 and started playing the Blues in 1957. Earl's first Band Banks & the Blue Dots included James Edward Thomas (bass guitar), world famous song writer “Teenie” Hodges (guitar), Willie Moody (drums), and Leroy Hodges Sr. (piano). Earl's dedication to the Blues kept going and next was the Blues Busters with Leroy Martin on guitar. The Blues Busters recorded ‘Busted’

 in 1986 on the High Water label. Look on Amazon.com for The Blues Busters ‘Busted music to download. Under The Fieldstones name, Earl once again shared guitar duties with Leroy Martin.

 

Earl "The Pearl" Banks has played the famous Beale Street for many years at B.B. Kings and Blues City Cafe just to name a few. Earl influenced many Guitar players from this area for 55 years and never turned his back on the Blues. Earl played the New Albany, New York festival for Don Wilcox, a famous Blues writer, and the Rosedale, MS Blues festival. Brad Webb played guitar for Earl and Blind Mississippi Morris.

 


Earl is an old school Bluesman that is keeping the tradition alive today. Earl "The Pearl" and the People of the Blues is usually what he calls himself these days. You have to see this man play and sing with a B.B. King or Albert King style that he naturally has because he’s from Memphis. 



        www.dailymotion.com/video/xi4rpy_earl-the-pearl-people-of-the...

        By Local News · Apr 13, 2011 · Earl \"The Pearl\" Banks is one of this year\'s W.C. Handy Heritage Award winners.


CDs & Merchandise

  • Amazon.com: Look for The Blues Busters ‘Busted' music to download.
  • The Booksellers of Laurelwood, Memphis, TN: Earl’s latest CD ‘Why Don’t You Do Right?’ is available for sale.

Articles




www.ameriblues.com/2010/09/06/earl-the-pearl-and-the-peoples-of...

(Memphis, Tennessee) This week brings a fun gig with Earl the Pearl and the Peoples of the Blues down at Murphy’s Oyster Bar in Midtown.



www.ameriblues.com/2010/10/03/hueys-features-earl-the-pearl-by...

Earl the Pearl Banks straps on his Stratocaster. After my brother and I loaded in the piano, Hammond organ and Leslie cabinet I greeted my friends Melvin Lee...




www.allmusic.com/artist/the-blues-busters-mn0000058261

Earl "The Pearl" Banks George "Chicken" Walker James Price Lee Roy Martin Thomas "Blue Thomas" Cornes...



www.ameriblues.com/2010/09/06/earl-the-pearl-and-the-peoples-of...

(Memphis, Tennessee) This week brings a fun gig with Earl the Pearl and the Peoples of the Blues down at Murphy’s Oyster Bar in Midtown.



areacodegreetings.blogspot.com/2009/12/earl-pearl-banks-his-band.html


Earl "The Pearl" Banks
 and his band performing at Blues City Cafe, Beale St., Memphis. Earl is a 2009 recipient of the W.C. Handy Authentic Beale Street …

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