Goin' Fishin'

Arizona's tight-knit blues community is about to lose its longtime ambassador, Big Pete Pearson

He was especially fond of B.B. King (Pearson's voice has been compared with King's) and T-Bone Walker.

"I learned their style of music and the way that they operated and watched them onstage. I learned my stage presentation from just watching these guys.

"I like T-Bone's style of music. T-Bone's not the greatest singer in the world, but he is one devastating guitarist, and I like the way he arrange all his music."

Pearson speaks reverently of King: "B.B. is like a big brother to me. He's still my idol. I love everything the man do, I love everything he represents. He's number one in my book.

"I played with him before I had a chance to be on one of his shows with my band. I knew how hard I had to work. I knew how hot B.B. was and I wasn't gonna go up there and slouch.

"I was gonna shoot the biggest bullet I had--and I did."
W.C. Clark, who played with the Joe Tex band and formed Triple Threat Revue with Stevie Ray Vaughan and Lou Ann Barton, remembers playing with Pearson in Austin.

"L.P. would be singin' pretty and I'd be playin' pretty, and he'd look at me, smile and say, 'It's good, ain't it, baby?'"

Clark describes Pearson as "a man that has a lot of little boy in him and is so full of jolly."

Pearson crossed paths with Bobby "Blue" Bland, John Lee Hooker, Earl Hooker, Ray Charles, Aaron Neville, Big Joe Turner and Percy Mayfield, to name a few.

"I had good schooling. I guess that's why I'm so dedicated to the blues. I watched all these guys and I enjoyed trying to do something with all of them. It's part of my life now."

He has been known as "Big Pete" for a long time. Just how--and when--did he get that handle?

"That started some time ago. I don't think we ought to go into that one. Oh, boy," he says, one gold tooth flashing as he smiles. "That one is a pretty good one."

Finally, he says, "I've always been a pretty good-size man and it kinda fit my reputation as far as being a big guy. So I just stuck with Big Pete."

Pearson first came to Phoenix in the late '50s, when he helped a brother-in-law move here. He landed here for good in the mid-'60s. As with his "Big Pete" moniker, he's evasive about what brought him to Arizona, other than to say it was "strictly an accidental thing."

He took a job at the airport, loading planes.
"Then I started working in the kitchen and they found out I could cook. And that was the end of that and they wanted me in the kitchen permanently."

But he wasn't playing or singing the blues.
"I kind of lost the feel for doing it because I wasn't with the same old boys. It didn't feel right," he says.

"But I run across some good people here," Pearson says.
Duke Draper, who died last year, gave Pearson his first gig in Scottsdale. Pearson was checking out the club scene when he caught Draper performing with saxophonist Dave Phillips.

"Duke was singing and playing the drums . . . he loved to sing like Nat 'King' Cole at the time," Pearson says. "I'm sittin' there listening to him and he said, 'We're going to do some blues.' So they started doin' a little blues and . . . I told him, 'Hey, man, let me take a whack at that.'"

Draper immediately asked Pearson to join his band.
"We was the first blues band to ever work in Scottsdale," Pearson says. "If I remember right, I think the club was called the Iron Horse."

Ever since, Pearson has been a mainstay in the Valley blues scene.
After his stint with Draper, Pearson joined Jimmy Knight and the Knights of Rhythm for about a year.

"He was an Ike Turner fanatic," Pearson recalls. "This guitar player--he tried to dress like Ike, tried to sing like Ike, he acted like Ike, he even tried to treat his women like Ike.

"We went over to California and he run off and left all the band and band members in L.A. . . . That's when I tried to get my own band together and make things happen here."

By the late '70s, Pearson was the front man for Drivin' Wheel. Nancy Dalessandro, currently lead guitarist with Sistah Blue, played with Pearson back then. "We had a blast working with him. We were just getting rolling in rhythm and blues, and blues, and Pete was the veteran," she says.

Next, Pearson put together the Detroit Blues Band, which included Dr. Fish on keys, Bob Corritore blowing the harp and Emerson Carruthers and Bob Tate on sax.

"The band had a powerful jazz-blues sound. It was well-rounded," says Corritore. "Big Pete brought inspiration to the mike. He was always at full tilt."

Pearson remembers, "It was hard to try to keep a big band working and getting any money out of it" for the band. "We split up and then I put together the band that I have today, which is 14 years old now."

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