Goin' Fishin'

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

When the taxi pulled up at Char's, the band was already playing. "I gave [the driver] $3.50. He didn't like it, but I didn't care. 'Don't try to screw me, buddy. You're not making no more money off me.'

"My keyboard player was announcing me as I was walking through the door. He didn't even know I was there and he was announcing me. I walked through the door with my luggage in my hand, set it down and did a four-hour show."

Although he was born to be a bluesman, Pearson also dabbles as a cook, a teacher and a fisherman.

"I have a little barbecue place in Scottsdale," he says. "I make barbecue, work in the shop a little bit, overhaul grills. I need something to keep me busy."

The stand is next to The Fisherman's bait shop on East McDowell. Pearson often arrives before sunrise to stoke the coals and check the brisket and ribs that have been cooking overnight in the 500-gallon smoker. As the day goes on, he slaps some of his secret sauce on the tender beef, pork and chicken. He caters to workers at a nearby Motorola plant.

Pearson also bakes a mean peach cobbler. His recipe is included in the Arizona Celebrity Cook Book.

Among his prized possessions are the stack of thank-you notes and letters he has received from Valley schoolchildren over the years.

"I work with a lot of the schools," he says. "For the last five or six years, I've worked with the Arizona Center for the Arts," telling kids about the blues.

Some of his young charges even scratch out lyrics. "Big Pete Pearson is so cool, he sings the blues all over the school," one wrote. Another wondered, "How do you play so good?"

Sometimes, his blues tutoring show goes on the road. His friend Susan Gabuardi recalls Pearson's stops at the reservations between Phoenix and Durango, Colorado. "He will drive to the middle of nowhere to teach the kids music," she says.

Arizona's King of the Blues is also a blues ambassador, once touring Mexico for a month. "Some places they had to take generators because there was no electricity in the cities."

Pearson loves to fish: "Give me a rod and a reel and a bucket of water, and I'll find fish. If I don't have anything at all to do, you'll find me at the lake. I sit there and I do my best thinking, and I do my best music writing when I'm on the lake."

Favorite fishing spots include Lake Electra in Colorado, Bartlett Lake, as well as a number of private Valley fishing holes. He usually goes after bass and catfish, lured to his pole by Canadian crawlers.

One of Pearson's accomplishments as a fisherman is landing four-pound bluegills. "They're that big," he says with a chuckle, holding his hands about a foot apart.

"People say, 'You're full a shit' when I tell 'em," says Pearson. "But you can come by the shop anytime and see them. I got them frozen."

Although his best blues days may have been in Texas and in spite of his weariness at managing a band, Pearson says the "last seven years have been the happiest years of my life. I have been totally happy. I have a beautiful and wonderful wife that takes care of me and makes me eat right and do right and she don't fuss at me very much except when I come home too late. She don't fuss at me, then she say, 'You should've called,' and I should have."

He met Karen when he was performing at Cactus Jack's about eight years ago. "She used to come in," he says. "She'd speak to me and I'd wave at her. Once or twice, I danced with her."

One night after his show, Pete walked Karen to her car. "I asked her if she would let me take her out," he says.

They started dating, and four years ago, they married.
Susan Gabuardi says, "A guy who could sing and cook? Karen is a lucky lady."

Pearson may have been Arizona's blues ambassador for three decades, but the blues scene here still has far to go.

"We got good blues musicians here, but I don't think we get patronism that the bands should get when they play," he says. "People say they 'love the blues,' they 'really into the blues,' but they don't come out and check out the blues scene the way they should."

Although Phoenix touts itself as a big-league city, it doesn't compare when it comes to supporting the blues. Pearson suggests that blues fans and club owners take a good look at up-and-coming bands.

"Go out there and see, be there. Let these people do something. Enjoy those people. Give them a chance."

"I go back East, or to the West Coast . . . it's a total different world in the music field," Pearson says. "I've heard some of the worst bands in the world . . . and you can't even walk through their house. It's so packed because you've got blues lovers there."

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