Cabbagetown's Maestro of Swamp Boogie
Johnny Pearl says "It's all about the music!" and judging by the way in which his home studio is configured, it has to be true. Electronic drum pads, an old B3 organ, mixing boards, unusual stringed and other quaint instruments, are here and there and all are very intriguing. Johnny even owns a Diddlybo, which looks like the African precursor of the banjo… one string ~ many interesting sounds.
Pearl's collection of antique instruments is used in his recordings and the sounds he makes with them are delivered in his own unique style, which he refers to as Swamp Boogie. A combination of Country Blues with a bit of The Delta, some Cajun spice, old style lore and a solid beat, are all rolled into one considerable collection of music. Pearl's work is straight ahead and melodic, every song a vignette or a reminiscence, full of solid singing and irresistible foot-tapping rhythm.
Pearl, CHUM FM's (CKPT) "Artist of The Year" has worked with some of Toronto's major talent but doesn't like to name drop. You can hear the familiar Jackie and Betty Richardson's powerful, bluesy voices on several tunes on both of his CD's "Calling on an Angel" and "Turn on Your Red Light" and many other wonderful technicians and artists, including his daughters Siobhan and Kassia, have contributed to his albums. "The talent and the commitment have been fantastic but at the heart of the Swamp Boogie thing that I do, it's the songs that really matter."
"When I was a young kid, I loved listening to 78 Records. My Mother was a Vaudeville tap dancer and was very encouraging. I've always played and written music and I've always been really committed to original music." Johnny has played his "own stuff" in clubs for 25 years and adds, "I was very influenced by Moon Mulligan and Ray Charles and guitarist, Riley Puckett with his jail songs. Woody Guthrie was also an inspiration. My father was a union man so I could relate to the union thing."
Johnny has never had a fallow period but admits it's been hard work getting his music out there. "Trying to get people to listen to my music has been tough, although we've had a lot of success playing the clubs, touring North America and Ireland. For the last couple of years I've taken a break from gigs to devote more time to recording. My daughter Siobhan, promotes me commercially and does a great job of it, which helps me to devote time to being in the studio."
Johnny owns his own record label, called Yardsail Records and he is extremely proud of that accomplishment. He has a "no pressure, no clock" policy, with several musicians at the ready. Calum Munro is Yardsail's primo engineer and Barry McMullen, his cherished B3 player and they're all best friends. Johnny plays several instruments as well but his mainstay is drums. "We encourage other artists to come in and record because it's so hard for Canadian artists to get support or record deals. It's very expensive to record in big studios; all we ask is that they be professional about it."
Pearl's latest album is called Swamp Boogie and features 12 cuts with titles such as "Hanged Man Song" about two possibly innocent men hanged in Prince Edward County in 1882. Johnny and His fiancée, JoAnne Landry are restoring an old schoolhouse there and came across the case while closing the deal. "Come on Train" is a tribute to Johnny's Mother and tells her poignant story.
Utilizing video shot with photographer, film maker and old friend, Wayne Eardley; music, family and friends' talents, Swamp Boogie is a reflection of Pearl's life and his music~ without commercial attitude and staying true to his vision. "The bed tracks are laid, all the vocals are done." Johnny appreciatively adds, "Our friends are coming now, to help us finish this record." Given Johnny Pearl's amazing dedication to his music, the result is sure to be fantastic.
The CD launch, Johnny's Birthday celebration and performance will be at The Toronto Dance Theatre, 88 Winchester St., November 23rd at 8pm. Admission is $15.00. You can check Johnny's roots music out, at www.yardsailrecords.com.