When you think of great cities for blues in the U.S., Phoenix, Arizona, doesn't often come to mind. Of course, there are the exceptions. VOA's Doug Levine introduces us to one veteran of the Phoenix blues scene who wouldn't think of living and performing anywhere else.
Maybe there's something about the desert heat that brings out the best in a blues musician. Whatever the reason, it became the perfect setting for singer Big Pete Pearson who has called Phoenix home for the past four decades.
Big Pete actually got his start in juke joints and beer halls in Austin, Texas. He says, at first he learned more by listening than by playing. "When I decided that I was going to sing the blues and I was trying become a bluesman, I liked what I heard as a kid," he says. "I used to listen to Stan 'The Man' out of Shreveport, Louisiana. I listened to all the old blues artists (and thought), 'Man, I want to learn how to do it, but I want to do it better.' I was a young kid (and I thought), 'If I'm going to do it, I'm going to do it better than they do it.' "When I grew up that's what I did. I got out there and I got (together) with a lot of the old players. I worked with some of the greatest people on the circuit."
By the time Big Pete got to Phoenix, he was already an established sideman (back-up musician), having worked with blues icons T-Bone Walker, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker and Big Joe Turner. Now 70, Big Pete continues to tour, but he always looks forward to coming home to Phoenix. His dedication to keeping blues alive has earned him the nickname, "Arizona's King Of The Blues."
"I've been out here way over 40 years, I guess, and I watched a lot of young musicians that I did what I could to help them get started and give them a break to play, and hoping that they would keep up the good work," he says. "If I could do it all over again, I'd do it just like it was done at first. Knowing what I know now I could probably do it a little bit better. But, I had a chance to work with some of the greatest people in the world, I think."
Phoenix blues fans are celebrating the release of Big Pete's new album "I'm Here Baby," featuring his backup band The Rhythm Room All-Stars. Special guests include Ike Turner, Kid Ramos and W.C. Clark on guitar, Johnny Dyer on harmonica and Joey DeFrancesco on the Hammond B-3 organ.