Smokestack Lightnin' Home Page -- The Blues Profile Page
Harmonica Fats was actually Harvey Blackston, a former Louisianan who learned the blues growing up on his grandfather's farm; his longtime partner, Bernie Pearl, a native Angeleno, learned the blues from the musicians who frequented the fabled Ash Grove (a folk and blues club run by Pearl's brother Ed), including Lightnin' Hopkins and Mance Lipscomb.
In the early '50s, Fats took up harmonica as self-prescribed therapy while recuperating from an auto accident. Once confident, he formed a band, playing clubs around Los Angeles, and was known then as "Heavy Juice." Just as carefully, he perfected his songwriting, scoring on the R&B charts in 1961 with the self-penned single "Tore Up." After changing his name to Harmonica Fats, this success led to work as a studio musician, playing dates with performers as diverse as Bill Cosby, Ringo Starr, and Lou Rawls. He even did a stint as a traveling solo musician, seeking gigs as he drove in a station wagon around the country.
Pearl, through the Ash Grove, backed artists Big Mama Thornton, Bukka White, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Freddie King, and more. In the late '60s,'80s, and early '90s, he was a blues DJ, not only entertaining but educating with the knowledge he acquired during the Ash Grove days. Perhaps his best-known accomplishment was founding one of the West Coast's top blues events, the Long Beach Blues Festival, and he was also the promoter of the Big Time Blues Festival, also held in Long Beach.
I Had to Get NastyThe Bernie Pearl Blues Band originated in 1984, with Robert Lucas on harmonica. Fats replaced Lucas in 1986. Fats' witty songs and on-stage magnetism is captured on Live at Cafe Lido, an album originally intended as a demo. The high demand for that album led Fats and Pearl to form Bee Bump Records, with its first release being I Had to Get Nasty. Pearl convinced Fats to work as an acoustic duo, releasing Two Heads Are Better in 1995. The following year, they released Blow, Fat Daddy, Blow!, dedicated to the memory of Fats' wife and civil rights activist Johnnie Tillman.