Saturday, May 25, 2013

Pearl Harbour: She's a Blast!

There aren't enough adjectives I could use to truly describe the fabulous Ms. Pearl Harbour. Kind, kool and karismatic come to mind, as well as talented, thoughtful and tough. She's an amazing vocalist who's has been at the heart of the Rock and Roll, New Wave, Punk, Cabaret and Rockabilly scene since the 1970's. The paths which she has taken throughout her life are stewn with incredible twists of fate, the route filled with experiences that we only wish we could have been there for, all of which have lead her down the road to Rock and Roll history.

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Pearl in her Hollywood home which was impeccably decorated with vintage finds that would make even the most die hard collector hold their breath in delight and amazement.  The following interview is one mindblowing tale after another that she has graciously shared with Patterns and Tones. These tales come from a life lead with passion and guts, from one of the coolest chicks I know, the uncomparable Ms. Pearl Harbour.

Glamour first, glamour last, glamour always... 

Julie Pavlowski Green
May 25, 2013

JPG: You were born in Germany...

PH: Actually I was born in Monterey at Fort Ord but I only lived there 6 months and then we moved to Germany. 

JPG: So your consciousness came into being in Germany. Tell me how that kind of affected your outlook on life.

PH: Well I knew right away, I didn't like Germans. I know many Germans that I love but at that time, you know, in the late 50's all through the 60's into the early 70's, there was still some Nazi shit going on. I  lived in a little town in
Germany in the 60's and they still held Nazi party meetings every Friday night. My Mother is Filipino, I have 4 older brothers who all skateboarded and were being bad American's in this little German hick town. I thought we were all going to get killed to tell you the truth but no one ever fucked with us. 

JPG: You were in Germany until what, you were a teenager?

PH: 17, I dropped out of high school and moved to San Francisco in 1973. I had never been to San Francisco and god knows why my Dad let me do it! I was a bad, troubled kid and I told my parents I was moving there and that they couldn't stop me. They were like "OK here's your ticket". I swear to God. My Dad gave me $100 and an airplane ticket.

JPG: Maybe he knew you were strong enough to handle it?

PH: Well, it was a big mistake. I got into a hell of a lot of trouble.

JPG: But 3 years later you were in The Tubes... 

PH: I did accomlish all my dreams I went to San Francisco to do but you can imagine a 17 year old all alone in the City in 1973. All the sex and drug and rock and roll...

JPG: What was it about San Francisco that drew you there?

PH: I had seen San Francisco in Life Magazine and Time Magazine which my Father had subscriptions to. I had never been there but I saw that it was the Hippy and Drug Captial of the world and that's where I wanted to go.

[As we were casually chatting before the interview, I had noticed a poster of "The Explosions" hanging on the kitchen door.  I commented specifically on her amazing makeup she was wearing. This began a lengthy dissuction of how both of us had been schooled on makeup application by her dear friend and my former neighbor, the mindblowingly creative Ms. Doris Fish]

Julie Pavlowski Green: How did you meet Doris?

Pear Harbour:  So in 1976 me and Doris Fish, along with a whole bunch of other weirdos, auditioned for the talent contest for The Tubes. And the winner of the talent contest got to do three weeks at Bimbos (365 Club). Me and Doris Fish tied. I was a tap dancing boxer and Doris was this fabulous Queen. So they put us both in the show. I was in a few more numbers than Doris cause I could sing and dance and play percussion. So they had used me for background vocals for "Don't Touch Me There" and I played maracas for it too. Then I tap danced and hula hooped. Doris did his funny schtick in between numbers. So we were back stage most of the time when the band and the show was going on. I didn't know how to do makeup. I would say each night to Doris, "Tonight I want to look like Sofia Loren" and fuck me, I had this eye makeup on and I was besides myself  because I was sort of hippyish and not very savvy to all  the glamour puss shit. Each night was insane.Like I would say, tonight I want to look Asian and she would white out my face and basically drew on my face.

Then I went to Doris's drag room and saw what a real drag room looked like. The top shelf was all wigs on stands and then all the jewelry was on hanging nails and all the feathers were in one section and I was like whoa... So much makeup and hair pieces and stuff. Doris taught me how to do the best beehives, including like safety pinning different pieces together to make this really tall one. One time I had a beehive two feet high! Also to layer the eyelashes, like one full one and then a medium one and then small individual pieses at the end. Also to make sure the eyelashes go out beyond your eyes and shading and shit. Doris taught me that the cheaper and gaudier the jewelry, the better it is on stage.Glamour first, glamour last, glamour always... That's what she taught me.

JPG: So tells us, how did  "Pearl Harbor and The Explosions" come about?

PH: Well, first there was The Tubes in 1976. Jane Dornacker was in The Tubes as well and also had a group (along with the dancing girls who were in The Tubes) called Leila and The Snakes.  They used to do this all girl show. So when I won the Tubes talent contest, I immediatly also joined Leila and The Snakes.  It was the craziest most fun stuff I had ever done in my life. That was an all girl lineup. Then I guess in 1977-78 some of the girls dropped out and Jane srtated hiring boys. So she hired The Stench Brothers (she had named them The Stench Brothers) on bass and drums. That was John and Hilary Hanes.So the three of us who later formed The Explosions, were in Leila and The Snakes. So it was a really fun comedy and caberate show. It had all different genres of music, from Country and Western to Salsa to Punk to Cabaret to everything.The lyrics were all funny and it was just this intenst show that was really, really, really fun. So then, after awhile after doing the show for a couple of years, it was fun but I was really young and I wanted to write my own muic and play Rock and Roll as opposed to being in a cabaret show. And so I took with me John and Hilary Hanes and the three of us left Leila and The Snakes together and that made Jane very unhappy. So we were her enemies for a couple of years and that makes me very sad. But it was the truth and I don't blame her. We formed "Pearl Harbor and The Explosions" and they had their friend Peter Bilt who was a guitar player (Peter Dunn), so in 1978 we just started playing at all the little clubs. 415 Records had just started and we were their first band and so we recorded "Drivin" for them. And because of the single we got played on KSAN. Beverly Wilshire and all these realy wonderful DJ's were big supporters of us. Beverly was really cool because she wasn't really allowed to play our record but she would sneak it in and it's because of her that we got big if you ask me. So 415 records went to Warner Brothers record deal and we signed with them in 1979 . We recorded "Pearl Harbor and The Explosions" one and only album and it did pretty well, I think it hit number 60 on the Billboard charts.

In 1980, after doing this huge world tour across America, Canada and Europe with The Talking Heads, that was the end of "Pearl Hahrbor and The Explosions" because those guys, they were wonderful but they became twisted that in every place we went everybody wanted to talk to me. It was a bit like "No Doubt" in that every one wants to talk to Gwenn and the band gets pissed off.. It's not her fault, it wasn't my fault, it's just typical of who ever is the lead singer is the person the press wants to talk to.And so all these fights happenend because of that. Then it was time to make album number 2 and the guys wanted to go more into this Jazz/Funk thing and I was into singing Rockabilly. So I decided that I didn't want to do Jazz/Funk and so we broke up the band. Warner Brothers got extrememly upset and they said that they would stick with me for one more record and that was my solo album "Pearl Harbour" (Don't Follow Me, I'm Lost Too) spelled with a U. That's because I had moved to England and they spelled it with a U it wasn't my doing. I accepted it, I said "OK if that's the way you guys spell it and that's the way you're always gonna do it, then fuck me, I'm Pearl Harbour" and I thought it sounded kind of nice anyway and not so quite hard core.

JPG: That is something I wanted to touch on. How did you come about naming the band, since it did have such a strong conitation?

PH: Pearl E.Gates (her real name) is funny enough. I didn't want to be campy or anything. It was the time of New Wave and Punk and I thought Pearl Harbor sounded hard core but I also thought it had a sense of humor because it was so old. But in the 70's to the 40's was not as old as 2013 to the 40's so I couldn't get on the radio because of the name. A lot of people did not think it was funny. But the people in the Punk and New Wave camp, they thought it was funny and understood but it didn't matter. It was something that was a thorn in my side but I wasn't about to change it to become popular or anything cause that would have been totally agaist everything I was about.

JPG:: What is interesting, the irony is that you were also huge in Japan!

PH: The first time I went on tour in Japan was in 1982 with The Clash and so because my name was associated with The Clash, Pearl Harbour could do no wrong. It's not any of my doing, unfortunatly. You know, my name didn't get known out there because I'm so fabulous. My name got known in Japan because I was this woman that went on stage, the only woman who went on stage with The Clash and sang not only "Fujiyama Mama" but the rest of their encours. So they were like, this woman must be OK. Then the second time I went over there, a Japaneese band called The Mods contacted me and wanted to play with me. And I thought, oh Pearl Harbour having a Japanees band, that would be BRILLIANT! You should have seen these guys. Big, black fucking greasy quiffs, really cool looking, really amazing players. (Her fourth album, "Pearls Galore" on Island Records in 1985, featured the Japanese musicians, The Mods).

JPG: You were married to Paul Simonon, the bass guitarist for The Clash. What was your favorite Clash song and why?

PH: Oh hell to be boring, of course I always loved "London Calling" and I always loved "White Riot" and I always loved "Garage Band". Can't even tell you why. It's for the same reasons everybody else loves those songs, they're just fucking great songs. I couldn't pick an obscure song Clash song, cause I don't think I would pick something obscure off of Sandanista, that isn't my favorite Clash album. Yeah, it would have to be either "White Riot" or "London Calling" probably.

JPG: Who were some of the more interesting characters you came across during that time period with Paul?

PH: Well, who we haven't touched upon is Ian Dury, one of the most interesting characters I have ever met in my life. He taught me all about rhyming slang, gave me a rhyming slang dictionary, an English dictionary, a proper one, and gave me a proper English thesaurus. He taught me a lot about dealing with the press. He would say - The press lies about you, so just lie to the press but keep everything funny and make up good stories whether they are true or not and don't ever put anybody down because they're always out for gossip. He taught me all that shit in like 1978 and I always remembered it. Joe Strummer and Ian Dury taught me the most.Obviously I had the most fun with Paul and I had a brilliant time meeting everyone through Kosmo. Kosmo Vinyl was The Clash's personal assistant and he was also Ian Dury's personal assistant, so I met all those folks through Kosmo.

[At this point she points out an amazing photograph of her and Ian taken by Penny Smith in 1978 on her wall of  them singing together on stage at the Hammersmith Odeon, where he had invited her to come on stage to sing "20 Flight Rocker"].

JPG: What a cool guy. You must have been really good friends with him.

PH: All the punks were scared of him, including Johnny Rotton. They were terrified of him because he had his callipers, his steel things and if he did like you he'd just fucking wallop you with them. No shit, so you didn't fuck with Ian. So I was really priviledged, lucky that he really liked me. He was my buddy.

JPG: What about Mikey Dread?

PH: I was in Jamaica with Mikey Dread. It's such a small island that we landed in Montego Bay, he met us there at our hotel and drove us in one day across the island. We stopped at all these little, like shanty towns and had drinks and beers with different people and Mikey was a folk hero to everyone, so we were treated like kings. I went to different blues dances with them. But the scene was hard core believe you me. But I was with Mikey, so it was all fine. In Kingston we were at his house and it was a really nice house. We went to Studio One where all the original records were made. We went to Lee Scratch Perry's place. His house was so amazing because on the outside wall, he had toasters on top, all these rusty toasters were on top of his wall.

JPG: Not to change the subject but sitting here in your dining room is a feast for the eyes. Your collection of vintage items is truly amazing. What was your most memoralbe find?

PH:  My most memorable vintage find that I can think of is my 1960 something "Nudie Suit" that used to belong to one of the Doobie Brothers!! I got it for $200 at the Marin City flea market in 1989. If you're not familiar with "Nudie" clothes, he's the most famous country & western taylor who started in the 40's and made all the famous rhinestone clothes and suits for Hank Williams, George Jones, Dolly Parton & Porter Wagoner and loads of fabulous musicians. They sell for thousands of $ !!

"Earl Harbour" 2005
Mixed Media on Canvas
30 x 30"
Julie Pavlowski Green
JPG: So tell us about Earl!

PH: Well, I rescued Earl from Glendale Humain Society in September 2004 and I was looking for a little Chihuahua. And at that time there were'n't many up for adoption but I ended up at this one place and he had just been deposited in the office and was running around. I looked him and I said oh I want him. So I've had him for 9 years and he's my boy, my everything. I take him to work with me everyday and yeah, he travels on airplanes with me and he doesn't say a word. Earl is truly my buddy and probably responsible for me not having a boyfriend!

JPG: I know you're a motocycle enthusiast. Have you ever ridden a bike?

PH: Of course! Paul taught me how to drive on his Triumph in the countryside. It was a 60's one, a 650cc?. But I am not confident any more and I don't ride any more. I have to say that I wouldn't have ridden around London because I was terrified of the traffic. I road on the back of Paul's bike for nearly 8 years. Paul's a really good driver, we were never in an accident. He had three Triumphs. They were all 60's, none of them were Bonnievilles. He always got old beat up bikes and fixed them up, completely rehauled them all himself. I could have been the ulitmate biker babe if I had the balls. And then when I came to Los Angeles, I had the chance to buy a light blue Tiger Cub and I didn't buy it because I didn't like how people drove in this city.

I did had a 1965 Humber Sceptre and it was jacked up in the back. I got it from a Jamaican guy and it had a little leather stearing wheel and the gas pedal that was shaped like a foot!

JPG: Who is your all time favorite singer?

PH: I couldn't say one. I mean I obviously love Wanda Jackson as a Rock and Roll Singer. She was a huge influence more than Brenda Lee, even though they were both growlers, I relate to Wanda more. As far as soul singer go, I mostly listen to black singers because they move me the most. So Irma Thomas has got to
be tops. Aretha Franklin, obviously but I like to give props to the lesser known gals. Ruth Brown is fucking brilliant. The new equivalent to those gals in my mind is Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings On the cornball side I love Dolly Parton with all my heart and of course there is Ronnie Spector who influenced me tremedously. I also love Loretta Lynn's voice, even more so than Patsy Klein. I have a huge selection of black rhythem and blues singers and as far as the girl groups go, I'd have to say The Marvelettes are the best. The Shangrila's were the coolest but The Marvelettes were the best singers. In the 80's, I think Chrissie Hynde does an incredible voice and she's a great song writer, rock and roll person. That's pretty much who's influenced me.

JPG: So what are you working on now?

PH: Well, my original LA band, we put it all back together 6 months ago and I've done 5 shows. .I"ve writen some new songs and we'll see what happens. As long as we're having fun, that's what's most important to me. I thought I was too old to rock and roll but you know what? I'm not.

Pear Harbour will be playing on June 1st at The Redwood Bar and Grill with Alice Bag. If you know what's good for you, you wont want to miss it!



  2. It was great to stumble upon this new interview...I still have the Explosions and "Don't Follow Me" albums on vinyl (the latter of which still gets plenty play). She seems like the fun gal I always imagined she was. (One note, though....use spell-check. Japanese. Connotation. Encores.)

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  4. I caught Pearl Harbour and the Explosions live in concert in London in a converted church (the venue might even have been called the Church - I can't remember now) in I think 1979. One of the rockingest gigs I ever saw - Pearl was dynamite. I went to the HMV shop and bought Don't Follow Me the next day - still have it, still play it, still love it.
    Interesting interview - thanks for doing it and posting it. BTW, I also saw The Clash at the Lyceum (I think 1980) and the most amazing concert by Ian Dury and the Blockheads at the Hammersmith Odeon in I think late 78. Davey Powell was something else on sax - at the end of the show he was playing two simultaneously completely concealed under a pile of streamers that had been thrown from the audience. Great times.

  5. Fujiyama Mama with the Clash in Japan

  6. Thanks for sharing your experience with us Doug! You must have been living in the UK to see all of those amazing shows back in the day. Pearl really is a performers performer. JPG

  7. I moved to SF in 78' and developed a huge crush on Pearl E. Went to see her a lot. Sometime later I was at a Tubes garage sale where they were selling old props. I was looking at this very small g-stringy thing that had a tiny top with it. Mr. Fee Waybill came up and said " that is a complete outfit once worn by Pearl E. Gates." I bought it. P.S.- I loved it when Pearl ate the cupcakes during the Leila and the Snakes shows.

  8. I was first turned on to Pearl through Leila & the Snakes in SF mid 70's and loved her. When she got the contract with Warner's I really went to see them whenever I could in the Bay area. Then her connection with Paul & the Clash! I'd love to find out if she's still doing music. You go Pearl!
    Michael Bolan

  9. Great interview!!! So good to know she's still rockin' & kickin' so sharp so cute. I WAS there when she sang with the Clash in Japan, NO we didn't like her cuz she was with the Clash, we liked her for who she was and still do for who she is and what she does, so beautifully consistent. Long live R 'n' R