MIKE PERLOWIN
Pedal Steel Guitarist

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Mike Perlowin's Bio

I was born January 11, 1946. As far as I can remember, I never wanted to do anything but play music. As a child I wanted to be a cowboy because I thought all cowboys sang and played the guitar like Gene Autry. Here is a picture of me at age 6 or 7 watching my cousin Lola performing at a family gathering.

As a child, I studied both guitar and piano, but at the time, it didn't take, although I did learn to read music. Later, when I got to Jr. High School, I also studied the string bass which I attempted to play in the school orchestra, but I had no real interest in the instrument and didn't pursue it.

My real musical education began with the folk music boom of the late 50s and early 60s. I listened to such commercial folk artists as the Kingston Trio and Harry Belafonte. Then after I started learning to play the guitar I became interested in the music of Pete Seegar and The Weavers. That very quickly led me to discover some of the more traditional forms of folk music, specifically old timey country and blues.I had the incredibly good fortune to drift into the folk music scene at the Ash Grove in Los Angeles, where the family moved in 1961. Unlike a lot of other venues that presented commercial folk acts, the Ash Grove had a policy of booking more traditional singers.Some of the blues singers I saw included Son House, Skip James, Bukka White, Fred McDowell, Jesse Fuller, Robert Pete Williams, Lightning Hopkins, Reverent Gary Davis, and Mississippi John Hurt. On the country side, I saw Merle Travis, Doc Watson, Clarence Ashley, Flatt and Scruggs, Bill Monroe, Mother Maybelle Carter, etc. the list is endless. I also got to see such contemporary (at the time) performers as Buffy Saint Marie, Arlo Guthrie, Jack Elliot, a young and just starting out Jose Feliciano, as well as many local performers who faded into obscurity.

The Ash Grove was not just my home away from home, it was my school away from school. I learned more there than I possibly could have under any othercircumstances. Not just about guitar playing, but about the roots of American folk music. It was the best possible education I could have had, and whatever I have accomplished since then, I was able to do so because I have such a solid foundation. Even at the time I knew I was privileged to be part of something very rare and special. In retrospect, I'm astounded that the club even existed, and eternally grateful that I was able to be there to see it all.

As I got older, my interest in folk music, particularly in blues, fell right into place with the burgeoning rock scene of the late 60s and I got an electric guitar and played in several local blues bands. One of these metamorphosed into Canned Heat, but that was long after I had left the group. None of the other bands I worked with went anywhere. In 1969, when I got married, I gave up my dreams of becoming a rock star and settled down to work as a guitar salesman.

My life and took an unexpected turn in 1975. I had to meet somebody in a music store, and I got there a little early, and to pass the time, I picked up a mandolin and started fooling around with it. (I had been playing the mandolin for about 2 or 3 years at the time). A woman in the store told me she knew of a band that was looking for somebody who could double of guitar and mandolin. The band, called Southwest Wind, was a fusion of folk, country, and bluegrass, with a little bit of rock and blues.

They were the house band at a local restaurant/ bar called the Sagebrush Cantina. This happened on a Thursday. I called the bandleader that night, and went to his house to pick with him. He suggested I come to the Cantina the next day and sit in with the band. I was hired immediately and began that night. For the next 9 months I played with the band 3 nights a week. This was my first real professional experience. It was also my introduction to contemporary country music.

After the band split up, I started playing guitar at the local country bars. Gigs were plentiful, and after a while I got a reputation as a player who could get the job done, and got a lot of calls. it was during this time that I became exposed to the pedal steel guitar and it was only a matter of time before I tried to play one. Once I did I was hooked. I came to the conclusion that I was put on Earth for the specific purpose of playing the pedal steel guitar. Everything I had done previously had prepared me for this. I bought a steel and started bringing it to gigs. At first I mostly played guitar and played only a few tunes on the steel. Slowly I shifted the balance till I eventually played steel full time for a number of years.

Eventually the club scene died. The auto plants closed, and the blue collar audience that frequented the country music bars moved away. Many of the bars either changed to a Latin music format to cater to the changing local population, or stopped having live music altogether. Others went out of business. At the same time I got tired of the late hours and smoke filled rooms, and developed an interest in other kinds of music. I continued my love affair with the pedal steel guitar, but wanted to take the instrument into other genres besides country.

I had always loved Stravinsky's Firebird Suite. It was one of my very favorite pieces of classical music. I was also quite fond of Debussy's music, and so I decided to transcribe these works for the pedal steel. When I did Afternoon of a Faun, I deliberately confined the instrumentation to steel, guitar, and bass. When I recorded the suite, I took the opposite approach, and used every instrument and sound at my disposal to re-orchestrate the piece, using Stravinsky's orchestration as a rough guide.

In addition to working on the CD, I also became a staff writer for the now defunct Steel Guitar World magazine. I mostly wrote articles about subjects pertaining to the instrument and reviews of recordings by other players. I wrote an 8 part series about elementary music theory and how it pertained to the pedal steel. Several people suggested that I expand these and put them into a book which I did. Subsequently I deleted all references to the pedal steel, added some more material and submitted the manuscript to Mel Bay publications, who picked it up. The book, entitled "Music Theory In The Real World, A Practical Guide For Today's Musicians" It doesn't contain any new material not found in a lot of other books, but it puts the material in terms a chord strumming guitar player who does not know how to read music can easily understand.

My second CD is my interpretation of the soundtrack to West Side Story. Leonard Bernstein’s masterpiece has become a staple of the relatively new genre of the classical guitar ensemble. I was inspired to record it after hearing the excellent interpretation of it by the Falla Guitar Trio. (I admit it- I’m a fan.)

My latest CD is a program of music from or about Spain. I have always thought Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Capriccio Espagnol” was the happiest, most joyful music I have ever heard. I continued the theme of Spanish music from there. This CD, while still basically a showcase for the pedal steel guitar, also contains a great deal of Spanish guitar playing, as is only appropriate given the importance of the guitar in that country’s music and culture.

Iím happy to announce that Iíve recently signed with Laurel records, who will be releasing all three CDs on their label. Recently I have been performing in an experimental chamber music ensemble, the experiment, the experiment being the integration of the pedal steel guitar with traditional orchestral instruments. I am currently working on a set of arrangements for myself and symphony orchestra. 

 

 

 

© Mike Perlowin 2003 - 2014