Oysters and Perlowin:
Pedal Steel Guitarist Mike Perlowin at The Oyster House
October 23, 2011
Review by Ross Altman
Pedal Steel Guitarist Mike Perlowin was definitely the pearl in the oyster last night at The Oyster House in Studio City. He and his excellent accompanist, guitarist K.C. McCarthy went on at 9:00 PM and played for an hour and a half straight before taking a well-deserved break. They then came back on and played till midnight. Mike focused on great pop tunes from the 50s and 60s played like you seldom get to hear them—stripped of their lyrics and vocals their music took center stage, and what great music it was—the songs of John Denver, Ricky Nelson, the Everly Brothers, Procol Harem, the
Righteous Brothers, Roberta Flack and even reaching back to Jerome Kern and Hoagie Carmichael.
It was truly a mouth-watering feast for the ear, as the Oyster House came through with a delicate feast for the taste buds—a delicious platter of Oyster Rock Arthur, served on the half shell with spinach, lemon, herbs and a sprinkling of parmesan cheese very slowly baked into them—a perfect match.
Mike has made the pedal steel guitar his own over the past thirty years, an instrument that has foiled the mastery of even the great guitarist Jerry Garcia, who decided it was too demanding to stay with—and this according to Mike only after he had accompanied Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young on the studio version of Teach the Children. Mike is glad he stayed with it, since now his recent onset of arthritis has made it impossible for his left hand to do what he used to do on guitar and mandolin—which at one time he was also master of.
Perlowin has brilliantly succeeded in taking the pedal steel guitar—the signature sweet sound of modern country music—into musical realms no one has previously ventured into—creating three extraordinary CDs of classical music that raise the bar on what would pass for pedal steel virtuosity in Nashville.
The first was a recording of Igor Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite; the second the entire score as Leonard Bernstein wrote it of Westside Story; and the third a world-crossing journey to the music of Spain, called Spanish Steel. They are all distributed now by Laurel Records and available on Mike’s illuminating and informative web site www.mikeperlowin.com
But Mike steered clear of these upper echelons of his repertoire last night and focused instead on tunes that may have demanded much less of the listener, but delivered pure pleasure in recreating melodies that have become the soundtrack of modern America; Country Roads, Old Man River, Jingle Bell Rock, Bye Bye Love, Hello Mary Lou, Unchained Melody, Let It Be Me, Killing Me Softly, Mercy Mercy, A Whiter Shade of Pale, Downtown, I Can
See Clearly Now, and Georgia On My Mind—a musical journey back to a world before the Internet and the Global Village, where a memorable song could encapsulate one’s entire childhood in both time and place.
Mike started out where a lot of Southern California folkies started out—at Ed Pearl’s Ash Grove, the folk music club on Melrose in West Hollywood that brought out to the west coast the very best blues artists, like Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee and Mississippi John Hurt, bluegrass artists, like Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys and John Herald and the Greenbriar Boys, and traditional old-time string bands like The New Lost City Ramblers. It was the West Coast University of Folk Music, and that gave Mike Perlowin a thorough introduction (which he is proud to acknowledge and pay tribute to) to the roots of American music—both white and black. It
was at the Ash Grove that Mike befriended the great local blues guitarist Steve Mann. And it was through our mutual regard for Steve Mann that Mike and I eventually became friends.
I am therefore just delighted that pedal steel guitarist Mike Perlowin has begun to take his musical genius out of the studio and back into the community where he can bring joy and fulfillment to ordinary people who don’t have to know his remarkable back story and long and winding road to the top of his chosen instrument’s small circle of true inventors in order to appreciate his profound gifts as a musician. Mike creates beautiful music and you don’t have to go to Royce Hall to hear him.
The audience who was fortunate enough to be there was most enthusiastic and grateful as well—they filled the tip jar that the rugged and hospitable Russian owner was thoughtful enough to bring round to every table during the evening. During intermission they also came up to Mike for a more personal introduction to an instrument that many of them had never seen up close—and he was only too happy to explain its intricacies. On his web site he includes a thorough introduction to the instrument.
Keep your eyes and ears open for the next time he is playing somewhere anywhere—and don’t miss him. For at a small, unassuming saloon at the corner of Moorpark and Whitsett in Studio City I found the answer to Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt’s question in their classic1997 romantic comedy. On this joyous, elusive instrument, Mike Perlowin is as good as it gets. Ross Altman may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Oyster House Saloon and Restaurant is at 12446 Moorpark Ave. in Studio City (818) 761-8686. It has a full seafood menu and very tasty looking hamburgers as well as a full bar. They have live music during the week and hopefully will have Mike Perlowin back before long. Check back with FolkWorks Calendar for the next time he is performing.