An Interview with British blues rockers Lee, Simon, Andy, Oli & Chris of Pearl Handled Revolver: The British invesion still goes on...

Pearl Handled Revolver: Blues Rock Bullets

Currently taking the world by storm, London based blues rock five piece “Pearl Handled Revolver” successfully capture their powerful live sound in the studio to bring you their debut album ‘Colossus’.  Pearl Handled Revolver have the Blues. Not the tired, cliched, mournful Blues sat on a porch bemoaning hard luck, bad signs and ill fated liaisons at crossroads. Nor the 12 bars hammered into mediocrity and engrained like spilled beer and nicotine in the carpets of pubs up and down the country.

Pearl Handled Revolver ‘s musical influences are so diverse that the sounds created when they come together are truly unique. Overdriven organ, supercharged guitars and a super-tight rhythm section power the vocals and blues harp into dirt territory. As musicians they excel, as writers they push the very boundaries of blues rock, with astonishing results. Pearl Handled Revolver is the band to watch out for in 2012.
“Pearl Handled Revolver” is widely known across the UK and in Europe for their explosive live performances and lyrical song styling. Wherever the band has played, they’ve left the audiences with a sense of fulfillment rarely seen or offered by any of today’s entertainers.
Pearl Handled Revolver are: Lee Vernon - Vocal and Harp, Simon Rinaldo - Organ and Electric Piano, Andy Paris - Guitar, Oli Carter - Bass and Guitar, Chris Thatcher - Drums Guitar and Vocal

Interview by Michael Limnios

When was your first desire to become involved in the blues & who were your first idols?
Lee: Harmonica was my earliest route into the Blues and a great influence was my grandfather whose style was more akin to Larry Adler. My idols were artists like Sonny Boy or Butterfield, they definitely got me hooked! I must have been about ten or eleven when my Grandfather gave me my first chromatic, from that moment on I started to absorb what little blues I came across, always dependent on other peoples collections. It wasn’t until my teens when I had the fortune of meeting several vinyl fanatics whose blues selection was vast. Listening to records by Taj Mahall, John Mayall, Alexis Corner, Howlin’ Wolf, Captain Beefheart, Muddy Waters and so on till the early hours. The first time I heard Screaming Jay Hawkins original version of “Heart Attack and Vine” just blew me away. Blues suddenly offered a new landscape of potential for me both vocally and lyrically…
Andy: Listening to my parents records at home and in the car such as The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Eddie Cochran, Jerry Lee Lewis was my first introduction to music full stop.
I loved the Rolling Stones and when learning guitar I tried to play their songs.  Reading interviews in magazines I heard about Robert Johnson so I managed to get hold of one of his albums and loved it. I then went on to bands such as The Black Crowes, Free, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix who all listed early blues legends as their main influences.
Chris: I always loved the raw, soulful sounds of my parents' Motown and Creedence Clearwater Revival records but I  wanted to play music from the moment I heard Guns n Roses 'Appetite for Destruction' when i was 14 or 15. After a while I started listening to the bands that had influenced them, which led me to Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith etc. After that I wanted to go further back to discover their influences and that led me to Blues music and people like Son House, Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker, who I really admire.  
Oli: Originally I would listen to the hard hitting side of rock and metal, bands like Pantera, Deftones, Metallica but as I grew older I started going back in time with music. I think it was when I saw the film 'Almost Famous' that I got into Zeppelin, Sabbath, Ten Years After & of course all this music is derived from old blues and roots. Now I've got a varied record collection containing Nat King Cole, C.W Stoneking, Billy Holiday, John Martyn.

Lee, any of blues rock standards have any real personal feelings for you & what are some of your favorite?
Lee: Howlin’ Wolf’s version of “Little Red Rooster” would have to be the one for me.  The Stones and The Yardbirds versions were what I experienced first, fine versions they are but they in no way prepare you for The Wolf Man’s take!

Lee, what does the BLUES mean to you & what does music offer you?
Lee: It’s been crucial to my development as an artist. I love writing with Blues as a backdrop because it’s so versatile and expressive. The reason why the Blues has survived for so long as a core genre is it’s versatility. As a songwriter you’re never short of inspiration with the Blues, because there is no right or wrong. I’m sure many Blues vocalists would agree that the Blues has many faces, but all of them are honest. If you write about what you know from the heart and really connect with that song vocally, you’re halfway there. I have a voice that lends itself to the Blues, the expression and phrasing seems to work with my gravel and tone, but it’s the freedom to write whatever you feel that brings the passion through. The Blues has offered me a way to reach for that.

Lee, what characterize the sound of Pearl Handled Revolver?
Lee: That must be the hardest question of all… it can be so many things to me all at once! It is at times “filmic”, in the Ennio Morricone sense, with tracks such as “Today Was The Day” and “I Will Rise”. Sometimes it’s a bawdy stomp that bellows like a preacher, “White Lines” for example. The next it’s a wild force of nature, as with the album title track “Colossus”, a whirl of interplay that conjures up the fiercest of storms.

Tell me about the beginning of Pearl Handled Revolver. How did you choose the name and where did it start?
Lee: Pearl Handled Revolver really began when I met Simon. At that time we both played in a band called Blunderherd. Terrible name but a great band none the less! Although the band went their separate ways both Simon and I had really worked well together and we knew it. So despite my absence from the stage, we never stopped recording and playing together. Good friends are the best people to write with too, so it wasn’t long before we had quite a few exciting tracks….so exciting that we had to do something about it.
To begin with we would turn up at various small venues and pubs when they had a “jam” night on and we’d belt out a couple of new songs. This I found surprisingly scary. We were definitely very different to anything else around even then, so you really didn’t know how it would go down with the audience. Thankfully it was always well received so the natural progression commenced. Our first drummer was Luke McDonnell who played on our earliest full recordings with guitarist Steve Tippin. It was actually Steve who announced “If this band doesn’t make it, it’s the pearl handled revolver for me!” The symbol of the officer’s rise and fall, it was also a quote from a Monty Python sketch too, which fitted our sense of humor perfectly!    Putting together the current line-up is a different story in itself.

Lee, how/where do you get inspiration for your songs & who were your mentors in songwriting?
Lee: Almost always from personal experience, though my songs are never directly autobiographical, there will usually be some parallels with my own life to be found. I know that if something moves me enough to write about it, the chances are someone out there will have had those same feelings or experienced similar things. It’s another thing altogether to touch a million souls with a single line or a phrase as some of my favorites achieve like Tom Waits, for example.
I read poetry as often as I can. I find there’s nothing better than a browse through some Ted Hughes (check out “The Thought Fox” or “The Rattle Bag”) to stir the imagination. Philip Larkin, John Betjeman, Seamus Heaney all remind me how powerful the written word can be. I guess it pushes me to be more creative and definitely helps me see the world in a new light.

How would you describe your contact to people when you are on stage?
Lee: I try to be direct and engage them all so that they feel the show is for them. Easy in a small, personal venue but on larger stages it’s harder to connect directly and the quality of the song and its performance becomes your biggest asset. If you can’t look into their eyes to captivate them, they’ll need to hear it! But there’s nothing like the buzz you feel when you get it right and connect with a huge crowd, the rewards are fantastic.
Andy: I love to see people enjoying themselves at our shows. I make sure I make eye contact with as many as possible and try to interact with them so they are part of the show.
Andy: Oh that’s a tough one.  I can’t think of anything specific. I’m normally too into the music and interacting with the rest of the guys and crowd.
Simon: When on stage we are simply enjoying our performance, I find that I am only thinking about the moment, what I am playing and pleasing the audience.  There are never any thoughts in my head other than the music and the performance.

Lee, are there any memories from Bernie Marsden, which you’d like to share with us?
Lee: Bernie’s a lovely guy, a real character. I guess you could say he threw me in at the deep end when we first met at the studio. I had no idea what he wanted me to play till I arrived. A brief glimpse of three tracks from his Tribute to Rory Gallagher Album and I was ushered into a large booth with my Astatic and a cluster of harps. I heard his voice for the second time that day, this time in the headphones…. “You know what you’re doing, just go for it!” and the tape was rolling.
His technique seemed to work and I howled my way through each track through a 15Watt Marshall Capri, while Bernie grinned at me through the portal window. He clearly enjoyed it and I did too! That was the first half an hour, for the next two hours at least we sat drinking coffee listening to the tracks while he told me the most brilliant touring tales from his days on the road. I had a fantastic day, enjoyed every story and swore to keep them to myself.
It was an honor to be asked to perform on this album. It had the full backing and support of the Gallagher family and was Bernie’s own personal homage to a good friend, who wouldn’t be honored?

Which of historical music personalities would you like to meet?
Lee: Dead or alive? My list would have to include both. I’d love to meet Jim Morrison, almost as much as I’d like to meet Tom Waits…Nick Cave or Nick Drake…. Taj Mahall would have to be in there too and, maybe just a couple of minutes with Screaming Jay Hawkins would probably do it.
Simon: It depends on how historical we are talking here….  Well, we all had the pleasure of meeting Jon Lord a while back, who was one of the people I always wanted to meet.  He was possibly one of the most humble musical God’s you could wish to meet, a true gentleman.  I also got to meet Reuben Wilson a few years ago at The Jazz Café in London, which was great.  I would love to meet Ray Manzarek and perhaps Carlos Santana.   There are also so many folk I’d like to meet that are unfortunately no longer with us,  I’d like to jam with  Jimmy Smith…. drink with Jim Morrison…. joke with Frank Zappa and just listen to John Martyn.

Andy: I’d have to go back to ask Robert Johnson if he really did sell his soul to the devil.
Oli: This may be a bit difficult to achieve but it would have been good to meet John Martyn. Andy Fraser from Free is a great musician too, that would be a pleasure.
Chris: I'd just like to go back to Chicago in the early 1940s and watch a gig at one of the Blues Clubs to experience the atmosphere.

From whom have you have learned the most secrets about blues music?
Lee: You can know the Blues like a friend if you listen close enough. If you want to know how to blow a harp go out and listen to some greats like Charlie Musselwhite, Sonny Boy or Addler. Be inspired by others but teach yourself and you’ll take it somewhere new.   
Simon: Anything that I have learned about playing the blues has been through listening to other musicians, this is generally sub-conscious but I do like to try and copy some of the tricks from the jazz-blues greats such as Jimmy Smith, Reuben Wilson, Dr Lonnie Smith and Brother Jack McDuff but I always try to put my own stance on it.  I am also heavily influenced by many of the great blues rock organists such as Jon Lord from Deep Purple and Ray Manzarek from The Doors.
Oli: Probably myself. No-one can tell you how to play or feel the blues. My own life experiences shine through in the music I play, the passion, the love and the hurt.
Chris: Jimi Hendrix, because there were no limits for him. He was never constrained musically but there was always something of the Blues in his vocal delivery and playing style. Similarly, more recent bands like Howlin’ Rain and Tinariwen, who clearly just follow their muse, have also been a real inspiration.

Some music styles can be fads but the blues is always with us.  Why do think that is? Give one wish for the BLUES
Lee: You could argue that the blues can now be found in most pieces of music produced today. For it to have become so prevalent you have to assume that it’s roots must be buried deep within our instinctive tastes.
I hope that the blues continues to nurture new talent and embrace change as progress. That’s perhaps why it’s never left us.
Simon: Yes, you are right, I think the blues will always be with us in some form or another.  Like all musical genres it is essential for the blues to continue to evolve and develop otherwise it could become stale, and it is important that people don’t try too hard to hanker after the past and criticize the new blues that is coming out now.  Perhaps the future for the blues is with blues cross-over’s and of course experimental blues…… which I like to think is what we are doing.  Now I am not saying that there is not space for traditional blues, because many people really like that, but for me it is better to hear musicians pushing the envelope.

What does the BLUES mean to you & what has the music offered you?
Simon: When I was a kid I found that I was attracted to blues based music without even knowing it was the blues.  I listen many genres of music and like any musician I am influenced by them all, but I always find myself back with the blues every time.   The blues should always be music played from the heart, with meaning and purpose and often with a great story behind the song.  The blues has given me an outlet for creativity and provided me with a basis for my artistic direction.
Andy: For me the blues has given me musical knowledge from which you can explore, pretty much anything you want.  For me it’s the ‘feel’ of the music that’s the most important thing. The likes of Hendrix, Led Zep, The Black Crowes and The Black Keys all demonstrate that blues comes in all shapes and sizes but, if you break it down its still the blues.

Simon, which was the best moment of your career and which was the worst?
Simon: I can’t really pick out any one moment as the best or worst moments of my career.  Playing with Pearl Handled Revolver is always great.  I am in a band with four brothers, we have played some amazing gigs to fantastic audiences, but most importantly we are playing the music that we love, music from my heart and when that is to a receptive audience there is nothing better.  Highlights for us would have to be our recent headline show at The 100 Club in London where we played on the same stage that Alice Cooper and Paul McCartney had graced only weeks before and through history has been the home of many famous blues artists.  We also love playing at The Paradiso in Amsterdam where we performed twice and hope to return this year.
About 12 years ago I found myself fulfilling a childhood dream of performing on the British BBC TV’s show Top of the Pops, which would be for many musicians their highlight, but for me it was actually a bit of an anti-climax.   It certainly wasn’t my worst moment of my career but it wasn’t quite what I had imagined.


Do you have any amusing tales to tell of your gigs and recording with the Pearl Handled Revolver?
Lee: Perhaps the one moment that sticks in my mind from the “Colossus” sessions would be the moment we recorded the final version of “Resonate”. It was an emotionally charged moment when we heard the playback and realised just how special that song was. It had been written with the news that my mother was gravely ill, still ringing in my ears. So to hear the final song, completed with the most lovingly played instrumental, was incredibly moving. I’m glad to say that Mum has fully recovered, but hearing that song will always take me back now.
Simon: It is always fun playing with Pearl Handled Revolver, we are always laughing and joking, whether we are recording or performing.  
We are like kids sometimes; one example of our immaturity was at one of the Colossus recording sessions when we locked Lee in the vocal booth.  Through the talkback mic I told him that we were just sorting out some technical issues and we all left to get a coffee.  He was in there some time waiting before he realised what we had done.
For ease and humor, we all call each other Roy, including our female sound engineer Emily.  It was very amusing when Lee got 3000 people at a festival to chant “Yeah Roy!!”.  You can get people to shout anything when they are enjoying your music.  
Andy: One of the funniest times on stage was at our Summer Fayre headline show in Bedford. Lee managed to get 3000 people shouting back at us “Yeah Roy” (you had to be there!!)
Recording is always great fun with the band. There are so many funny times ranging from locking Lee in the vocal booth and all leaving while he thinks we’re still there through to me falling off the chairs half way through a take.
Oli: We played at the Paradiso, Amsterdam with the Black Crowes, that was pretty amazing. Playing at the 100 Club, London was incredible too... I played on the same side of the stage as Kirk Hammett did back in the 80s.
One  time, we waited until Vern had got set up in the vocal booth, shut the doors then all sneaked out of the studio. He was waiting and waiting assuming we were setting up the track for him. He eventually caught us outside having a coffee. Such shenanigans!
Chris: Headlining the 100 Club in London was an amazing experience. I keep seeing photographs of bands that I admire playing there and it feels great to be able to say I've played on the same stage!
I remember going home after we'd recorded 'Stop Me Dead' and 'Resonate' and being so excited and pleased with them that I couldn't sit down for the whole evening, I had to go to the pub in the end to calm down. That was a really good day.

Simon, how do you describe the music philosophy of Pearl Handled Revolver?
Simon: We don’t have a philosophy as such, we just play what we want to play or what we are feeling at that moment.  There are no rules in Pearl Handled Revolver; if somebody has an idea then we all want to try it out and make it our own as a band.   All of our songs are a five way street and with every single song each member has made their own mark.   That is possibly what makes our music different from everybody elses and gives our music variety.

Simon, I wonder if you could tell me a few things about your experience with Cheap Trick & Chrissie Hinde.
Simon: A few years ago, when I was working as a session musician I played a show at The Garage in London, it was a great night and I remember that there were loads of big names getting up on stage, Cheap Trick were absolutely amazing, Chrissie Hinde did a few songs, as did Roy Wood.  I also did a set on my Rhodes piano with Spike and Guy Griffin from The Quireboys, (which was tough as I had to learn all their songs in the studio that morning).  The venue only has very small dressing rooms so we all flooded into the street behind the venue.  I also remember talking to the late-great Australian DJ Tommy Vance about Barbecue of all things.  

Andy, what was the first gig you ever went to & what were the first songs you learned?
Andy: My first ‘proper gig’ was U2 at Wembley Stadium. I was only 16 and was my first trip to London with friends. It was an amazing show. After this I started to learn U2 songs on guitar. I think my first was Desire.

Andy, what were your favorite guitars back then, where did you pick up your guitar style?
Andy: I’ve always liked Fender guitars and have had mine for about 15 years now. I am looking at new guitars at the moment so will be another Fender and possibly a Gibson too.
I don’t really think of myself as having a style. My main aim when playing is to play what suits the song.

Simon, who are your favorite blues artists, both old and new, what was the last record you bought?
Simon: There are so many…… I like to hear musicians who have done something clever with the blues, like ‘Electric Mud’ by Muddy Waters, that is a great example of an early blues concept album.   I really love blues based rock and for me Jon Lord is king of the Hammond in this genre.  He did a really great live blues album called ‘In The Basement with The Hoochie Coochie Men’ which has a great feel to it….   I love Captain Beefheart for his early blues work, now there’s an artist who knew how to really transcend the blues.   As far as new blues, The Black Key’s are top of the PHR playlist at the moment.
The last record I bought was actually a live album from The Doors.  That’s another band that people often forget are a blues band at heart.  LA Woman is an amazing blues cross-over album…. and it is certainly one of my favorites.

Simon, has it always been all about the blues? Or is there any other types of music, you could say you have been strongly affected by?
Simon: I like so many types of music from classical music of Bach, Beethoven and Mozart to Heavy Metal from Metalica and Ramstein and everything in between….. I am particularly into German Electronic Avant-garde at the moment such as Neu and Kraftwerk.  The first music I remember was my Father’s record collection of The Beatles, Santana, Deep Purple and Uriah Heep, this music changed my life from very early on and will always stay with me.

Simon, I've heard two sayings about the blues, which are a little bit confusing. One is "Blues is a healer". Another one "You have to feel blue to play Blues". If it's suppose to be a healer, why should it make one feel sad?
Simon: Well, the blues is a healer.  When I feel down I sit at the Hammond organ and play the blues and all my troubles melt away…. But I don’t think that you have to feel blue to play the blues and not all blues should be down.  It shouldn’t always make you feel sad, if anything it is a form of expressing your feelings and releasing them.

Andy, which was the best moment of your career and which was the worst?
Andy: There have been so many great moments already in PHR. The 2 highlights for me are playing at the 100 club on the same stage as so many of my musical heroes and playing the Paradiso in Amsterdam along with the Black Crowes on their penultimate show, who I have to say, were amazing!!
The worst would have to be a gig we played for a University a few years ago. The security company did not show up so no one could be served alcohol. As you can imagine that did not go down well with the students who attended.

Simon, what are some of the memorable stories from Roy Wood?   
Simon: He has a fantastic beard….. last I remember it was red.

Some music styles can be fads but the blues is always with us. Why do think that is? Give one wish for the BLUES
Andy: The blues has influenced so many musicians that it will always be with us.  For me the Blues is music played from the heart so the possibilities are endless and the Blues will continue to evolve.
Oli: Blues is always with us because it reflects real life, it's not always pretty on the outside, it has scars, it's worn, it's sometimes reckless... and it doesn't do auto-tune
Chris: It's cathartic music that allows you to forget your problems for a while and that's something that everyone needs.

What turns you on? Happiness is……
Lee: My new Lone Wolf harp overdrive pedal…. It’s disgustingly dirty and I love it!

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