THE BEAT OF THE EARTH
"The music was free-form, original, and unrehearsable, since it was all spontaneous. I remarked to Phil that it was the steady thrum one experienced when you went to a Love-In. All these small groups of musicians playing guitars, tambourines, flutes, auto-harps, bongos, anything that made sound, all simultaneously, created a type of orderly orchestral sound. The combined beats were primitive, primal, the beat of the earth..."
After being discovered by fans of underground psychedelia in the late 1980s, Orange County band BEAT OF THE EARTH's sole 1967 album has grown into a classic within the field, in spite of its rarity and lack of a reissue. The improvisational music on the album cannot be easily described but most who hear it agree that it represents a unique link between mid-1960s California teen sounds and the droning acid rock of the later era. I was able to connect with ex-band member Karen Darby who gracefully shared her memories of the band and its legendary leader Phil Pearlman. To my knowledge this is the first ever article on BEAT OF THE EARTH, whose reputation is likely to expand further as more and more people get to hear their unique music.
KAREN DARBY INTERVIEW
Q: How was the BEAT OF THE EARTH group formed?
KAREN: Sometime in late 1966, early 1967 I connected with Phil Pearlman. He was brooding over the loss of a relationship with a gorgeous woman, and had been performing his own brand of very radical semi-surf, chrome-reverse-rim style music on electric guitar at a coffee house, then called Sid's Blue Beat, located at that time in a rundown, wonderfully dark old bar in front of the Balboa Pier, Newport Beach (Balboa Peninsula), Orange County, California. Unfortunately I wasn't old enough to frequent the place, but I had often walked by and heard the "beautiful-noise", music. A mutual friend of his and mine introduced Phil and I, or inadvertently brought us to each other's attention.
So, Phil was attending the University of Southern California, at Irvine, and was in the first beginning-graduation class in that newly formed school. His major, as best I can recall (forgive me Phil if I get this wrong), was ART. The album and group itself was to be his project for an art class. The original photo on the first album front was an artistic photo of different instruments plugged into a plastic wall receptacle located in the grass. The back cover had the photo of all of us on those wood tower structures. That photo was taken in Los Angeles at Griffith Park, home-site of many Love-In's before drugs raids on the Hells Angels by the then very rough L.A.P.D. Narco Squads, made Love-Ins too dangerous for ordinary Hippies like myself.
Karen Darby around the time of Beat Of The Earth
Phil and I were boyfriend/girlfriend initially, and often sang, played guitar, and created our own music while driving in his old VW bus around town. Somewhere along the way I grew interested in someone else, but Phil and I stayed friends. Phil wanted to do this "Artistic Statement" thing for school, by forming a music group and doing an album with his own funds and know-how.
The idea for the group's name came about as we were playing music with a couple of other people, I was keeping a steady beat by clapping. The words were free-form poetry, political to whimsical. The music was free-form, original, and unrehearsable, since it was all ad lib or spontaneous. I remarked to Phil that it was the steady thrum one experienced when you went to a Love-In. All these small groups of musicians playing guitars, tambourines, flutes, auto-harps, bongo's, anything that made sound, all simultaneously, created a type of orderly orchestral sound. The combined beats were primitive, primal, the beat of the earth. Phil jumped on the name. It best illustrated the concept he was attempting to create. I truly believed then, as he did, that if everyone came together doing their own thing, musically, that the combined sound would be great... a democratic beat... of the earth!
Phil went about finding other musician's to participate in his "art" project. He recruited Morgan Chapman as our general road-warrior, fix-it, electrician for amps and anything audio. He was "older" to me then, he'd suffered pretty severe hearing loss from hours of work in front of amplifiers of all shapes and sizes. He was much needed to service the electronic organ played by Ron Collins. Ron was actually a very accomplished organist. His blues riffs, which I felt never were truly appreciated on the BOTE recordings, were incredible. I would say he was the most experienced, professional musician of our group then. J.R. Nichols was a "valley-boy", lowrider-style, electric-guitarist. He was quiet, unpredictable, head-strong, and talented in his own way. I'm embarrassed to say that I don't remember much about Phil and Sherry Phillips contribution. I believe that Phil Phillips was at the recording session I was at, but in what capacity, I cannot recall. To my knowledge all of us hailed from either Los Angeles, the San Fernando Valley, and Orange County, California. It's possible Ron Collins was from somewhere in the mid-west of the U.S. originally, but the details are vague now.
By the way, going from left to right of the photo on the album [see beginning of this article], standing on the platforms, Phil & Sherry, only her legs are visible, Ron Collins, JR Nichols, Morgan, Phil Pearlman, and then I, Karen Darby.
Q: How would you described the musical style of "Beat Of The Earth"? Many people consider it a "missing link" between the mid-1960s and late 1960s styles...
KAREN: If you asked me now what the style was of the BOTE music, my answer would be the same as then. "Unstructured, Stream of Consciousness, riffs and rhythms, celebration of each individual musician by allowing spontaneous expression based on group-orchestrated effort, without orchestrated (written) music". If you asked Phil then what the planned "song" or piece we were to perform was, he would say, "I don't know man, lets just let it happen. It's getting high on life just digging on each other's sound" (not a direct quote, but a reflection of how Phil appeared to respond then, at least to me). What musical albums Phil owned I couldn't say. His tastes were earthy, unpretentious, "organic". His hair and beard were long, and though he washed or showered often enough, he did not believe in "unnatural augmentation of smell". Anyway... Ron Collins was a Motown/Rhythm & Blues musician. As I said before, folksy would not be a descriptor for his style. JR Nichols was a loud, pre-heavy-metal lead-guitarist with a real attitude. As for me, my albums and musical style were primarily Dylanesque. I loved Bob Dylan's music, electrified or not. "Fresh Cream" was one of my favorites, along with Jefferson Airplane and of course The Beatles. The Mamas & The Papas were played daily back then, along with the Velvet Underground. The Rolling Stones were second only to the Beatles in my collection of long plays.
Q: What do you remember of recording the LP?
KAREN: There were two recording sessions I know of for sure. The first one I was at, the second one I missed due to illness. Phil rented a recording studio, if I remember correctly it was recorded in a standard (for then) eight-track mode. The technical details were Phil's to arrange, it was his pocketbook. The studio was in Hollywood somewhere, all of us drove up in Phil's bus singing, and warming up so to speak. Strange as it may sound, Phil Pearlman was very against drugs for himself, and really was into encouraging the rest of us to try and be creative without "augmentation". He used to carry burning incense around and say, "inhale this, it's a natural high". The rest of the group was not into Phil's "bag", as the saying went. I remember grass, or hash was almost always available and used by everyone else in the group. Getting high was easy, all you had to be was close to the other members inhaling secondary weed. In the recording studio there were guards I remember who seemed to function to keep the police out so that the musicians could "emote" creatively on whatever got them "there". To my knowledge no other music but the two sessions of 1967 were performed by BOTE in the recording studio.
Q: How was the LP sold and distributed?
KAREN: The masters of the recording sessions were kept by Phil. He produced 500 copies originally in 1967. His marketing technique was to pick-up hitchhikers and try to sell or give them a copy. To my knowledge he was adverse to trusting anyone else to distribute or market his "artistic statement". I never found out what "grade" he got for his project!
When Phil decided to "re-master" his masters in 1994 and issue the [second] album, he called me at my Chiropractic office and asked if I cared or was expectant of any return for the use of my contribution. I told him I had no burning desire to get involved in his project, I was too busy running a full-time practice. Some months later he appeared at my office with a box of copies of his reissues for me to keep. Listening to the new/old album I recognized parts of both sessions, especially a harmony part with Phil and I.
Q: I understand there were a few live performances?
KAREN: As a group we did several "live" shows. One of the concerts was in an old movie theater-like building in Huntington Beach, CA. I cannot recall the other locations, or how many we did specifically. Personally I participated in only 2 or 3 myself. Phil owned, and also rented out, all of the equipment for a truly psychedelic "happening". He had strobe-lights, overhead-projectors, screens, amps... I remember two large "happenings" distinctly. Onstage I sang, tambourine and generally cavorted around in jeans, beads, and a work/prison/shambrey shirt. My boyfriend, later husband, Topper helped orchestrate the light-show behind us on stage. We hung sheets behind the stage on to which over-head projectors splashed undulating color. This was accomplished by using glass pie-pans filled with oil and drops of food color that were giggled to the beat of the music we were playing. The fun and noise was deafening and awesome! I doubt Phil made any money off these events. They were somewhat spontaneously organized, and the music was ad lib rock and roll. Absolutely the most fun I've ever had!
Q: How long did the BEAT OF THE EARTH last? Were you involved in any other musical projects?
KAREN: If I remember right, the band may have lasted 6-8 months, or really less. It was not to my knowledge a cohesive, organized, chartered, or constructed group. It was Phil's experiment, spontaneous, combustible, reusable, inclusive, delightful, unrepeatable, a "happening". I continued to play guitar, sing, and enjoy music, although never really professionally. I currently play piano, am semi-retired from the practice of Chiropractic. Recently I have had the terror and joy of undergoing cancer treatment for colorectal cancer which has "altered" my physical existence. I'm the proud owner of an ileostomy. Music and the enjoyment of all aspects of life and living are my world now. I am blessed to be alive, and I've really enjoyed this opportunity to travel into my past.
Q: Phil Pearlman is today considered a legend among fans of underground music from the 1960s-70s. What were your impressions of him?
KAREN: Most important to remember about Phil is that as he was unique even for the "all-time" uniqueness of the late 60's! Actually I coined a phrase that I felt most people like Phil demonstrated as a natural personality trait; "Terminal Uniqueness". This is not a put-down, only a loving-label that best describes someone who is always a contrarian. Phil attended a special high-school where he could "be himself" unharrassed, fortunately his parents or father was a wealthy Urologist and could afford to educate him in whatever manner best suited his avantgarde nature. Phil's dad was Jewish, his mom not. He had one sister that I can remember, I never met her, I think she was rather distant from Phil's lifestyle. Phil was not a "druggie" then and I'm very certain never was. Reality was a greater "turn-on" to him, his life was whatever he wanted to do, whatever his politics dictated.
Q: Have you two been in contact in recent years?
KAREN: When he came to my office with a box of the second BOTE album , we got to talk a little about what he was doing then... and probably still. It seems he had married a wonderful woman who was totally supportive and involved in his choice of lifestyle. They had several children who were being raised on a farm/ranch east of San Diego, California. The Ranch had NO electricity, they also used a well for water. He was raising goats, which according to him he slaughtered personally and humanely whenever preparing them for market. He described to me what he thought was the most inhumane conditions in the local slaughter-house techniques. He had devised a quicker, bilateral knife to the carotids on a goat that was painless and "humane". For some reason I had a hard time in visioning Phil killing anything.
One of the funnier situations he described about his family situation was his utter disgust with his in-laws for giving his kids a battery-operated television. He said he was having to act as the TV police, trying to limit the ways in which television might damage his children permanently! Another funny thing was that the very old 4-cylinder, white, rusty, small pickup truck he came to my office in was stripped inside of anything that resembled comfort. It was a stick-shift, headlight-switch-only-affair, with gaping holes where radio, air-conditioner, or glove-box might reside. Even the window behind the driver between the bed and the cab was missing. I vaguely recall that the side driver and passenger windows were absent.
Phil still sported stringy, now gray and white, long hair and a long to-his-chest beard. He was thin, weathered, and no different in personality to what I remembered from the 60's. He ranted a bit of his dislike of how the planet was being treated by industry. He had and voiced still a total disdain for "consumeristical society". However, I felt that a part of him still operated to stay alive and thrive financially. His efforts to capitalize on the trend toward "nostalgically reliving", revisiting and re-experiencing the "hippy 60's", in the form of paying out of his pocket again to reissue the BOTE music, was I believe pure capitalism on his part. Even back in the 60's he was a businessman, an entrepreneur. I remember in the sixties hearing a young groupie-ish woman call him J.C. (for Jesus Christ), because of his hair and beard and almost "guru" type stance on the world, "getting high on life" and politics. Perhaps I never truly appreciated his lack of conventionalism, his fearless manner of going about what he believed in, without inhibition.
In the Beat Of The Earth venture it is my opinion that Phil really attempted to create spontaneous, musical, combustion, without any end... hence the continuous tracks. The "stream of musical output" was by design and intention. How it played out was not so important as the doing of it. "Performance Art", is my best descriptor for the results of Phil's creative artistic statement/experiment.
The previously unreleased "second" LP
Conclusion: (Well, this may not be what you want, but here it goes anyway) As I learn to finally "read" musical score... after years of playing guitar chords on my piano, I realize that to be spontaneous, and create repeatable, re-recordable music requires both discipline and desire. I believe BOTE was desire, without the discipline and often less spontaneous organization of conventional song/musical structure. When I hear a jazz group, or group of blue-grass musicians "jam" together, I am still aware of a beginning and an end to the musical performance. BOTE never ended, and perhaps never will, it never really existed except in Phil's and a few of our hearts, the music is an endless mantra of living, breathing, (even probably body function) sounds. Bless you and those of the world who see through the years back to when anything was possible as long as you believed in your idea. Things are of course always possible, the music of today is as exciting in its innovation as ours was back then. Has something been lost? NAW! To me there is no missing link... it is all a "stream of musical thought" one decade to another... one generation to another, maybe one world to another!
The Beat of the Earth is a metaphor for the idea that all people, working in unison, create a vibration that is beautiful music. I was raised in a unique "religion", the Baha'i Faith, a World Religion that declares the values I have spoken of. Neither cancer, nor time, nor the things happening in the world today have shaken my beliefs. The 60's were such a wonderful time of invention, hope, faith in each individuals opportunity to make a difference. I pray that the new century does not have to wait until 2060 to see change and World Peace become an ideal of conscience again! ... because that may be too late for my grandchildren and too late for us all!
END OF INTERVIEW
Thanks to Ron Moore for providing the lead and to Rich Strauss for the 45 scan.
PHIL PEARLMAN DISCOGRAPHY
The gradual discovery of Phil Pearlman's musical legacy is one of the most remarkable stories in psychedelic archeology. Beginning with the PHIL & THE FLAKES 45, the records have been unearthed in roughly the same order as they were recorded, but with a lag of 20 years! When contacted at his desert homestead by veteran record hunters such as Rich Haupt and Clark Faville, Phil Pearlman has been forthcoming and open, but remained secretive about any other releases than the most recently discovered one.
Each record below is outstanding and a classic, yet it would be hard to imagine records more dissimilar than Beat Of The Earth and Relatively Clean Rivers. Pearlman has been uninterested in meeting the mounting demands for reissues, preferring to let a few copies of his original stock seep into the market now and then. As a consequence the value of the original LPs has soared, while unauthorized reissues are inevitable and in the case of RCR, already a fact.
For detailed reviews of the albums and info on reissues, see the Acid Archives of Underground Sounds.
1. PHIL & THE FLAKES: Chrome reversed rails/Blower scoop (45, Fink Records 1010) 1964
-- the earliest known release from Phil; a surf/hot rod 45 with some unusual touches. The B-side has been comped.
2. BEAT OF THE EARTH: same (Radish AS 0001) Fall-1967
3. THE ELECTRONIC HOLE: same (Radish 0002) 1970
4. RELATIVELY CLEAN RIVERS: same (Pacific Is 17601) 1976
5. BEAT OF THE EARTH: Our Standard 3-minute Tune (Radish AS 0001½) 1994
-- Outtakes from the 1967 recording session.
V.A "Dirty Feet" (Fink 1007) 1965
-- soundtrack to an underground surf film. Phil Pearlman was involved with the crew behind this, but does not appear on the actual LP, which was released on the same label as his first 45.
WILDFIRE "Smokin'" (Prime) 1975?
-- very obscure but highly rated private press LP from California band who provided backup on the Phil & the Flakes 45 a whole decade earlier. This LP was reissued by the OR label in the 1990s.