Earl “the Pearl” Banks
In the South folks believe that to be a “genuine bluesman” one has to be born to it. The “Real Blues”, they say, is not only a matter of feeling, but a matter of time and place. If that attitude has any merit, then Earl Banks was destined to be a bluesman.
Before becoming an award winning Blues artist, Earl Banks was born in Germantown, Tennessee in 1936. Banks arrived before the political unity movement of the ‘40’s. As Banks was growing up, the African-Americans in the area predominately struggled to make a living as truck drivers on farms or doing odd jobs while striving to express their identity. Banks was fortunate enough to have an aunt who owned a piano that he was allowed to begin playing at the age of six years old. By the time he was ten, Banks was slipping away to the small town of Moscow, TN that had a juke joint known as Sam’s Place. There Banks found Joe Hill Louis, a one-man band, who let young Banks play piano with him.
As he grew older, Banks heard the tales of Beale Street and stories of B. B. King, Ike Turner, and others making records in Memphis. When Banks reached 18, he moved to Memphis. It was 1954, however, and Sam Phillips, who had been recording Black artists for blues labels, had turned his focus towards rockabilly, a new style blending blues with country music, sung by white artists on his Sun record label. Banks settled into a mid-city African-American community and joined the neighborhood band, The Jets.
In 1958, Banks found that his opportunities were limited as a piano player because many nightclubs did not have pianos, so he changed to the guitar. Banks quickly mastered the guitar with the aid of Fred Ingram and formed The Blue Dots with the respected Leroy Hodges, Sr. the Blue Dots also featured a young guitarist, Mabon “Teenie” Hodges, who Banks took under his wing and instructed on guitar. Teenie went on to fame as a songwriter/guitarist with Al Green’s band and performing with his brothers in Hi Rhythm as the house band at Willie Mitchell’s Royal Studio.
During the soulful ‘60’s, Banks formed another band, The Soul Soothers. For years the group backed such artists as Al Green, Rufus Thomas, Little Johnnie Taylor and Koko Taylor when they appeared in Memphis and the surrounding areas.
With the demise of the Memphis music scene in the late ‘70’s, Banks found himself playing with a number of local bands while polishing his songwriting skills. He formed P.C.I. (People Company, INC.) and recorded the album, “Busted” with the Blues Busters on the Highwater Label, at then, Memphis State University. The album was produced by David Evans.
Later in the 1990’s Earl recorded an album, “Why Don’t You Do Right?” with local musician Brad Webb and featured Teenie Hodges, Leroy Hodges, and Melvin Lee among others.
Earl has received several awards over the years as well. On November 4, 2004 Earl received the Beale Street Entertainer of the Year. And in 2009 he was awarded The W. C. Handy Award, 13th annual Heritage award, “Authentic Beale Street Musician”. And coming soon, on August 3, 2013 Earl will receive a Brass Note on Beale St.
Currently Earl “The Pearl” Banks and his band People of The Blues have been playing mostly local gigs in Memphis on Beale Street, Murphy’s Irish Pub, and Huey’s. Earl also hopes to record a new CD this year and hopes that at long last the time and place are right for a genuine bluesman to play out his destiny.