Album Review: Pearl Harbour – Don’t Follow Me, I’m Lost Too

Pearl Harbour (aka Pearl Harbor, aka Pearl E. Gates) has had a fascinating career. And in some ways, everything she did prior – however disparate it was – seems to have led to the making of 1980’s Don’t Follow Me, I’m Lost Too. That long out-of-print has just received a long overdue reissue, with bonus tracks to boot.

Peal got her start in the public eye as a dancer and singer. The wild San Francisco-based ensemble The Tubes was theatrical in the extreme, and Pearl’s exuberant personality fit in seamlessly with them. She had also been part of Leila and the Snakes, another very visual Bay Area outfit. Too big a talent to serve as someone else’s accessory, eventually Pearl struck out on her own. She teamed up with the Stench brothers and guitarist Peter Bilt, forming Peal Harbor and the Explosions.

As documented more extensively in my second book, that group took off thanks to enthusiastic promotion by Howie Klein and Chris Knab of nascent label 415 Records. But industry machinations resulted in the Explosions signing with Warner Brothers instead. A pair of excellent songs (“Drivin’” and “You Got It (Release It)”) formed the foundation of a great if somewhat overlooked album.

But from the beginning there were cracks in the foundation. Gates’ love of straight-ahead rock (and punk, and rockabilly) was ultimately at odds with the more avant-rock and jazz inclinations of Bilt and the Stench brothers, so while their uneasy musical alliance made for great music, the Explosions were doomed from the start. The band was over soon after it began.

Gates decamped for the UK, falling in with Clash manager Kosmo Vinyl, eventually marrying Clash bassist Paul Simonon. And discovering an affinity for England’s pub (and pub rock) scene, she embarked upon a new musical project in which she found more expression and fulfillment.

The result of that focus was Don’t Follow Me, I’m Lost Too. Equal parts vintage rock (chugging guitars, honking sax, straight-ahead arrangement) and speedy punk-leaning aesthetics (those same things, really) added up to a winning recipe. Aided in her musical pursuits by a passel of A-list players, she wrote and recorded an album full of gems. Her associates were members of the Clash (natch), Ian Dury and the Blockheads (legendary guitarist Wilko Johnson), Rich Kids, Graham Parker’s The Rumour, top sessioner Geraint Watkins and pedal steel player BJ Cole.

With that team, it would have been hard to go wrong, and indeed Pearl did not. In a just world, Don’t Follw Me wold have ridden the crest of a wave that included Stray Cats and other revivalist-minded acts, but (as Pearl recounts in her tidy liner note essay for this reissue), the record company didn’t promote the release with any sort of gusto. Their loss, and (almost) ours as well.

The songs on Don’t Follow Me sound and feel like lost ‘50s classics. Occasionally (as with “Fujiyama Mama,”) they are, but for the most part the album features original material. It’s all played with authenticity and enthusiasm, and really should have been a hit album. The album blows by quickly, filled with appealing songs in arrangements that avoid filigree. Pearl’s winning, highly appealing and sassily assertive persona rules the day; even backed by that who’s-who lineup, she remains the undisputed star of the show.

Liberation Hall’s reissue appends the original record with a clutch of b-sides and demo tracks. Their presence underscores the fact that Pearl had a surfeit of fine material from which to choose for the LP. The demo of “What I Should Have Said” would have fit in seamlessly alongside the officially-released tracks.

As far as most listeners knew, Don’t Follow Me wasn’t, er, followed by another record. In fact Pearl did make another album, releasing Pearls Galore in 1983 on Epic. But that record was sold only in Japan, so it escaped the notice of many who might have enjoyed it. But Don’t Follow Me, I’m Lost Too is stellar, and recommended to you with enthusiasm.