David Cohen - vocals, guitar; Bernie Pearl - vocals, guitar; Barry "Dr. Demento" Hansen - vocals, piano; Stuart Brotman - bass; Craig Woodson - drums, harmonica
Out of the hundreds of world-class musicians that performed on the Ash Grove stage during the 1960s, few performed as frequently as guitarists David Cohen and Bernie Pearl. Cohen would eventually become an in-demand studio musician and Pearl a highly respected blues bandleader, but the bulk of their early musical education came from within the walls of the Ash Grove. Accompanying the greatest folk and blues artists of the day, performing solo or within various group projects, these two guitarists were a ubiquitous presence during the Ash Grove's heyday. Through their live performances and as leaders and teachers at the Ash Groves school, which became a musical training ground, resource center and political meeting place, Cohen and Pearl also became largely responsible for helping to shape the younger crop of Los Angeles musicians.
In 1964, shortly after the Beatles first stormed America, Cohen and Pearl, like countless other young musicians, teamed up, forming a band of their own. Performing under the humorous moniker King David & the Parables, the group only existed for several months, where they became a sort of house band, often opening shows at the Ash Grove. The two talented guitarists were assisted in this project by several UCLA grad students, including future Kaleidoscope bassist Stuart Brotman and future ethnomusicologist Craig Woodson on harmonica and drums. Rounding out the quintet was pianist Barry Hansen, who years later would become the infamous Dr. Demento, a world renowned record collector and radio broadcaster specializing in strange and unusual novelty songs.
This was a group that played primarily for the sheer fun of playing, with no commercial considerations involved. Folk, blues, R&B, surf music, or whatever was called for on any given night; King David & the Parables was heard by few, but fondly remembered by all who did. They only made it into a recording studio once, when they were recruited to add a bluesy backing track to a song called "Short Dresses" for a pop singer named Jay Jay Cameron. A few hundred copies of the single were distributed to radio stations, but few ever played it, no orders ever came in, and that was the end of their not-so-illustrious recording career.
Until now, that nearly impossible to find single was the only recorded evidence of the group, but thanks to Ed Pearl and his vast archive of live recordings, at long last we can present a fine example of King David & the Parables live on stage at the Ash Grove. Although the recording primarily captures the action between Cohen, Pearl, and Brotman, with Hansen and Woodson relegated to off-microphone leakage in the background, this recording does manage to capture the spirited fun of this band onstage.
The set kicks off with some fine picking on one of Jesse Fuller's more obscure songs, "Hanging 'Round a Skin Game", which sets the tone for a set that places heavy emphasis on traditional blues styles. They continue with a pair of Brownie McGhee numbers, "I'm A Stranger Here" followed by "You Don't Know My Mind." Both feature tasty interplay between Cohen and Pearl, particularly the latter, with its nice relaxed groove the perfect setting for Pearl's lead work.
Barry Hansen serves as MC by introducing the band members and explaining their approach to the next number. He mentions that they've been focusing on the golden age of blues but that the next number, "Rock Me Mama" was written in the modern age. Most listeners will be familiar with this song through the countless variations that have been recorded over the years, most notably Muddy Waters' version. However, what is most interesting here is that Cohen and Pearl take this modern blues that is primarily associated with electric guitar and perform it not only acoustically, but very much in an older more traditional style arrangement. Brotman also features more prominently here, providing excellent bass work while Hansen can be heard blowing blues harp in the background. This utterly unique approach to the song is both a testament to Cohen and Pearl's commitment to vintage blues styles, but also the collective creativity of King David & the Parables.
Written by Alan Bershaw