Joe Pearles, a popular, widely known country-style Christian singer who has been called the "Gentleman of Country Gospel," has recorded numerous best-selling albums and DVDs. His success is all the more remarkable given the fact that his full-time Christian music ministry didn't begin until he was in his mid-fifties.
Joe was born in Modesto, California, and raised in the nearby small farming community of Waterford, one of three children and the only son of Lloyd and Jackie Pearles. His was a musical family that reveled in making music with each other and their neighbors. With the advent of tape recording, they spent hours preserving their music on tapes, all of which, unfortunately, have been lost.
At age twelve Joe taught himself how to play guitar. He had grown up immersed in country music and as his skill developed, he began dreaming about going to Nashville, Tennessee, and becoming a country music star. He would go to bed at night with his guitar on his chest and sing until he fell asleep.
He attended public high school until the middle of his sophomore year and then transferred to Modesto Union Academy. He would later write about his time there:
It was there I met a kid who played the upright bass, and, boy, did we have fun. There were many times that Bill would bring his bass to school and I would bring my guitar, and we would find a room that wasn't being used. There we would start playing and I would start singing some Elvis songs. We would always have one of the kids at the door so we would know when a teacher might be coming. When the teacher got near, we would go right into a gospel song without missing a beat. Many years later I saw one of the faculty and I told him about those times. I thought he would die laughing.
Following graduation from MUA in 1960, he attended college for two years and married Cheryl Green, a girl he had dated throughout his high school years. Pearles described what happened next in an autobiographical sketch:
We moved to Oregon [and] started a family. There I started singing gospel, and had Cheryl, my wife, John Gepford, and later my brother-in-law, Dick Wheeler, as my backup singers. Later when my son, Jeff, got old enough, he joined us singing and playing the piano. We sang for several years in the Northwest as The Quiet Sound. Still, I wanted Nashville and country music.
One night I was so depressed about my music I walked out of the house down to a logging road that wasn't far away. There, I knelt down on the pavement and asked God to take the desire for country music away from me if He wasn't going to permit me to go to Nashville and do the music I loved. He answered my prayer but not the way I wanted Him to. He not only took the desire for Nashville and country music away, but he took my love for all music away. For two years I never sang a note, never played the guitar, and stopped listening to the radio. That was a miracle.
After two years or so went by, the desire for music came back. However, this time it was a desire to do a different kind of music. I no longer wanted to sing country music or go to Nashville. The music I now wanted to sing was gospel music, and I was content to stay in Oregon and sing on weekends.
Pearles became a real estate agent and through most of the 1970s was able to make a living and support his family. When the bottom fell out of the market at the end of the decade, however, and a severe recession developed in Oregon during the 1980s, he found it increasingly difficult to find other work. He decided to go to Tennessee and live with his wife's sister and her husband until he could find work and then move his family. He later wrote about what happened next:
I found a few jobs there in Cleveland, but nothing was working out, so I decided to go back to Oregon. I had a friend, Billy Burks, who lived in Nashville, which is 150 miles from where I was staying, and I wanted to visit him before I went back to Oregon. Billy had a friend in Nashville who needed an employee. I interviewed and got the job. I will always be grateful to Sam Martz, who hired me.
It wasn't long until my family and I started singing again. My children got to the age where they had things of their own that they wanted to do, so I started singing solo. In 1997 I went full-time in my music ministry and have never looked back.
As I write this story, memories come flooding back, and I can see how God has led me all of these years. Never forcing, but gently leading me to where I am today. There is no doubt in my mind that He has called me to do exactly what I am doing, and I thank Him for that.
Since coming to Nashville, God has blessed me with sixteen albums (seven of which are available) and four music DVDs. It is so exciting to see what he has done for me in the past [and to think about] what he still has for me in the future.
The Pearles have two children, Jeff and Laura. Jeff, a talented bass with an extended range, has pursued a career singing in several quartets, including the King's Heralds, and is president of a recording studio. Laura married a musician who sang with quartets in the 1970s and 1980s.
Sources: Information provided by Joe Pearles, September 2011; website autobiography at http://www.joepearles.com.
O Gentle Shepherd
It's About Time (with the Quiet Sound)
My Brand of Country
A Portrait of Pearles
Quiet and Gentle
Across the Miles
My River of Memories
A Snowy Christmas Night
Only For His Eyes
Sunshine Wall to Wall
Encore Collection, Volume 1
Encore Collection, Volume 2
Encore Collection, Volume 3
Leanin' On My Mind
Welcome to My World
Only for His Eyes
Sunshine Wall to Wall
My River of Memories