PILGRIM was collected in the evening wane during the early 1990’s at the legendary bar Small’s K.O., a cinderblock grotto that Hollywood’s Generation X called home. This was a time of musical turmoil in Los Angeles. Punkers, Glam Rockers, and Alternative bands were slugging it out in the city’s venues, but within Small’s brick walls, all musical affiliations were abandoned. It was a special place, the best place, but the real magic occurred when the crowd had gone home.
Afterhour jams assembled every Monday night at Small’s, and if you showed up, you played. At the eye of these Category 5 jams were Jean Pellerin and Tom Stampalia. Tom, an Aussie and avid surfer, was Small’s head doorman. He played lead guitar in the grunge-band Fudge Factory, and the initial jams were his seed.
Jean Pellerin, a French-Canadian filmmaker, was living in Los Angeles and directing music videos for Metal bands like Metalica and Guns’n’Roses. He showed up one night at Small’s, parched and lugging his Dobro guitar. Tom noticed Jean’s guitar case and invited him to stay afterhours to jam with some of the other employees. Ignition.
Jim Kalin tended bar at Small’s. He wrestled varsity for Ohio State and relocated to Los Angeles to write fiction. Jim would listen to the jams while stocking beer after his shift. He shared Jean and Tom’s enthusiasm for American blues and bluegrass, country music, and The Rolling Stones, but he didn’t play an instrument. Jean and Tom offered to teach him guitar, so he took them up. It changed his life’s course. They were such proficient teachers that he went on to learn the banjo.
The secret and intimate gatherings soon attracted celebrity guests looking for a place to prolong their parties and play with fellow musicians. A special knock on the backdoor got you in, and the single rule was acoustic instruments only.
Famous attendees included Harry Dean Stanton, Ryan Adams, Flea, Bob Forrest, White Zombie’s Sean Yseult, and the late great Jeffrey Lee Pierce. The attraction was that the Small’s jam was one of the few places where the blues and folk music were being played in Los Angeles, and it was the only location to do it afterhours. This appealed to musicians who were chained to contemporary rock’n’roll. They all took part in what eventually became PILGRIM.
After Small’s closed in 1999, Tom and Jim moved on to manage Dominick’s, a restaurant in Beverly Hills. The afterhour jams continued with Jean, but these were no longer open parties. A small and select group of outsiders was invited occasionally, and the favorite was Hole’s Eric Erlandson. The boys grew into a tight ensemble and began playing shows. Various names were tried until Jim asked Jean what his surname meant. Pellerin translated in English to PILGRIM.
Jim eventually met and married Heidi Huber, a real-life farm girl from Central Illinois. Her family raised horses and corn, and one of her best childhood memories was listening to 8-track tapes of Dolly, Willie, and Tom T. Hall. Her marriage vows to Jim included an agreement to sing as a member of PILGRIM.
PILGRIM has played just about every local club and venue in Los Angeles with guest drummers, bass players, fiddlers, and guitarists. Jean took a time-out along the way and moved back to Montreal. He was in Cambodia for a stint on a goodwill mission where he helped build an orphanage. Jean and his slide guitar have recently returned to Los Angeles as permanent residents and members of PILGRIM. The band was back on track.
PILGRIM has performed at festivals in Canada, and they opened on the main stage during The Festival du Blues de Tremblant for Keb’ Mo’. But it’s the parking lot barbecues and late night bar jams that still thrill PILGRIM most. Check out their YouTube posts. PILGRIM is the living link to the rollicking, huffing jalopy sound of country and blues that today’s Americana movement was founded on.
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