Perla studied piano at the Berklee School of Music and the Boston Conservatory before switching to bass. He played with Woody Herman in 1969-70, as well as Thad Jones/Mel Lewis, Sarah Vaughan, Miles Davis, Nina Simone, Jeremy Steig, Elvin Jones (1971–73), and Sonny Rollins.
In the 1970s Perla founded PM Records, and later headed Plug Records. Under his leadership the labels recorded Dave Liebman, Elvin Jones, Steve Grossman, Pat LaBarbera, and Jerry Bergonzi. He formed Stone Alliance with Grossman and Don Alias in 1975, and continues to perform and teach at Lehigh University and the New School of Jazz & Contemporary Music.
With Frank Foster
- The Loud Minority (Mainstream, 1972)
- Hollow Out (Philips, 1972)
With Elvin Jones
- Genesis (Blue Note, 1971)
- Merry-Go-Round (Blue Note, 1971)
- Mr. Jones (Blue Note, 1972)
- Live at the Lighthouse (Blue Note, 1972)
- At This Point in Time (Blue Note, 1973)
- Elvin Jones is "On the Mountain" (PM, 1975)
- New Agenda (Vanguard, 1975)
- The Truth: Heard Live at the Blue Note (Half Note, 1999)
With Mickey Tucker
- Triplicity (Xanadu, 1975)