Pinetop Perkins


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photograph of Pinetop Perkins

Joseph William Perkins (July 7, 1913 – March 21, 2011), known by the stage name Pinetop Perkins, was an American blues pianist. Perkins played with some of the most influential blues and rock and roll performers in American history and received numerous honors during his lifetime, including a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and induction into the Blues Hall of Fame.

Perkins was born in Belzoni, Mississippi. He began his career as a guitarist, but then injured the tendons in his left arm in a fight with a chorus girl in Helena, Arkansas. Unable to play guitar, Perkins switched to the piano, and also switched from Robert Nighthawk's KFFA radio program to Sonny Boy Williamson's King Biscuit Time. He continued working with Nighthawk, however, accompanying him on 1950's "Jackson Town Gal".

In the 1950s, Perkins joined Earl Hooker and began touring. He recorded "Pinetop's Boogie Woogie" (written by Pinetop Smith) at Sam Phillips' studio in Memphis, Tennessee. ("They used to call me Pinetop," he recalled, "because I played that song.") However, Perkins was only 15 years old in 1928, when Smith originally recorded "Pinetop's Boogie Woogie".

Perkins then relocated to Illinois and left the music business until Hooker convinced him to record again in 1968. Perkins replaced Otis Spann when he left the Muddy Waters band in 1969.[3] After ten years with that organization, he formed The Legendary Blues Band with Willie "Big Eyes" Smith, recording through the late 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s.

Perkins played a brief musical cameo on the street outside Aretha's Soul Food Cafe in the 1980 movie The Blues Brothers, having an argument with John Lee Hooker over who wrote "Boom Boom." He also appeared in the 1987 movie Angel Heart as a member of guitarist Toots Sweet's band.

Although he appeared as a sideman on countless recordings, Perkins never had an album devoted solely to his artistry, until the release of After Hours on Blind Pig Records in 1988. The tour in support of the album also featured Jimmy Rogers and guitarist Hubert Sumlin. In 1998 Perkins released the album Legends featuring Sumlin.

Perkins was driving his automobile in 2004 in La Porte, Indiana when he was hit by a train. The car was wrecked but the 91-year-old driver was not seriously hurt. Until his death, Perkins lived in Austin, Texas. He usually performed a couple of nights a week at Nuno's on Sixth Street. In 2005, Perkins received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

In 2008, Perkins received a Grammy Award for Best Traditional Blues Album for Last of the Great Mississippi Delta Bluesmen: Live In Dallas together with Henry James Townsend, Robert Lockwood, Jr. and David Honeyboy Edwards. He was also nominated in the same category for his solo album, Pinetop Perkins on the 88's: Live in Chicago.

The song "Hey Mr. Pinetop Perkins", performed by Perkins and Angela Strehli, played on the common misconception that Perkins wrote "Pinetop's Boogie Woogie":

Hey Mr. Pinetop Perkins
I got a question for you
How'd you write that first boogie woogie
The one they named after you

At the age of 97, he won a Grammy Award for Best Traditional Blues Album for Joined at the Hip, an album he recorded with Willie "Big Eyes" Smith. Perkins thus became the oldest-ever Grammy winner, edging out comedian George Burns who had won in the spoken word category 21 years earlier (Perkins had tied with Burns, at the age of 90, in 2004).

A little more than a month later, Perkins died on 21 March 2011 at his home in Austin. At the time of his death, the musician had more than 20 performances booked for 2011. Shortly before that, while discussing his late career resurgence with an interviewer, he conceded, "I can't play piano like I used to either. I used to have bass rolling like thunder. I can't do that no more. But I ask the Lord, please forgive me for the stuff I done trying to make a nickel." Along with David "Honeyboy" Edwards, he was one of the last two original Mississippi Delta blues musicians, and also one of the last to have a personal knowledge of, and friendship with, Robert Johnson.

Selected discography

1976: Boogie Woogie King (recorded 1976, released 1992)
1977: Hard Again (Muddy Waters)
1988: After Hours
1992: Pinetop Perkins with the Blue Ice Band
1992: On Top
1993: Portrait of a Delta Bluesman
1995: Live Top (with the Blue Flames)
1996: Eye to Eye (with Ronnie Earl, Willie "Big Eyes" Smith and Calvin "Fuzz" Jones)[9]
1997: Born in the Delta
1998: Sweet Black Angel
1998: Legends (with Hubert Sumlin)
1998: Down In Mississippi
1999: Live at 85! (with George Kilby Jr)
2000: Back On Top
2003: Heritage of the Blues: The Complete Hightone Sessions
2003: All Star Blues Jam (with Bob Margolin et al.)
2003: 8 Hands on 88 Keys - Chicago Blues Piano Masters The Sirens Records
2004: Ladies Man
2007: 10 Days Out: Blues From The Backroads (with Kenny Wayne Shepherd and the Muddy Waters Band—Live)
2008: Pinetop Perkins and Friends
2010: Joined At the Hip (with Willie "Big Eyes" Smith)
2012: Heaven (with Willie "Big Eyes" Smith on one track and liner notes by Justin O'Brien)
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