RIP to the legendary Willie "Pine Top" Perkins, one of the last original Delta bluesmen. My brother in law saw him play live years ago and called me to tell me this news. I'm a newbie as a blues listener, and this fellow is easy on the ears. His voice is smooth and paced with comfort, making the repetitive lyrics of the blues an easy ride. He is most well known for his piano playing, and for spanning the evolution of the blues, from the Delta to Chicago, although he most recently lived in Texas. Passing at the age of 97, the man had a long and active career, winning three grammies; a Lifetime Achievement Grammy in 2005, followed by the 2007 Best Traditional Blues Album for his collaboration on the "Last of the Great Mississippi Delta Bluesmen: Live in Dallas" and most recently, a Grammy in 2010 for his work with Willie "Big Eyes" Smith for Best Traditional Blues CD for Joined at the Hip with Telarc Records.
"Mr. Joe Willie Perkins was born in 1913 in Honey Island, near the Delta town of Belzoni, Mississippi, on July 7, 1913. His father, Sandy Perkins, was a Baptist preacher; his mother, Hattie, was an American Indian. Both were tenant farmers. Elmore James, a blues singer-guitarist who influenced countless musicians, was his cousin. By the time he was 9, his parents separated. He and Hattie, along with his sister, lived with his grandmother. Perkins quit school after third grade to work on a cotton plantation and never learned to read. His stepfather taught him the guitar, his first instrument, when Perkins was 10. He later learned how to tune and repair pianos as well as play them. As a teenager, he moved north to Tutwiler, Mississippi, where he performed with a church choir, and then to Clarksdale, where he played at house parties and juke joints. He also worked at local plantations and, at one point, helped run a moonshine still." (David Wilson, Bloomberg, 2011).
He started out playing guitar until he injured his left arm and took up piano full time. He was one of the oldest surviving Delta blues musicians. He worked his way from the Delta as many musicians of his time, stopping in Memphis and St. Louis and eventually settling into the multi-layered urban grit of the Chicago blues. He had no formal piano training and it is said he still can't read piano music, but he learned by sound and from watching others.
"During his time in the Delta, he spent three years with Sonny Boy Williamson on the King Biscuit Time radio show on KFFA in Helena, Arkansas. Pinetop also toured extensively with slide guitar player Robert Nighthawk and backed him on an early Chess session. He worked briefly with B.B. King in Memphis. Perkins became popular in the South with Earl Hooker during the early '50s. The pair completed a session for Sam Phillips' famous Sun Records in 1953. It was at this session that he recorded his version of "Pinetop's Boogie Woogie," a song originally written and recorded by pianist Clarence "Pinetop" Smith – the influential blues pianist who had died from a gunshot wound at age 24 in 1929. Although referred to as "Pinetop" when he played on King Biscuit in the 40s, it was his sensational version of this song that secured his lifelong nickname." (Heaney, Cruzin the Bluz, 2011).
He was chosen to replace Otis Spann on piano for Muddy Waters' band in 1969. He stayed with Muddy Waters' band for twelve years, "holdin down the piano seat" until he and some fellow band members left Waters to form 'The Legendary Blues Band." (Heaney, Cruzin the Bluz, 2011).
I have his album, Born In The Delta and I'd recommend it. The piano and foot tappin drums keep the mood light, such as in the song, "For You My Love".
"Look On Yonder Wall" has a great harp and some slide guitar to keep the blues tradition. Bring me down my walkin cane, or hand me down my walkin cane, seems to be an familiar lyric in those days.
"Blues After Hours" slows down the mood and creates a cocktail sultry vibe. The harp is like a bellow that answers Pinetop's call. The whole album is a great mix of everything that defines the blues genius. Harp, piano, slide guitar, slow simmering lyrics.
Read Mr. Perkins' full biographies here :