Blues piano legend Pinetop Perkins passes away at 97



I just put on the CD reissue of Muddy Waters’ 1977 Hard Again album, but this time it wasn’t to lose myself in the mannish vocals of Waters, or even the sparkling guitarwork of session producer Johnny Winter. This time it was to seek out the boogie-woogie stylings of longtime Waters pianist Pinetop Perkins, who passed away yesterday at his home in Austin, Texas, at the ripe old age of 97.

It doesn’t take long to find that sound. Six-and-a-half minutes into track two, “Bus Driver”, you can hear Waters bellow “Pinetop!”, and then Perkins is all over the keys, spreading the type of juke-joint joy he’s been doing for longer than most men even breathe.

Joseph Willie Perkins was born on July 7, 1913, in Belzoni, Mississippi. He first came to prominence as a blues artist in 1969 when he replaced Otis Spann, the top blues pianist in Chicago at the time, in Waters’ band, staying with Waters for more than a decade.

After that Perkins’ main gig, apart from sessions, was with the Legendary Blues Band, which also included former Waters drummer Willie “Big Eyes” Smith. Perkins and Smith were mostly inseparable over the years. Just two months ago the duo won a Grammy Award for Best Traditional Blues Album for Joined at the Hip.

Prior to that, in 2005, Perkins received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and in 2008, he received a Grammy for Best Traditional Blues Album for Last of the Great Mississippi Delta Bluesmen: Live In Dallas. That album also featured 95-year-old David “Honeyboy” Edwards, who, as of yesterday, did become the last of the great Mississippi Delta bluesmen.

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