Pinetop Perkins (Joe Willie Perkins)
Born: July 7, 1913, Belzoni, Mississippi
Died: March 21, 2011
Photo credit: David Dickerson – www.mcconnelldickersonart.com
A late bloomer, pianist Perkins did not record as a blues leader in the United States until he was seventy -five years old. At age ninety -seven, he became the oldest person to win a Grammy. Perkins was best known for his rendition of the boogie-woogie classic “Pinetop’s Boogie Woogie” (originally recorded by Clarence “Pinetop” Smith in 1929). After leaving school in the third grade, he worked in the fields picking cotton and plowing with a mule. Like other blues greats, Perkins constructed a diddley bow out of a string of baling wire. He soon mastered the guitar and piano and began playing at fish fries, juke joints, and cockfights. Perkins later switched exclusively to piano after a chorus girl stabbed him in the arm, severing his tendons, and leaving him unable to play the guitar. In 1943, Perkins moved to Helena, Arkansas, where he played bass guitar and piano with Robert Nighthawk and Sonny Boy Williamson, appearing on their radio programs on radio station KFFA .Throughout the 1940s, he toured the Mississippi Delta region with Nighthawk, Williamson, and Houston Stackhouse. In the early 1950s, Perkins recorded with Nighthawk for the Aristocrat record label in Chicago and with Earl Hooker for Sun Records. During the session for Sun, Perkins recorded his signature song Pinetop’s Boogie Woogie, one he continued to record numerous times during his long career. Perkins moved to Chicago in the late 1950s and sat in on jam sessions, but mainly worked outside of music during the 1960s. In 1968, his career received a boost when he recorded with Earl Hooker for the Arhoolie record label. The next year, he joined the Muddy Waters band (replacing Otis Spann) and stayed with Waters throughout the 1970s, which brought him national acclaim. In 1980, Perkins and other band members split with Waters and formed The Legendary Blues Band. A revered, elder statesman of the blues, Perkins remained active in music, recording and touring until his death at his home in Austin, Texas.