At 97 years young, this blues mogul passed in his sleep.
Multi-Grammy-winning blues pianist Joe Willie “Pinetop” Perkins, passed away in his sleep at his Austin, Texas, home this past Monday.
With no family, he leaves his music as his true legacy.
“Perkins, who was believed to be the oldest of the old-time Delta blues musicians still performing, had a successful career that spanned 80 years, sharing the stage with such greats as Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker and Sonny Boy Williamson.
A man who has outlived most of his contemporaries, Perkins came from a generation of struggling musicians, who fought their way out of the Mississippi Delta and were lured by the promise of big musical careers in cities like Chicago, Memphis and St. Louis.
Perkins was born near Belzoni, Mississippi, on a cotton plantation in 1913. He never received a formal education and was forced to pick cotton as a child. He ran away from home when his grandmother smashed a bottle over his head for not chopping firewood.
While in his teens, Perkins began his blues musical journey in the late 1920s. He played the guitar at juke joints, honky-tonks and house parties in order to eke out a living to support himself. But his career as a guitarist came to an abrupt end when he got into a fight with a choir girl who sliced his left arm open. After the brawl, Perkins, unable to play the guitar, instead, taught himself to master the piano which he learned by watching others.
All through the 1930s and ’40s Perkins remained in the Mississippi Delta becoming a sideman for such blues artists as 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.
After briefly working with B.B. King in Memphis, Perkins soon joined Earl Hooker during the early ’50s and it was then, that he picked up his nickname “Pinetop.” Hooker re-recorded a song called “Pinetop’s Boogie Woogie” and because Perkins played on the song, folks began to refer to him as “Pinetop.”
Later Perkins could be found jamming with the Muddy Waters band in the late sixties. Perkins worked for over ten years with Waters before striking out with several other Waters sidemen to form the Legendary Blues Band, who recorded off and on for over thirty years. For over 50 years, Perkins was considered to be a sideman and he had no complaints.
At age 63, “Boogie Woogie King” was Perkins’ first solo album released in 1976. In 1988 he cut another classic solo album of Chicago blues entitled “After Hours;” “Pinetop’s Boogie Woogie,” followed in 1992 and he released a string of 15 albums in as many years.
Perkins won a 2007 Grammy Award for best traditional blues album for his collaboration on the “Last of the Great Mississippi Delta Bluesmen: Live in Dallas.” He was also given a lifetime achievement Grammy in 2005. Last February, Perkins picked up a Grammy for best traditional blues album for “Joined at the Hip: Pinetop Perkins & Willie “Big Eyes” Smith,” the win made Perkins the oldest Grammy winner.”
With the passing of many greats over the past decade, does ‘real’ music still have a chance?