Pinetop Perkins

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Pinetop Perkins
Pinetop Perkins 1.jpg
Perkins at the Riverwalk Blues Festival in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, 2006
Background information
Birth nameJoe Willie Perkins
Born(1913-07-07)July 7, 1913
Belzoni, Mississippi, U.S.
DiedMarch 21, 2011(2011-03-21) (aged 97)
Austin, Texas, U.S.
GenresPiano blues, boogie-woogie, Delta blues, Chicago blues
Occupation(s)Musician, singer
InstrumentsPiano, vocals, keyboards
Years active1920s–2011
LabelsBlind Pig, Antone's
Associated acts

Joe Willie "Pinetop" Perkins (July 7, 1913 – March 21, 2011) was an American blues pianist. He played with some of the most influential blues and rock-and-roll performers of his time and received numerous honors, including a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and induction into the Blues Hall of Fame.

Life and career[edit]

Early career[edit]

Perkins was born in Belzoni, Mississippi and raised on a plantation in Honey Island, Mississippi.[1] He began his career as a guitarist but then injured the tendons in his left arm in a knife fight with a chorus girl in Helena, Arkansas.[2] Unable to play the guitar, he switched to the piano at about 12 or 13 years old.[3] He also moved from Robert Nighthawk's radio program on KFFA to Sonny Boy Williamson's King Biscuit Time.[4] He continued working with Nighthawk, however, accompanying him on "Jackson Town Gal" in 1950.

In the 1950s, Perkins joined Earl Hooker and began touring. He recorded "Pinetop's Boogie Woogie" at Sam Phillips's Sun Studio in Memphis, Tennessee. The tune was written by Pinetop Smith, who created the original recording in 1928. Perkins didn't write; he "got as high as third grade in school."[3] He learned to play-off Smith's records. As Perkins recalled, "They used to call me 'Pinetop' because I played that song."[5]

Perkins then relocated to Illinois and left the music business until Hooker persuaded him to record again in 1968. Perkins replaced Otis Spann in the Muddy Waters band when Spann left the band in 1969.[4] After ten years with that organization, he formed the Legendary Blues Band with Willie "Big Eyes" Smith, recording from the late 1970s to the early 1990s.[4]

Later career[edit]

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.

Perkins was a sideman on countless recordings but never had an album devoted solely to his artistry until After Hours, released by Blind Pig Records in 1988.[6] The tour in support of the album featured Jimmy Rogers and guitarist Hubert Sumlin.

The death of Perkin's common law wife, Sara Lewis, in 1995, triggered a depression and periods of drinking.[7] In 1998, he released the album Legends, featuring Sumlin. In 2001, Perkins performed at the Chicago Blues Festival with Ike Turner.[8] Turner credited Perkins with inspiring him to play piano.[9]

Perkins was driving his automobile in 2004 in La Porte, Indiana, when his car 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 Momo's, on Sixth Street.

The song "Hey Mr. Pinetop Perkins", performed by Perkins and Angela Strehli, played on the common misconception that he 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


On March 21, 2011, Perkins died of cardiac arrest at his home in Austin, Texas.[7][10] At the time of his death, he had more than 20 performances booked for 2011. Shortly before he died, 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."[11] Perkins and David "Honeyboy" Edwards were the last surviving original Delta blues musicians. Perkins was also one of the last surviving bluesmen to have known Robert Johnson.[11]



Bruce Iglauer, founder of Chicago's Alligator Records, stated Perkins was "absolutely the premier blues piano player." He added, "His career spanned literally over 80 years. He was the symbol of a whole generation of musicians."[7] Perkins influenced blues musicians such as Ike Turner, who he taught how to play piano.[12][3] "Pinetop would be the birth of rock 'n' roll, because he taught me what I played," Turner said.[7] Perkins collaborated with various bluesmen, including Muddy Waters, Robert Nighthawk, Earl Hooker, and B.B. King.[7]

Awards and honors[edit]

Perkins was named a National Heritage Fellow by the National Endowment for the Arts in 2000.[5]

In 2003, Perkins was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame.[13]

In 2005, Perkins received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.[1]

In 2008, Perkins, together with Henry Townsend, Robert Lockwood, Jr. and David "Honeyboy" Edwards, received a Grammy Award for Best Traditional Blues Album for Last of the Great Mississippi Delta Bluesmen: Live in Dallas.[1] He was also nominated in the same category for his solo album Pinetop Perkins on the 88's: Live in Chicago.[14]

At the age of 97, Perkins won a Grammy Award in the category Best Traditional Blues Album for Joined at the Hip, which he recorded with Willie "Big Eyes" Smith, thus becoming the oldest winner of a Grammy Award,[10] edging out the comedian George Burns, who had won in the spoken word category 21 years earlier.[15]


Perkins has been the subject of two documentary films: Born in the Honey (2007) and Sidemen: Long Road to Glory (2016).[1][16] He also appeared in Clint Eastwood's 2003 documentary Piano Blues.[17]

Selected discography[edit]

With Carey Bell

With Earl Hooker

With Muddy Waters

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Friskics-Warren, Bill (March 21, 2011). "Pinetop Perkins, Delta Boogie-Woogie Master, Dies at 97". The New York Times. p. A25.
  2. ^ Dahl, Bill. "Pinetop Perkins Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved August 25, 2017.
  3. ^ a b c "Ike Turner & Pinetop Perkins: Student and Teacher". Elmore Magazine. November 1, 2006.
  4. ^ a b c Russell, Tony (1997). The Blues: From Robert Johnson to Robert Cray. Dubai: Carlton Books. p. 154. ISBN 1-85868-255-X.
  5. ^ a b "Joe Willie 'Pinetop' Perkins". National Heritage Fellowship. National Endowment for the Arts. 2000.
  6. ^ "Pinetop Perkins Profile". Blind Pig Records. Retrieved August 25, 2017.
  7. ^ a b c d e "Delta blues legend won a Grammy at age 97". Chicago Tribune. March 22, 2011.
  8. ^ Kening, Dan (June 8, 2001). "Chicago Blues Fest turns 18". Chicago Tribune.
  9. ^ Dahl, Bill, Whiteis, David (June 7, 2001). "Chicago Blues Festival 2001". Chicago Reader.
  10. ^ a b "Blues Pianist Pinetop Perkins Dies Aged 97". BBC News. March 22, 2011.
  11. ^ a b Chilton, Martin (March 22, 2011). "B. B. King Leads Tributes to Pinetop Perkins". The Daily Telegraph.
  12. ^ Turner, Ike, Cawthorne, Nigel (1999). Takin' Back My Name: The Confessions of Ike Turner. London: Virgin. pp. 25–27. ISBN 9781852278502.
  13. ^ O'Neal, Jim (November 10, 2016). "Pinetop Perkins – Inductee". Blues Foundation.
  14. ^ "Grammy Awards for Pinetop Perkins". The Recording Academy. Retrieved August 25, 2017.
  15. ^ "Pinetop Perkins, Oldest Grammy Winner, Dead at 97". Billboard. Associated Press. March 22, 2011. ISSN 0006-2510.
  16. ^ Catsoulis, Jeannette (August 17, 2017). "Once Simply 'Sidemen,' Now They're the Stars". The New York Times. p. C6.
  17. ^ "Piano Blues: Directed by Clint Eastwood". PBS. Retrieved December 14, 2017.
  18. ^ "Eye to Eye". Valley Entertainment. Retrieved August 25, 2017.
  19. ^ 10 Days Out: Blues From The Backroads at Discogs
  20. ^ "Pinetop Perkins & Jimmy Rogers with Little Mike and the Tornadoes – Genuine Blues Legends". discogs. Retrieved October 15, 2017.

External links[edit]