March 21, 2011 – Pinetop Perkins was born Joseph William Perkins on July 7th 1913 in Belzoni, Mississippi. He early on began his music career as a guitarist, but then injured the tendons in his left arm and switched to the piano. and also switched from Robert Nighthawk’s KFFA radio program to Sonny Boy Williamson’s King Biscuit Time.
In the 1950s, Perkins joined Earl Hooker and began touring. He recorded “Pinetop’s Boogie Woogie” (written by Pinetop Smith and originally recorded by him in 1928) at Sam Phillips’s Sun Studio, in Memphis, Tennessee. (“They used to call me Pinetop,” he recalled, “because I played that song.”) Perkins then relocated to Illinois and left the music business until Hooker persuaded him to record again in 1968. Perkins replaced Otis Spann when Spann left the Muddy Waters band in 1969. After ten years with that organization, he formed the Legendary Blues Band with Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, recording through the late 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s. Pinetop 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 the release of After Hours on Blind Pig Records in 1988. The tour in support of the album featured Jimmy Rogers and guitarist Hubert Sumlin. In 1998 Perkins released the album Legends, featuring Sumlin.
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 Nuno’s, on Sixth Street. In 2005, he received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
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
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. He was also nominated in the same category for his solo album Pinetop Perkins on the 88’s: Live in Chicago.
Then at age 97, he won a Grammy Award for Best Traditional Blues Album for Joined at the Hip, an album he recorded with Willie “Big Eyes” Smith. At the time of his death, Pinetop had more than 20 performances booked for 2011 including a headliner at the inaugural Amelia Island Blues Festival in September of that year (Willie “Big Eyes had taken over the headliner slot on the festival, but sadly died on the morning of his intended performance). Pinetop Perkins was 97 at the time of his death. His death closed the era of the old blues men; he was the last one that had a personal recollection of Blues Great Robert Johnson.