Pinetop Perkins

Pinetop Perkins is one of the last of the great Mississippi bluesmen still performing. He's made a living playing blues since 1926 and is widely regarded as one of the best blues pianists. He's created a style of playing that has influenced three generations of piano players and will continue to be the yardstick by which great blues pianists are measured.

Born Willie Perkins in Belzoni, MS in 1913, Pinetop started out playing guitar at house parties and honky tonks, switching to piano after sustaining a serious injury that made picking a guitar painful. He came under the tutelage of Clarence "Pinetop" Smith, for whom he composed the song entitled "Pinetop's Boogie" that became a hit and, indeed, one of the more popular tunes from the boogie-woogie era. Perkins started performing the tune himself and, out of admiration for his mentor, started using the name "Pinetop."

Perkins worked primarily in the Mississippi Delta throughout the thirties and forties, spending five years with Sonny Boy Williamson #2 (Rice Mille) on the King Biscuit Time radio program on KFFA, Helena, Arkansas. Pinetop also toured extensively with slide guitar player Robert Nighthawk, backing him on an early Chess session. After briefly working with B.B. King in Memphis, Perkins barnstormed the South with Earl hooker during the early fifties. The pair completed a session for Sam Phillips' famous Sun Records in Memphis in 1953.

By this time, Pinetop had developed his own, unmistakable sound, His right hand plays horn lines while his left kicks out bass lines and lots of bottom. It was Pinetop, along with Pete Johnson, Meade Lux Lewis, Albert Ammons and Little Brother Montgomery, who provided the basic format and ideas from which countless swing bands derived their sound - whole horn sections playing out what Pinetop's right hand was playing. Although Pinetop never played swing, it was his brand of boogie-woogie that came to structure swing and, eventually, rock 'n roll.

Still, with recent successes the exception, Pinetop is still best known for holding down the piano chair in the great Muddy Waters Band for twelve years during the highest point of Muddy's career. Replacing the late, great Otis Spann in 1969, Pinetop helped shape the Waters' sound and anchored Muddy's memorable combo throughout the seventies with his brilliant piano solos. In 1980, Pinetop and other Water's alumni decided to go out and their own and formed the Legendary Blues Band. Legendary recorded two records for Rounder and toured extensively.

Pinetop, who had been labeled a sideman throughout most of his career, eventually left Legendary to concentrate on a solo career. Within two years, he had his first domestic record as a frontman (After Hours, Blind Pig Records) and had a most impressive touring schedule. Since going solo, Pinetop has been featured on many nationally syndicated news and music shows and he has appeared in numerous movie productions as well as television and radio ads. He has also headlined nearly every major showcase room in North America and most of the major festivals, here and abroad.

It's certainly ironic that Pinetop waited for his eighth decade to blossom as a headliner. His two Deluge releases (On Top and Live Top) document an amazing historical figure and have an abundance of entertainment value for a contemporary audience. Pinetop is comfortable with his blues leadership role, wearing the hat like a true statesmen and still pleasing audiences all over the world.

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Last Update: March 27, 1996 12:15 PM