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The box set Cadillac Baby's Bea & Baby Records: The Definitive Collection brings to light...

Cadillac Baby's Bea & Baby Records - Downbeat 2019 Holiday Gift Guide

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Anyone who's looking to advance their career would be very well served to have Michael...

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Michael is a 21st century renaissance man who has both the business acumen and the...

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Pinetop Perkins

July 7, 1913 – March 21, 2011

He admittedly wasn’t the originator of the seminal piano piece “Pinetop’s Boogie Woogie,” but it’s a safe bet that more people associate it nowadays with Pinetop Perkins than with the man who devised it in the first place, Clarence “Pinetop” Smith. Although it seems as though he’s been around Chicago forever, the Mississippi native actually got a relatively late start on his path to Windy City immortality. It was only when Muddy Waters took him on to replace Otis Spann in 1969 that Perkins’s rolling mastery of the ivories began to assume outsized proportions.

Perkins began his blues existence primarily as a guitarist, but a mid-1940s encounter with an outraged chorus girl toting a knife at a Helena, AR, nightspot left him with severed tendons in his left arm. That dashed his guitar aspirations, but Joe Willie Perkins came back strong from the injury, concentrating solely on piano from that point on. Perkins had traveled to Helena with Robert Nighthawk in 1943, playing with the elegant slide guitarist on Nighthawk’s KFFA radio program. Perkins soon switched over to rival Sonny Boy Williamson’s beloved King Biscuit Time radio show in Helena, where he remained for an extended period. Perkins accompanied Nighthawk on a 1950 session for the Chess brothers that produced “Jackson Town Gal,” but Chicago couldn’t hold him at the time.

Nighthawk disciple Earl Hooker recruited Perkins during the early ’50s. They hit the road, pausing at Sam Phillips’s studios in Memphis long enough for Perkins to wax his first version of “Pinetop’s Boogie Woogie” in 1953. He settled in downstate Illinois for a spell, then relocated to Chicago. Music gradually was relegated to the back burner until Hooker coaxed him into working on an LP for Arhoolie in 1968. When Spann split from Muddy Waters, the stage was set for Pinetop Perkins’s reemergence.

After more than a decade with the Man, Perkins and his bandmates left en masse to form the Legendary Blues Band. Their early Rounder albums (Life of Ease, Red Hot ‘n’ Blue) prominently spotlighted Perkins’s rippling 88s and rich vocals. He had previously waxed an album for the French Black & Blue logo in 1976 and four fine cuts for Alligator’s Living Chicago Blues anthologies in 1978. Finally, in 1988, he cut his first domestic album for Blind Pig, After Hours. Ever since then, Pinetop Perkins has made up for precious lost time in the studio. Discs for Antone’s, Omega (Portrait of a Delta Bluesman, a solo outing that includes fascinating interview segments), Deluge, Earwig, and several other firms ensure that his boogie legacy won’t be forgotten in the decades to come. Pinetop won two Grammy Awards:

2008  Best Traditional Blues Album for Last of the Great Mississippi Delta Bluesmen, with Honeyboy Edwards, Robert Lockwood, Jr. and Henry Townsend, on the Blue Shoe Project label, and 2010 Best Traditional Blues Album for Joined at the Hip, with Willie “Big Eyes” Smith. He played until just before he died in his sleep at his residence in Austin, Texas at age 97.

-Written by Bill Dahl, updated by Michael Frank