PINETOP PERKINS (By Phil Davies)
Born Joe Willie Perkins, 7 July 1913, Honey Island, Humphreys County, Mississippi. Died 21 March 2011, Austin, Texas.
Born on a plantation and worked alongside his older pal (and later fellow musician) Boyd Gilmore. Music provided solace from the drudgery and eventually an escape route. Although nicknamed Pinetop in honour of his boogie woogie hero Clarence "Pinetop" Smith, Joe Willie was originally a guitarist. In the 30s he worked with Willy Love, he learnt to play the drums and piano, but an encounter with an outraged chorus girl toting a knife at a Helena, Arkansas nightspot left him with severed tendons in his left arm. That dashed his guitar aspirations, but he came back strong from the injury, concentrating solely on piano from that point on.before joining Robert Nighthawk's band playing with the elegant slide guitarist on Nighthawk's KFFA radio program.
When Nighthawk went north to Chicago Perkins joined rival Sonny Boy Williamson's beloved King Biscuit Time radio show in Helena, where he remained for an extended period. Sonny's band included one Joe Willie Wilkins so our Joe Willie was named Pinetop as he usually played Pinetop's Boogie Woogie in his spot. Later Perkins accompanied Nighthawk on a 1950 session for the Chess brothers that produced Jackson Town Girl, 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' studios in Memphis long enough for Perkins to wax his first version of "Pinetop's Boogie Woogie" on July 15th 1953(not released at the time, appeared on a Charly lp and the Sun Blues Box). He was a busy boy that day and played on Earl Hooker's session inc Move On Down The Line, Hucklebuck and Blue Guitar (amongst others), also on childhood buddy Boyd Gilmore's Believe I'll Settle Down.
Don't know about Boyd but Pinetop settled in downstate Illinois for a spell, then relocated to Chicago. He played on sessions for the likes of Little Miltonand Albert King. Music gradually was relegated to the back burner until Hooker coaxed him into working on an LP for Arhoolie in 1968. When the great Otis Spann split from Muddy Waters, the stage was set for Pinetop Perkins's re-emergence.
After more than a decade with Muddy , Perkins and his bandmates left en masse to form the Legendary Blues Band. Their early Rounder albums 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. Perkins was tired of touring and left the band.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 interview segments), Deluge, Earwig, and several other firms ensure that his boogie legacy won't be forgotten in the decades to come. He still plays gigs too, an example to us all.
Thanks as always to AMG/Robert Santelli
Recommended Reading: Notes to Sun Blues Box on Charly by Neil Slaven and Roger Dopson
Recommended Listening: July 15 1953 Sun side/session work on various Sun Blues cds or part of the epic Sun Blues Box Life Of Ease/ Red Hot N Blue - Legendary Blues Band albums for Rounder King Bee - Muddy Waters - Blue Sky Boogie Woogie King - Evidence On Top - Deluge Portariat Of A Delta Bluesman - Omega
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