Pinetop Perkins, Legendary Blues Pianist

Joe Willie “Pinetop” Perkins, legendary blues pianist, passed away at his home in Austin, Texas, on March 21, 2011.
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Joe Willie “Pinetop” Perkins, legendary blues pianist, passed away at his home in Austin, Texas, on March 21, 2011.

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Born July 7, 1913 in Belzoni, Mississippi, Perkins started out playing guitar and piano, but had to drop the guitar in the 1940s after sustaining a serious injury when a choir girl stabbed him in the arm. He played mostly in the Mississippi Delta throughout the 1930s and 1940s, spending three years with Sonny Boy Williamson on the King Biscuit Time radio show on KFFA in Helena, Arkansas. Perkins also toured extensively with slide guitarist Robert Nighthawk. After briefly working with B. B. King in Memphis, Perkins toured the South with Earl Hooker during the early 1950s, and they completed a session for Sam Phillips’ famous Sun Records in 1953.

But Perkins was perhaps best known for playing in bluesman Muddy Waters’ Band for 12 years, replacing pianist Otis Spann in 1969. Perkins’ remarkable piano solos helped shape the Waters sound throughout the ’70s. In 1980, Perkins and other members of Waters’ crew formed the Legendary Blues Band, recording two records for Rounder, touring extensively, and garnering several Grammy nominations.

After leaving the Legendary Blues Band in the late 1980s, Perkins started a very successful solo career, releasing numerous albums over the past 20 years. He was nominated for several Grammys over the years, and in 2005, received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Grammys. Perkins won a Grammy in 2008 for Last of the Great Mississippi Delta Bluesmen: Live in Dallas. Most recently, Perkins won a Grammy Award in 2011 for Best Traditional Blues Album for Joined at the Hip, his collaboration with harmonica great Willie “Big Eyes” Smith.