Joseph William Perkins, more commonly known as Pinetop Perkins, was one of the all time great blues pianists. And if you think you’ve never heard his music before you’re probably wrong.
He played with Earl Hooker in the 50s and 60s, and with Muddy Waters in the 70s. He holds the honor for being the oldest winner of a Grammy Award at age 97, winning the Best Traditional Blues Album for his 2010 album “Joined At The Hip.” He also won in that same category in 2008 for “Last of the Great Mississippi Delta Bluesmen: Live In Dallas,” as well as a Lifetime Achievement Award during the 2005 Grammys.
For you movie buffs our there, he also has a short cameo in The Blues Brothers, during the scene where John Lee Hooker is playing Boom Boom outside of Aretha’s Soul Food Cafe; Pinetop is the disgruntled pianist who argues with Mr. Hooker over who actually wrote the song.
But what sticks with me is when I saw Pinetop play with The Allman Brothers in 2006. Brought on as a special guest, Mr. Perkins and the Allmans, along with Elvin Bishop, ripped through covers of Muddy Waters’ 19 Years Old and Got My Mojo Working. After finishing the second song with him, Gregg Allman announced “Pinetop’s 92, and he’s playing tomorrow night at Town Hall.”
Because that’s what makes a bluesman great – that desire to continue playing at any age. There’s no embarrassment for the musician like you feel when certain rock stars try to relive their glory with reunion tours a few decades too late. For a bluesman, touring to the twilight of their days is both perfectly normal, and incredibly inspiring.
Five years later, Pinetop was still touring; he more than 20 concerts scheduled for 2011, and was still playing a few nights a week a local blues bar. Dedicated to his craft, thunderously talented, and committed to playing up until his final days, Joseph Williams Perkins was the a true bluesman. He died yesterday in his home in Austin, Texas, at the age of 97.