Pinetop Perkins, 96 years young, is one of the last great Mississippi bluesmen still performing. He began playing blues around 1927 and is widely regarded as one of the best blues pianists. Perkins created a style of playing that has inﬂuenced three generations of piano players and is widely considered to be the yardstick by which great blues pianists will continue to be measured.
Born Willie Perkins in Belzoni, Mississippi, in 1913, Perkins started out playing guitar and piano at house parties and honky tonks, but dropped the guitar in the 1940s after suffering a serious injury to his left arm. Perkins worked primarily in the Mississippi Delta throughout the 1930s and ‘40s, spending three years with Sonny Boy Williamson on the King Biscuit Time radio show on KFFA, Helena, Arkansas. He also toured extensively with slide guitar player Robert Nighthawk and backed him on an early Chess Records session. After brieﬂy working with B.B. King in Memphis, Tennessee, Perkins barnstormed the South with Earl Hooker during the early ’50s. The pair completed a session for Sam Phillips’ famous Sun Records in 1953. It was at this session that he recorded his version of Pinetop Smith’s “Boogie Woogie,” after whom he was nicknamed.
Perkins is 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, Perkins helped shape the Waters sound.
In 1980, Pinetop and other Waters alumni, including Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, went out on their own to form the Legendary Blues Band. Several of the group’s critically acclaimed albums were nominated for Grammy Awards. The group also backed up Buddy Guy, Howlin’ Wolf, and Junior Wells, and toured with Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, and Eric Clapton. They played behind Muddy for the soundtrack of the movie The Last Waltz, and appeared in the movie The Blues Brothers, where they played street musicians backing John Lee Hooker.
Pinetop eventually left Legendary to concentrate on a solo career, releasing 15 solo records in 15 years beginning in 1992. Several of these albums were nominated for Grammy’s, and in 2005, Pinetop was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2000 he received a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment of the Arts. In 2008, Pinetop received yet another Grammy Award for Best Traditional Blues Album for Last of the Great Mississippi Delta Bluesmen: Live In Dallas, together with Henry James Townsend, Robert Lockwood, Jr, and David Honeyboy Edwards.