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RIP Pinetop Perkins (1913-2011)

Iconic blues pianist passes away; memorial follows tonight (Tuesday)

By Austin Powell, 5:31PM, Mon. Mar. 21, 2011

Pinetop Perkins, c.2005. The blues legend passed away today, aged 97, of a suspected cardiac arrest
Pinetop Perkins, c.2005. The blues legend passed away today, aged 97, of a suspected cardiac arrest
Photo by Todd Wolfson

The last of the great Delta bluesmen, Joe Willie “Pinetop” Perkins passed away today. He was 97. Close sources report that the iconic pianist suffered cardiac arrest in his sleep, but that has yet to be confirmed.

“Born in the Honey” of Mississippi and a prominent player in the early Chicago blues scene, Perkins embodied the blues. A Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award winner, he toured for Muddy Waters before joining the Legendary Blues Band with Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, with whom he recently shared another Grammy Award with for the Best Traditional Blues Album, Joined at the Hip. Perkins, who moved to town with the support of the late Clifford Antone, also taped an episode of Austin City Limits.

Even at age 97, Perkins could still be found in clubs on most evenings. He shuffled into Antone’s on Wednesday, March 9, an honorary but unexpected guest for The Austin Chronicle Music Anthology. Dressed to the nines, with his trademark formal hat and cane, he set up his customary table near the shoe-shine stand.

I shook his hand, thanked him profusely for coming, and asked which one of the CDs he was selling was his favorite. He tapped a few times on 1995’s Pinetop Perkins with the Blue Ice Band. I started playing it soon after I heard the news but couldn’t get passed “Whiskey-Headed Woman.” It’s too heavy, too soon.

“You get a piano, I’ll play it,” he told me then. I only wish I did.

Perkins was a true, original, and beautiful bluesman to the very end.

Update: Musicians who have played with Pinetop through the years will be gathering at Antone's tonight (March 22). Doors are at 7pm, and the Peterson Brothers at 7:30pm, followed by Pinetop's friends and fellow musicians throughout the rest of the evening. There will be a $5 cover charge.

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