RIP Mr. Boogie Woogie Piano Man
March 21, 2011 9:21 PM   Subscribe

RIP Joe Willie "Pinetop" Perkins - "It is with deep sadness that we announce Pinetop Perkins passed away peacefully at home on Monday, March 21, 2011 in Austin, TX at the age of 97." One of the last great Mississippi bluesmen, having played with Sonny Boy Williamson, Robert Nighthawk, and for a number of years, the great Muddy Waters. Pinetop & friends at his 95th birthday; Pinetop Perkins with Willie Big Eyed Smith; Muddy Waters with Pinetop Perkins, 1970s posted by madamjujujive (40 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
posted by BigHeartedGuy at 9:25 PM on March 21, 2011

posted by humannaire at 9:34 PM on March 21, 2011

I had the good fortune to see Pinetop live several times. The last time, he was 87 or 88 - I saw him at Rosa's Lounge in Chicago, a fabulous blues bar that has hosted many a legend.

Now prior to this, I had only seen him at festivals or concert venues so it was quite a privilege and a treat to be in such intimate surroundings with such a legend. During the break he was sitting at the bar talking to Rosa and her son Tony. I went over to pay my respects, and he took my hand in his, I can still feel that little frisson. Maybe I was treating him a little too much like an ancient legend and he was getting tired of it, or wanted to call my bluff ... he said something with a wink and I had to lean down to hear. "Darling, whatcho doin after the show?"

My God, you just have to love a man who is still smooth with the ladies at 87. In addition to the music, he had a lot of style. I love this recent photo.
posted by madamjujujive at 9:36 PM on March 21, 2011 [5 favorites]


I never saw him perform, but I saw him accept an award on behalf of Antone's at the Austin Music Awards during SXSW in 2009. I hope I'm as spry and with it when I'm that age if I live so long. He will be missed.
posted by immlass at 9:45 PM on March 21, 2011

posted by trip and a half at 9:53 PM on March 21, 2011

posted by hippybear at 9:54 PM on March 21, 2011

Last time I saw Pinetop Perkins, he was introduced by Clifford Antone at his Austin club, and played a bit with Sean Costello, who Clifford pitched as the future of blues. Now all three of them are dead.

posted by Pants! at 9:55 PM on March 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

posted by deadwax at 10:00 PM on March 21, 2011


Saw him play about three years ago, glad I did so. 97 is a hell of a run for a bluesman, but still...
posted by sysinfo at 10:00 PM on March 21, 2011

97 is a hell of a run for a bluesman

Hey, 97 is a hell of a run for anyone!

RIP, Pinetop.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 10:02 PM on March 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Pants!, now I am even sadder thinking of that. Sean Costello, that was a loss of a wildly promising talent.
posted by madamjujujive at 10:05 PM on March 21, 2011


Glad I got to see him at Lincoln Center last year for the Blues Summit.
posted by cloax at 10:11 PM on March 21, 2011

posted by juv3nal at 10:36 PM on March 21, 2011

posted by Smart Dalek at 1:32 AM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

I saw him at the Jazz Cafe here in London a few years ago. He had to be helped to the stage (by a beautiful woman, natch) but when he sat down at the piano, the years fell away and it was all the backing band could do to keep up. I mean fire, man.
posted by Optamystic at 1:56 AM on March 22, 2011

posted by bjgeiger at 2:02 AM on March 22, 2011

From the Write What You Know department: he started out as a guitarist but had to switch to piano when an angry woman stabbed him and fucked up the tendons in his left hand. Later, he wrote "Stabbed By An Angry Woman" -- presumably on piano.
posted by pracowity at 3:13 AM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

posted by TrialByMedia at 4:15 AM on March 22, 2011

I was lucky enough to see Pinetop at the old Lone Star Cafe Two in NYC, a tiny little bar where Bonnie Rait showed up to guest on a couple of numbers, and then again in London, when he played a joint gig with Hubert Sumlin. A few years ago, I visited Clarksdale in Mississippi, and sat entranced in a bar there while the guy showing me round swapped first-hand Pinetop stories with his friends.

His death means another link to the founding generation of bluesmen has been severed, and he'll be much missed. Talking of which, does anyone know how Robert Belfour's doing these days?
posted by Paul Slade at 4:26 AM on March 22, 2011

I woke up this mornin'
Heard that ol' Pinetop passed away
I said, I woke up this mornin'
Heard that ol' Pinetop passed away
Never got to see him in person
But I sure loved to hear him play.
posted by briank at 5:02 AM on March 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

posted by steambadger at 5:11 AM on March 22, 2011


I was in Austin in December of 2009 for a conference. A few of my friends and I hit 6th street to see what we could see. One of the places we went was a little Blues bar, the name of which I can't remember. We ordered a few beers and took a table across the way from the bar. I noticed that taped to the table next to ours was a handwritten sign with several names listed on it, and a warning that if any of those people showed up at any time then that table must be vacated for them. One of those names was Pinetop Perkins.

About 20 minutes after we got there, an ancient-looking man in the reddest suit I've ever seen ( I mean, red everything- hat, tie, shirt, shoes, the whole thing) came in and took his place at the next table. It was Pinetop Perkins. The staff was a flurry of activity, bringing him everything he needed, including a plastic cup half-full of water for the ash from his mile-long menthol cigarettes to land in. He's the only person I saw be allowed to smoke in a bar in Austin.

As the singer of the band who was performing there at the time announced that we were all in the presence of royalty, I noticed a scruffy-looking dude kneel down and start sketching Mr. Perkins. Soon afterward, he cast his gaze in the direction of our table, continuing to draw furiously. I figured we'd get hit up to buy whatever art he'd created at some point. What I didn't realize was that he had drawn a picture of the four of us sitting next to Pinetop Perkins, then had Pinetop sign it. My friend bought it for $30.00 on the spot, but I've got it now. I really should get that framed.
posted by Shohn at 5:14 AM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

posted by El Brendano at 5:28 AM on March 22, 2011

Back in the late 80s I got to sit in with him on the pro jam at Kingston Mines. I knew of Pinetop but never saw a picture of him nor would I have recognized him on the street. I remember me and one of the horn players looking at each other when Pinetop played and shaking our heads in amazement. I don't think he knew either. We were just a couple of dopes from the burbs who were happy to be on stage at 2:00am in the city. That same week (if I'm not mistaken) I went to see Otis Rush across the street at B.L.U.E.S and Pinetop was there as well. From then on, I always saw him and he seemed to be everywhere. I was scared shitless to go up to him and say hi though.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 5:58 AM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

posted by jbelshaw at 6:17 AM on March 22, 2011

I got to see him play frequently around Austin over the years. He always had an assistant with him who would get him set up to play and see to his needs. I was told that the assistant was also there to step in and play in case Mr. Perkins ever did not feel well enough to continue or needed to rest for a bit. Never saw an assistant play.
posted by colt45 at 6:23 AM on March 22, 2011

I saw Pinetop right here in Whippany NJ about two years ago, and he was great. He was at one of our local Splatter Concert productions, a group started by Father Dan Staniskis, priest. musician, and blues fan

RIP, Pinetop He was cool till the end.
posted by mermayd at 6:25 AM on March 22, 2011
This is the address for Splatter Concerts, for affordable and intimate performances by blues artists like Pinetop Perkins, rock artists like Melanie, John Mayall coming up next month. North central Jersey, 30 miles east of NYC on Rt. 80. Check it out.
posted by mermayd at 6:55 AM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

posted by dirtdirt at 7:05 AM on March 22, 2011

Wow, I love everyone's stories - I feel like I am at a blues wake. I have too much work to do today to lift a toast to PP, but look forward to returning to this thread later today to do just that.

Shohn, that is a great story. What a treasure you have now! I am guessing that club was Antone's. Never been there but it is on my list!

KevinSkomsvold, I think B.L.U.E.S. just might be my favorite Chicago blues bar because there are always random musicians dropping by to listen to or join in a set.

mermayd, thanks for the tip. Good blues venues aren't always easy to find.
posted by madamjujujive at 7:07 AM on March 22, 2011

posted by HandfulOfDust at 7:17 AM on March 22, 2011

Paul Slade, you got me wondering if something was wrong with Robert Belfour - but he must be OK, he is playing at the 1884 Lounge in Memphis on April 7. Another musician on my to-see list!
posted by madamjujujive at 7:19 AM on March 22, 2011

And apparently we still have Hubert Sumlin too.
posted by Billiken at 7:22 AM on March 22, 2011

Another musician on my to-see list!

About 10 years ago, I tried for a month to find someone to go with me to see John Lee Hooker. I mean, living legend still touring... really ought to see him before he dies, right? I tried every trick in the book I could think of to get someone I knew to go with me. Nobody was willing, and I decided I didn't want to go to the show by myself.

Three weeks later, he was dead. I've regretting skipping the concert ever since.

Don't EVER pass up the chance to see one of your legends or heroes. You don't always get a chance to see them "the next time around".
posted by hippybear at 7:27 AM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

I first knew of Pinetop through his work on Muddy's Hard Again album, and he's defined blues piano for me ever since. RIP.
posted by rocket88 at 7:27 AM on March 22, 2011

Just reread my earlier post, that is 30 miles WEST of NYC on 80 for Whippany and Splatter Concerts:-) Too early and not enough coffee. Do come see us, though. The concerts are early, there is food, and a friendly group of regulars.
posted by mermayd at 7:38 AM on March 22, 2011

"Paul Slade, you got me wondering if something was wrong with Robert Belfour - but he must be OK, he is playing at the 1884 Lounge in Memphis on April 7. Another musician on my to-see list!"

That's very good news. How's about another CD, Fat Possum?
posted by Paul Slade at 8:59 AM on March 22, 2011

Oh man, this makes me so sad. I got to see Pinetop banging those keys at his 96th Birthday, a surprise party at Rosa's Lounge with a lot of Blues musicians paying homage to that great man. The most fun was that my partner's boss was in town from London, with his two sons, and they were crazy about the Blues. They had been here a few days, had gone to the usual tourist hangouts--Buddy Guy's, Kingston Mines. I got some tickets to Rosa's for the night we were scheduled to have dinner with them.

My husband was a bit reluctant about Rosa's after looking at the location, but I assured him that all was fine, I'd been going there for years before I met him. Sang there once with some other friends for Carlos Johnson's Birthday WAY back. I set it up, we took them to dinner at Wishbone. Over dinner, Boss asks me who is playing that night. "It's Pinetop Perkins birthday tonight, his 96th." This meant nothing to any of them. "One of the last Mississippi Delta blues men?" Okay, still didn't know him but, cool. They were in for it.

We drove and they took a taxi. As we got out on West Armitage, they all looked at me like, "Are you sure this is the place? Is there some mistake?" Yes, this is the place. Got them through the iconic door. One by one, different Chicago blues musicians hit the stage and the guys kept asking me, "Is that him?" No, no. Just wait. Finally, around midnight, Pinetop was brought up to the stage. We'd already been wow'ed by some amazing music for over an hour at this point. Later, Boss confessed to me that he was just expecting kind of an honorary tribute to the guy who was 96 because, really, could he still play? His expectations weren't high.

Pinetop hit the keys and blew all of us away for about 45 minutes. He owned that stage and mowed down the musicians who had warmed up for him. The place went wild, everyone jumped up and down, it was crazy! Pure blues energy just poured out of that little man pounding the keys.

We bid goodbye to Tony at the door and got Boss and sons a cab back to their hotel. They were still in shock. It was a proper Chicago send off.

RIP, Pinetop. You were a master, your music will be greatly missed.
posted by jeanmari at 12:53 PM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Don't EVER pass up the chance to see one of your legends or heroes.

Amen to this. I got to see Joe Williams a couple of times before he passed on, once at the old Jazz Showcase when it was at the Brownstone on Michigan Ave. Oscar Peterson, too. Life is too short and these talents won't be around forever.
posted by jeanmari at 12:54 PM on March 22, 2011

For those who didn't get to be at Rosa's that night, it looks like it might be available on the 'net from BitTorrent? I'm not Torrent savvy, so I can't check it out.
posted by jeanmari at 1:11 PM on March 22, 2011

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