Pinetop Perkins

Pinetop Perkins

Blind Pig Records BPCD 5145

By Karen Nugent
June 2012

Yup, this CD has the perfect title.

Who wouldn’t consider hearing some rare, previously unreleased music from the late Joe Willie “Pinetop” Perkins heavenly?

Pine passed in March 2011 and took a part of the Delta-to-Chicago blues world with him. It’s safe to say there won’t be another butt-smoking, tireless, piano-pounding 97-year-old flirt in our near future.

Most of the 12-track disc was recorded after hours (Pinetop’s favorite time of day) in New York in 1986, with two songs recorded in 2011. There’s a surprise guest appearance by Willie “Big Eyes “Smith singing the Howlin’ Wolf classic “Sittin’ on Top of the World.” Sadly, Smith, a legendary blues drummer, died recently and this track is believed to be his last recording. Otis Clay does the vocals on an interesting jazzy choice, “Since I Fell For You.” The record has most of Perkins’ greatest (although missing “Blues After Hours”) hits including the slow bluesy “Ida B” with its peculiar line “She looks like a little Japanese;” the rollicking “Pinetop’s Boogie Woogie” (you know—“get hold of yourself, now stop, now boogie woogie, etc. It reminds me of a blues “Hokie Pokie,”) “4 O’Clock in the Morning” and a beauty called “Just Keep On Drinking” that I had forgotten about.

If you are unlucky enough never to have seen Perkins live, you can feel his playfulness and strength in this recording. And one can experience blues classics such as “44 Blues,” “Sweet Home Chicago,” and “Sittin’ on Top” of the World as they were probably performed more than half a century ago.

Yet, to be honest, now that Pine is gone and I am reflecting on his life with this CD, I find myself enjoying the more mellow piano instrumentals offered, especially the third track, “Relaxin’” a perfect title for the John Nicholas tune.

As always, Pine’s smooth, yet rough, vocals are unmistakable, as is his strong, make-your-heart pound piano playing.

Born on a plantation in Belzoni, Miss. in 1913, Perkins, who took the nickname “Pinetop” from the earlier bluesman Clarence “Pinetop” Smith (Who knows what it means? I forgot the explanation I was given years ago, but I remember that it did not make much sense.) Perkins started out playing guitar and piano. He had to give up guitar early on after tendons in his arm were severed by a VERY angry woman carrying a knife. He played with Robert Nighthawk and Sonny Boy Williamson before joining Muddy Waters’ band in 1969, where he had garnered most of his recognition.

After Muddy died in 1983, Pinetop went on to a stellar solo career. According to the liner notes by Justin O’Brien, the next to last track on the disk, “Willow Weep for Me” a jazz standard instrumental, is the first and only time Pinetop recorded the song. Like “Relaxin’” it gives pause to think about this remarkable one-of-a kind musician and man. And remember, Pinetop refused to play blues on Sundays, stopping precisely at midnight. If that helped him make it to heaven, then there’s some mighty fine barrelhouse banging going on up there.

NOTE: Consider donating to the Pinetop Perkins Foundation, established several years ago to provide encouragement and support for youth and young people at the beginning of their musical careers; and help provide care and safety for elderly musicians at the twilight of their career.

The Foundation is a tax exempt non-profit organization. Donations will go towards scholarships to enable youth to attend the Master Class Workshops held annually in Clarksdale, Mississippi.

<- back to Features