Pinetop Perkins

He was a blues musician who helped to create the modern boogie-woogie style. Although he wasn’t the original author of “Pinetop’s Boogie Woogie”, it is safe to say that more people today associate it with Pinetop Perkins rather than Clarence “Pinetop” Smith, who wrote it. Although it appears that he has been in Chicago for all of his life, the Mississippi native had a very late start to his journey to immortality in the Windy City. Perkins’ mastery over the ivories only grew to great heights when Muddy Waters brought him on to replace Otis Spann. Perkins started his blues career primarily as a guitarist. However, a mid-’40s encounter involving an outraged chorus girl wielding a knife at a Helena nightclub left Perkins with severed tendons. His guitar ambitions were thwarted by that incident, but Joe Willie Perkins recovered from the injury and remained focused on his piano playing. Perkins had travelled to Helena in 1943 with Robert Nighthawk, where he played with Nighthawk’s elegant slide guitarist on Nighthawk’s KFFA radio station. Perkins quickly switched to Sonny Boy Williamson’s King Biscuit Time radio station in Helena. He remained there for a long time. Perkins was a Nighthawk companion on the 1950 Chess Brothers session that produced “Jackson Town Gal,” however Chicago could not hold him. Earl Hooker, Nighthawk disciple, recruited Perkins in the early ’50s. They set out on the road, stopping at Sam Phillips’ Memphis studios for Perkins to wax the first “Pinetop’s Boogie Woogie”, in 1953. After settling in Illinois, Perkins moved to Chicago. Slowly, music was put on the back burner. Hooker convinced him to work on an Arhoolie LP in 1968. The stage was set for Pinetop Perkins’ reemergence after Spann left Muddy Waters. Perkins and his bandmates departed the Legendary Blues Band after more than a decade together as the Man. Perkins’ rich vocals and rippling 88s were prominently featured on their early Rounder albums, Life of Ease and Red Hot ‘n Blue. He had previously recorded an album for French Black.

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