Joe Willie "Pinetop" Perkins (1913-2011) was an influential blues pianist. He started out as a guitar player and was playing at bars, juke jonts, and rooster fights shortly after he had left home at 18. In the Forties, a knife-wielding chorus girl in Helena, Arkansas, severed several tendons in his left arm, ending that career. Perkins switched to piano, an instrument he had learned when he was twelve or thirteen. Perkins played for Robert Nighthawk on Nighthawk's radio program for KFFA, then moved to Sonny Boy Williamson's King Biscuit Time. While there, he taught a young Ike Turner how to play piano. Turner went on to record "Rockett 88," a song many consider to be the first rock and roll record, using a riff that Perkins had taught him. "That means Pinetop would be at the birth of rock and roll," Turner has said.
In 1969 Perkins was tapped by Muddy Waters to replace the late Otis Spann in Waters' band. Perkins became a cornerstone of the band nd often recorded with Waters. He and several other musicians left Waters in 1988 to play as the Legendary Blues Band.
After years of serving as a sideman for both live shows and recordings, Perkins began a solo career in 1988. He has been honored with 16 (!) W. C. Handy Awards (the "blies Grammy") for piano, was inducted into the Blue Hall of Fame, received the National Heritage Fellowship from the National endowment from the Arts, and recieved a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award as well as two other Grammies. The Pinetop Perkins Foundation offers annual workshops for young musicians interested in the blues and jazz. The Pinetop Assistance League provides supprt for elderly, impoverished musicians.
The blues can be a way of surviving life's many hardships. For Perkins that included a childhood of poverty and abuse. a lack of education (he never learned to read or write), being partially deaf from the 1950's. severe bouts with alcoholism and depression after his common-law wife died, losing his home when a stepson reneged on a mortgage (his stepsons "would steal sweetener out of ginger snaps and wouldn't break the crust"), being forced to move to worse and worse neighborhoods, and being struck by a train while driving a car at age 91, breaking his right arm and receiving 45 stitches but was back to performing two weeks later.
Perkins died in his sleep on March 21, 2011, at age 97. At the time of his death he had more than 20 performances booked for later that year. His death left David "Honeyboy" Edwards as the last of the original Delta blues musicians; Edwards died later that year on Ausust 29. And so an era ended.
Here's "Pinetop's BoogieWoogie" -- the full album with 12 tracks:
And "Born in the Delta" -- with 8 tracks
And "Solitaire" -- 14 tracks