R&B, Blues, Soul & Stax

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Farewell To A Blues Legend

21 MAR 11 DAVID SHANNON

The blues world lost a living legend in Willie "Pinetop" Perkins on March 21, 2011, marking the passing of the oldest living bluesman and a self-taught piano player who influenced generations of players after him and who became synonymous with brilliant soloing, whether as a sideman or solo artist. Born July 7, 1913, Perkins received numerous accolades during his long career, including a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and induction into the Blues Hall of Fame.

The list of greats Perkins has either played, toured or recorded with reads like a who's who of blues giants. From his three years alongside Sonny Boy Williamson during the 1930s and '40s on the Helena, Arkansas-based King Biscuit Hour radio program for KFFA (a program which still airs today) to touring the south with Earl Hooker during the 1950s; from his 12-year role manning the piano bench with Muddy Waters' band, beginning in 1969, to his own outfit the Legendary Blues Band, which garnered a slew of Grammy nominations, Perkins clearly left a massive imprint on the blues in his eight plus decades of playing.

In fact, his solo career didn't really begin until his 80s, when he left the Legendary Blues Band -- after which he recorded 15 solo albums in 15 years (including the Telarc releases Pinetop Perkins And Friends, on which he collaborates with Eric Clapton, B.B. King, and Jimmy Vaughan; Joined At The Hip: Pinetop Perkins & Willie "Big Eyes" Smith, for which he collected a Grammy for Best Traditional Blues Album at age 97; and Legends with Hubert Sumlin, among others in the Concord catalog). He continued to perform in his 90s, and it is said that he headlined every major showcase venue in North America.

Perkins himself summed up his longevity (he began as a guitar player at parties and honky-tonks before switching to piano after a fight with a choirgirl injured the tendons in his left arm) during his Grammy acceptance speech in February, 2011, when he remarked, "I'm so old, they call me Pinebottom." Artists with careers as varied and lasting as Perkins deserve to be celebrated, as they come around only once in a lifetime -- and what a lifetime it was.