Blues musician Pinetop Perkins dies at age 97

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Perkins in 2008

American blues musician Pinetop Perkins, a first generation Delta bluesman, died in Austin, Texas, on Monday at the age of 97. His death was announced by his agent, Hugh Southard. Perkins suffered from a cardiac arrest as he took a nap and paramedics failed resuscitate him. During his 80-year career Perkins remained active until the end, even performing publicly as recently as last month.

A boogie-woogie piano player, he was a guitarist until a knife fight damaged his left arm. He was primarily a sideman. Throughout his career he worked with several big names including Sonny Boy Williamson, Ike Turner and slide guitarist Robert Nighthawk. He worked for Muddy Waters for more than a decade, including playing on Muddy's great comeback albums of the late 1970s. He was 75 before an album was released under his own name.

Perkins also made history this year by becoming the oldest Grammy award winner. He won the best traditional blues album at February's ceremony for his album, Joined at the Hip: Pinetop Perkins & Willie "Big Eyes" Smith.

Tributes have been paid to Perkins. Southard said "That drive to keep playing the blues kept is what kept him alive." He also commented on Perkins simple lifestyle saying "Two cheeseburgers, apple pie, a cigarette and a pretty girl was all he wanted."

Perkins was born in in 1913 in Mississippi and grew up on a plantation there. In a 2008 interview in No Depression he said, "I grew up hard. I picked cotton and plowed with the mule and fixed the cars and played with the guitar and the piano. What I learned I learned on my own. I didn’t have much school. Three years."

He left behind no family and will be buried in his hometown of Belzoni, Mississippi. He had been living with an associate in Austin since 2004.


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