Pinetop Perkins bringing the boogie to Casbeers
At 91, pianist Joe Willie "Pinetop" Perkins is among the few remaining blues pioneers who emerged from the segregated, impoverished, post-war South to create a musical form that reflected and transcended the human condition. It isn't an overstatement to say that Perkins and his fellow first-generation blues players revolutionized not only American music, but also Western culture.
And to illustrate the extraordinary nature of his January 7 San Antonio show, two weeks after he plays at Casbeers, a cozy midtown restaurant/bar that holds 150 people if no one eats too many enchiladas, he performs at New York's Lincoln Center.
Born two years after Robert Johnson, Perkins hails from Belzoni, Mississippi, where he learned to play guitar, later writing the hit "Pinetop's Boogie" for Clarence "Pinetop" Smith, his namesake.
Unable to play guitar, Perkins switched to piano, and he became renowned for his swinging barrelhouse style, with its rumbling bass chords and rollicking, playful runs that imitate horn lines. When Perkins attacks the piano, it sounds as if not two, but a half-dozen hands are playing.
Perkins performed with B.B. King, Howlin' Wolf, Robert Nighthawk, Earl Hooker, and Big Joe Williams, and anchored Muddy Waters' group until 1980, when Perkins, formed his own Legendary Blues Band.
Despite his extensive ensemble work, Perkins' solo career flourished, and he released more than a dozen albums, including 1997's Born in the Delta, which was nominated for a Grammy for Best Traditional Blues Album, and 2004's Ladies' Man, which received another Grammy nomination.
Oddly, Perkins injured an arm again earlier this year when his car collided with a train; a cut on his head required 45 stitches.
In an interview with National Public Radio last month, Perkins, who now lives in LaPorte, Indiana, about 45 miles east of Chicago, joked about how the years have been unkind to his hands. "I can't use'em like I used to," he told NPR. "I used to play piano but the piano is playing me now."