Pinetop Perkins Celebrates His 95th Birthday With Several High-Profile Blues Players in Telarc Recrding
Pinetop Perkins and Friends includes guest appearances by Eric Clapton, Willie Kent, B.B. King, Jimmie Vaughan and more
There are very few direct ties left to the golden age of post-World War II American blues – that seminal period in the 1940s and ‘50s when the acoustic sounds of the Mississippi delta migrated northward and gave way to the more electric groove of northern locales like Chicago and St. Louis. With the passing of John Lee Hooker and Robert Lockwood Jr. in recent years, almost no one can claim any first-hand connection to seminal figures like Muddy Waters or harpist Sonny Boy Williamson.
Pinetop Perkins is among the few. Now in his 90s, Perkins has been playing blues and boogie piano for more than six decades – including a twelve-year stint with Muddy Waters’ legendary outfit from 1969 to 1980. In addition to Muddy and the other aforementioned legends, Perkins has also had numerous encounters and collaborations with titans like Robert Nighthawk, Earl Hooker, B.B. King, Willie Dixon and Howlin’ Wolf.
Pinetop Perkins and Friends, set for release on Telarc on June 3, 2008 (just a few weeks before Perkins’ 95th birthday on July 7), is just what the title implies – a giant of blues piano surrounded by more than a dozen high-caliber musicians, many of them legendary in their own right, all of whom hold him in the highest regard. Included on the star-studded guest list are guitarists Eric Clapton, B.B. King and Jimmie Vaughan, bassist Willie Kent (who passed away in March 2008), drummer Willie “Big Eyes” Smith and many more.
“Everyone who came to this project came to it with their hearts wide open, and they all brought their best to the table,” says producer Doug Nelson. “I’ve worked on some great projects, but until I worked on this record with Pine, I’d never had the opportunity to work on a project that came together with such a palpable sense of love and respect.”
The ten-track set includes some of the most familiar and revered songs in the blues, all of them anchored by Perkins on piano and vocals. But don’t be fooled by the numbers on this elder statesman’s odometer. He remains in top form throughout the set, as evidenced by the spirited musical – and sometimes vocal – repartee between him and his various guest artists.
The well-known 12-bar opener, “Take It Easy Baby,” is one of Perkins’ numerous contributions to the blues lexicon. This rendition features Perkins on piano and lead vocals, along with Jimmie Vaughan lending an element of grit on lead guitar. The followup track, “Got My Mojo Working,” is the call-and-response classic that features Eric Sardinas on slide guitar and backing vocals.
A couple more high-profile guitarists step forward on the next two tracks, as B.B. King burns through the uptempo “Down in Mississippi” (and offers Perkins some vocal give-and-take as well) while Eric Clapton lays down his signature sound – laid back riffs full of soul – for the melancholy medley, “How long Blues”/”Come Back Baby” The medley also features a powerful vocal duet between Perkins and the compelling Nora Jean Bruso.
“Nobody’s ever put those two songs together before,” says Nelson, who considers the medley one of his favorite tracks on the album. “I asked Pine if he thought it would work and if it would be right to do it. He liked the idea, and it ended up sounding like magic. We’re both very proud of that track.”
“Hoochie Coochie Man,” the grinding, testosterone-driven classic by Willie Dixon, derives its churning energy from the combination of Perkins’ sleek piano/vocal delivery, augmented by Vaughan’s trebly guitar accents and backing vocals.
In the home stretch, Perkins serves up a loose, rollicking version of Robert Johnson’s “Sweet Home Chicago” with the help of “Little Frank” Krakowski and Paul Diethelm on guitars, along with Brusco and Doug Nelson on backing vocals. The album closes with the slow-grooving “Bad Luck Baby,” supported by the rock solid rhythm section of bassist Willie Kent and drummer Leon Smith.
Pinetop Perkins and Friends is the latest in a recent string of achievements for an artist who apparently doesn’t understand the meaning of the word “retirement.” Last of the Great Mississippi Delta Bluesmen: Live in Dallas, a 2007 recording on The Blue Shoe Project that featured Perkins alongside pre-WWII delta blues originals like David “Honeyboy” Edwards, Henry James Townsend and Robert Lockwood Jr., scored a GRAMMY® Award (Best Traditional Blues Album) on February 10, 2008. In addition, Born in the Honey: The Pinetop Perkins Story, a documentary DVD released by Sagebrush Productions, has been nominated for a 2008 Blues Music Award. The annual Blues Music Awards are scheduled for May 8, 2008, in Tunica, Mississippi.
After nearly 70 years of performing and recording – and weaving a significant corner of the of the American blues tapestry in the process – Pinetop Perkins has forgotten far more than most musicians half his age will ever know. Pinetop Perkins and Friends is a snapshot of just a few of the artists whom he has inspired along the way.