- Born in the Honey: The Pinetop Perkins Story
- Pinetop Perkins
Robert Lockwood Jr., born in 1915, died in October 2006. Memphis Slim, born the same year, has been dead almost 20 years. Muddy Waters, also born in 1915, died almost 25 years ago. Seminal Mississippi Delta bluesman Robert Johnson, born in 1911, left this mortal coil about 70 years ago. At the time of this writing, July 2007, probably the oldest living Delta bluesman still active is Joe Willie “Pinetop” Perkins, born July 13, 1915, and remarkably scheduled to perform at a festival during this month as he turns 94 years old!
I last saw Pinetop perform during the January 2006 Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise. Feeble and verbally repetitive, he had to be helped to his piano seat. Yet when he began to play the years seemed to fall away, his pleasure at performing was infectious and poignant, and the music that flowed from his nimble fingers was still high quality.
“Born in the Honey, The Pinetop Perkins Story” is a combined CD and DVD paying tribute to his 8 decades (!) in the blues. Although somewhat diminished by uninspired narration, the DVD faithfully traces Pinetop’s life from his birth in Mississippi, to his itinerant career with blues greats Robert Nighthawk, Sonny Boy Williamson (Rice Miller), and Earl Hooker, through his arrival in Chicago, sojourn as pianist with Muddy Waters, stint with the Legendary Blues Band, and solo career begun only in his 80’s. Pinetop has seen and done a lot, and his playing mirrors his experience. He is not the first blues artist to aver that “I am the blues,” but he has as much right to the claim as anyone else. Interviews with many colleagues and admirers are interspersed with Pinetop’s own modest and amusing reminiscences, and with viewings of several complete songs and cuts from other songs. The main shortcoming is a lack of footage from Pinetop’s glory years, the ‘40’s through the ‘70’s, but maybe they just aren’t available.
The accompanying CD features Pinetop tickling the 88s and singing on 10 songs with a strong back-up band, recorded in 2001 (with one cut from 1997). Pinetop’s singing has never been his strong suit, but his weathered, almost spoken renditions of such chestnuts as “How Long Blues,” “Kansas City,” and “Mojo” are nonetheless moving and entertaining. His piano playing continues to be innovative and tasteful without gratuitous flashiness; his devotion is to the song, not his ego. The Blues Foundation’s annual Blues Music Award for best pianist of the year is now labelled the Pinetop Perkins Award, since he won it repeatedly, year after year. This CD demonstrates why, while revealing the joy of his life in the blues.