RIP Pinetop Perkins: Blues Legend Dead At 97

Keep Houston Press Free
I Support
  • Local
  • Community
  • Journalism
  • logo

Support the independent voice of Houston and help keep the future of Houston Press free.

Ralph Mooney, former Waylon Jennings steel guitarist, also dies

Legendary multi-Grammy-winning blues pianist Pinetop Perkins has died at his home in Austin, according to his Web site. Perkins, who was part of Muddy Waters' band for years, was 97.

No cause of death was given. Less than two months ago, Perkins, along with his musical partner Willie "Big Eyes" Smith, won a Grammy for best traditional blues album, Joined At the Hip.

Born in Belzoni, Miss., on July 7, 1913, Perkins was one of the oldest of the original Delta bluesmen still living.

After switching from guitar to piano due to an injury suffered in a fight, Perkins worked at historic blues station KFFA with Sonny Boy Williamson on the popular King Biscuit Time program, one of the most influential blues programs in America, broadcast from Helena, Ark.

A journeyman musician most of his career, Perkins was selected to replace Otis Spann, considered by blues aficianados to be the top pianist in the Chicago blues scene, when Spann left Waters' band in 1969. Perkins worked for over a decade with Waters before striking out with several other Waters sidemen to form the Legendary Blues Band, who recorded off an on for over thirty years.

Perkins was finally recorded as a solo act in 1988, and according to the Blind Pig Records website, he was one of the most important figures in the development of blues piano:

"It was Pinetop, along with the likes of Pete Johnson, Meade Lux Lewis, Albert Ammons and Little Brother Montgomery, who provided the basic format and ideas from which countless swing bands derived their sound. Although Pinetop never played swing, it was his brand of boogie-woogie that was shaped to form swing and, eventually, rock and roll."

Perkins received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005 and another Grammy in 2008 for his collaboration with blues greats Honeyboy Edwards, Henry James Townsend, and Robert Lockwood, Jr. on Last of the Great Mississippi Delta Bluesmen: Live In Dallas.

Perkins had lived in Austin since 2005, and had a regular residency at Nuno's, where he played twice a week for the past few years. Funeral and memorial arrangements are pending.

In other news, Waylon Jennings' right-hand man, steel guitarist Ralph Mooney, passed away yesterday in Arlington from cancer complications. Mooney, 82, was one of the great stylists of his instrument and is credited by some critics with inventing the Bakersfield sound.

Mooney was an in-demand session player and during his long career contributed to such hits as Merle Haggard's "Swinging Doors" and "The Bottle Let Me Down." He also worked on numerous Buck Owens sessions, including the one that yielded "Under Your Spell Again."

Mooney struck songwriting gold when he co-wrote Ray Price's hit "Crazy Arms" in 1956 with Chuck Seals. Marty Stuart coaxed him out of retirement last year to record a version of "Crazy Arms" on Stuart's album Ghost Train: The Studio B Sessions, which won a Grammy earlier this year.

Sonically, Mooney will probably always be best known for his distinctive solos on Jennings/Willie Nelson duet "Mommas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys" and Waylon's rough-and-ready outlaw classic "Rainy Day Woman."

Follow Rocks Off on Facebook and on Twitter at @HPRocksOff.

Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.


Join the Press community and help support independent local journalism in Houston.


Join the Press community and help support independent local journalism in Houston.