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Legendary Delta Blues Pianist Pinetop Perkins Dies At 97

Perkins played with Muddy Waters for 10 years and recorded with everyone from Sonny Boy Williamson to Eric Clapton

March 22, 2011 11:30 AM ET
Legendary Delta Blues Pianist Pinetop Perkins Dies At 97
Gary Miller/FilmMagic

Pinetop Perkins, a delta blues pianist who played with Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson and Robert Nighthawk, died of a heart attack at his Austin, Texas home on March 21st. He was 97. "He was one of the last great Mississippi Bluesmen," B.B. King said in a statement. "He had such a distinctive voice, and he sure could play the piano. He will be missed not only by me, but by lovers of music all over the world."

Perkins was raised on a plantation in Honey Island, Mississippi. He spent his childhood picking cotton and plowing fields with a mule, very rarely going to school. He began his musical career as a guitarist, but after severely damaging his left arm in a barroom knife fight in 1943 he switched to the piano. Around that same time he moved to Arkansas and began performing with blues legend Sonny Boy Williamson and slide guitarists Earl Hooker and Robert Nighthawk. By the Fifties he was backing musicians on early rock labels Sun and Chess.

In 1969 he joined Muddy Waters' backing band, where he stayed for over a decade - appearing on all of his LP's of the era and backing him at The Last Waltz concert in 1976. He released his solo debut After Hours in 1988 at the age of 75, and recorded and toured consistently until shortly before his death. His 2008 disc Pinetop Perkins & Friends featured contributions from Eric Clapton and B.B. King.

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