Legendary Bluesman Pinetop Perkins Dies At 97

Piano player Pinetop Perkins died at his home in Austin, Texas, Monday. He was 97. Perkins was one of the last of the original Mississippi blues men. Perkins played piano with an aggressive style and sang with a distinctive gravelly voice.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And now let's take a moment to remember a legendary blues man.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. JOSEPH WILLIE "PINETOP" PERKINS (Blues Pianist): (Singing) Now my heart is full of sorrow, eyes just full of tears. You've been gone 24 hours, seems like a million years.

INSKEEP: We're listening to the music of Joseph Willie "Pinetop" Perkins, who died yesterday at his home in Austin, Texas. He was 97, and still very active up until his final days. Perkins was still recording and touring. Earlier this year, he won a Grammy for Best Traditional Blues Album.

Pinetop Perkins was born in the Mississippi Delta. He quit school and ran away from home in the third grade. And he picked up a guitar, his instrument of choice, until a knife fight left him with damaged tendons. Only then did he start playing piano.

Perkins told NPR in 2007, he never learned to read or write music, but he had an intuitive ability to harmonize with a group.

Mr. PERKINS: I can hear that stuff coming to me before it get to me. How you do that? Did you read it? No, I don't read that, sir. No, I didn't get no schooling. Mm-mm.

INSKEEP: Pinetop Perkins got his nickname for playing a cover of the song "Pinetop's Boogie-Woogie" by another musician, Pinetop Smith.

Perkins did not achieve fame until his 50's, when he began playing with the likes of Muddy Waters, didn't release a solo album until 1988. But he made up for lost time, releasing 15 albums in the 15 years that followed and establishing a reputation for which he's remembered today.

It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR news. I'm Steve Inskeep.

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