Piano Red: Finding The Lost 'CC Rider'

CC Rider

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Though recorded late in Piano Red's life, "CC Rider" finds the singer/pianist in fine, lusty form. Tony Paris Archives hide caption

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Piano Red

Though recorded late in Piano Red's life, "CC Rider" finds the singer/pianist in fine, lusty form.

Tony Paris Archives

Wednesday's Pick

  • Song: "CC Rider"
  • Artist: Piano Red
  • CD: The Lost Atlanta Tapes
  • Genre: Blues

A gruff yet jaunty voice declares, "We gonna do this thing about CC Rider because we get so much reactions. Here we go." A tinny piano picks up the beat of the classic blues song, pounding the keys in barrelhouse style. The left hand builds a pounding bass line while the right strides up octaves with ease. The singer/pianist is Willie Lee Perryman, known as "Piano Red" (he was an African-American albino with ruddy skin) and also as "Dr. Feelgood" (the name of his early-'60s hit).

Piano Red was said to be the first bluesman to crack the pop charts. In later years, the hits dried up. (Good thing "Red" was a skilled upholsterer.) But he kept performing off and on, and in 1981 landed a four-nights-a-week gig at Atlanta's Excelsior Mill. In October 1984, he decided he wanted to record his show.

Within a year, Perryman had died of cancer at age 73, and the recording languished. But this month, The Lost Atlanta Tapes finally came out of the vaults. One of the many highlights is "CC Rider," which Perryman had never previously recorded. A 12-bar blues from the 1920s, the song has been sung by everyone from Ma Rainey (who did it first) to The Animals. Its meaning is much-debated: Is CC Rider a hooker? The himbo for a sex-loving lady? It doesn't much matter. The words masterfully mingle devotion and regret, pleasure and pain — the perfect foil for a rollicking blues song. Piano Red delivers "CC Rider" with ease; age didn't hamper his fingers or dim his lusty vocals. A spontaneous "Eyoow" in the middle and a series of brawny "yeah yeah yeahs" at the end demonstrate that, even in his 70s, Willie Lee Perryman was still Dr. Feelgood.



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