Grammy-winning blues pianist Pinetop Perkins died Monday of cardiac arrest at his home in Austin, Texas. He was 97.
Considered one of the last old-school Delta bluesman still performing, Perkins played piano with an aggressive style and sang with a distinctive gravelly voice. Though his early recordings were made primarily as a sideman, and later with the Legendary Blues Band, Perkins began recording in his own name later in life.
After switching instruments from guitar to piano, the Mississippi-born Perkins accompanied Sonny Boy Williamson on the popular King Biscuit Time radio show broadcast on KFFA in Helena, Ark., in the 1940s. He toured with Ike Turner (whom he mentored) and Earl Hooker in the 1950s and joined Muddy Waters’ band in 1969.
In 1980, Perkins and other members of Waters’ band (including Willie “Big Eyes” Smith) left to form their own project, the Legendary Blues Band, releasing a pair of albums on Rounder Records and touring with the likes of Eric Clapton and the Rolling Stones, as well as appearing as John Lee Hooker’s backing band in “The Blues Brothers.” Perkins recorded his first domestically released album, “After Hours,” for Blind Pig in 1988.
In 1985 the influential late Austin club owner Clifford Antone brought Perkins to Texas, where he became a fixture of the city’s blues venues, playing regular gigs up until last month.
Perkins and Smith won a Grammy for traditional blues album in February for their effort “Joined at the Hip,” which made Perkins the oldest Grammy winner on record. He also received the Grammy lifetime achievement award in 2005 and a traditional blues award for “Last of the Great Mississippi Delta Bluesmen: Live in Dallas” in 2008.
Perkins performed at the 2008 Kennedy Center Honors ceremony in celebration of inductee B.B. King. He had a small role in the film “Angel Heart” and was the subject of 2007 documentary “Born in the Honey.”