“Even at his age, he makes it sound a little too easy.” -Robin Denselow, The Guardian
97-year old Pinetop Perkins is one of the great piano players in blues history. His performing career dates back to 1927, and recent accolades have cemented his status as one of the most influential keyboardists of the 20th Century.
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Review: A special night of blues served up hot
Ageless piano giant Pinetop Perkins was the main dish in a three-course meal of fine music at the Dakota.
By JON BREAM, Star Tribune
June 9, 2009
The internationally famous Dakota Jazz Club is known for its sumptuous food and its delectable music.
On Monday, the downtown Minneapolis nightspot served a special three-course menu of the blues, which will surely rank as one of the year’s most memorable musical meals.
Blues piano giant Pinetop Perkins, who played with Sonny Boy Williamson and Muddy Waters before starting the Legendary Blues Band, was the main course, but we can’t skip over the hors d’oeuvres.
First was Twin Cities singer-pianist Davina Sowers, who sounds like the daughter of Leon Redbone and Betty Boop trained on piano by Randy Newman. Backed by an upright bassist and trombonist, Sowers delighted with some sassy originals and sly covers of Billie Holiday, Fats Domino and “Has Anybody Seen My Gal.” Her slurring, Southern voice (she moved here from Key West, Fla., in 2005) sounded affected and alluring at the same time.
Second course Willie (Big Eyes) Smith was the real deal, a Chicago drummer/harmonica player/singer who also played with Waters and then the Legendary Blues Band. Smith and his combo served a 40-minute helping of listening blues, featuring his fluid and agile harmonica, the tasty guitar of Frank Krakowski and the in-the-pocket rhythm section of Bob Stroger and Kenny (Beedy Eyes) Smith, the frontman’s son.
“I’m not going to tell you how old I am,” said Smith, 73. “It don’t mean nothing.”
Not the way he played “Rub My Back” so expressively slow and low-down.
Smith’s group also backed Perkins, who has been rediscovered in the past decade thanks to the PBS series, “Martin Scorsese Presents the Blues,” and two Grammys, for lifetime achievement (2005) and for “Last of the Great Mississippi Delta Bluesmen: Live in Dallas” (2007).
Perkins’ timing on the piano was as impeccable as his gray tone-on-tone striped suit. His strikingly long, youthful-looking fingers — as long as an NBA star’s — with their manicured nails glided across the keyboard with ageless eloquence. With his right hand, he offered elegant horn lines, often in tandem with — or echoing — Smith’s harmonica line. With his left hand, he laid down the bass line. As has been his style, he favored boogie woogie (“Down in Mississippi” was swinging) and barrelhouse (“Big Fat Mama” was jumping). But he slowed it down for the gracefully long-winded “How Long Blues.” And after several tunes, he playfully plunked a coda from “Jingle Bells” or “shave and a haircut, two bits.”
Perkins’ face was expressionless, and his gravelly singing voice was not as assertive as his piano until his finale of Waters’ “Got My Mojo Working.”
However, no one in the packed house was complaining about Perkins’ voice or the fact that he performed for only 35 minutes. Think of it as one of those entrees that was nouvelle-cuisine petit but truly unforgettable.
Oh, for the record, Perkins will turn 96 next month. Smith was right: When it comes to music, age don’t mean nothing.