Legendary bluesman Joseph William Perkins, better known as Pinetop Perkins, has passed away at the age of 97, only days after coming out to see a SXSW Festival showcase near his home in Austin, Texas.
The Mississippi-born Perkins, known for his work with the likes of Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Robert Nighthawk, and Sonny Boy Williamson, began his career as a guitarist but switched to piano after injuries sustained in a fight in the 1940s (tendons in his left arm were severed, so the story goes, after a fight with a choir girl in Helena, Arkansas).
King told the Associated Press in an email statement: “He was one of the last great Mississippi Bluesmen. 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 also appeared briefly in the 1980 movie The Blues Brothers (in a scene in which he argued with John Lee Hooker over the authorship of Hooker’s classic track “Boom Boom”) and holds the record for oldest Grammy Award recipient, having received a statuette for Best Traditional Blues Album in 2008 for his Last of the Great Mississippi Delta Bluesmen: Live In Dallas.
In 2004, when he was 91, Perkins miraculously survived a car wreck in which his automobile was hit by an oncoming train; he continued to perform—in fact, he had more than 20 scheduled shows at the time of his death—and received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005. Watch him jam live, below, at SXSW that same year:
Said his longtime collaborator Willie “Big Eyes” Smith to the AP, “We knew he lived a good life. What can you say about the man? He left here in his sleep. That’s the way I want to go.”