* 'Bass rolling like thunder'
* Inspired a young Ike Turner
AUSTIN, Texas, March 21 Blues musician Joe
Willie "Pinetop" Perkins, who this year became the oldest
person ever to win a Grammy Award, died at his Austin home on
Monday at age 97.
"He went to take a nap and didn't wake up," said his
manager, Patricia Morgan.
Perkins won a Grammy, the music world's top award, for best
traditional blues album for "Joined at the Hip: Pinetop Perkins
& Willie 'Big Eyes' Smith." He also won a 2007 Grammy and a
2005 lifetime achievement Grammy.
Perkins was born in 1913 on a cotton plantation near
Belzoni, Mississippi, and became a sideman to blues legends
such as Muddy Waters and Sonny Boy Williamson.
Never learning to read -- a shortcoming he once said cost
him throughout his long career -- Perkins picked cotton and was
introduced to whiskey as a boy by his mother. He ran away from
home after his grandmother smashed a bottle over his head for
not chopping firewood.
The lanky Perkins began playing guitar at house parties and
ramshackle "juke joints" in the South, and taught himself to
He was forced to give up the guitar and stick to piano
after a woman sliced open his arm in a Helena, Arkansas,
nightspot. The doctor who sewed up the gash left the tendons in
his left arm too short for him to finger chords on the guitar.
"I can't play piano like I used to either," Perkins told
the Chicago Tribune in a 2004 interview. "I used to have bass
rolling like thunder. I can't do that no more."
Perkins adopted his nickname after recording "Pinetop's
Boogie Woogie," which he composed for one of his mentors,
Clarence "Pinetop" Smith.
He appeared on Williamson's King Biscuit Time radio program
in the 1950s and recorded and toured with Earl Hooker, Big Joe
Williams and Robert Nighthawk.
While with Williamson, Perkins inspired a young Ike Turner
whom he taught to play boogie-woogie -- a style and tempo that
evolved in Turner's hands into the song "Rocket 88," which some
music historians regard as the first rock 'n' roll song.
In 1969, Waters picked Perkins to replace Otis Spann on
piano in his electrified blues band.
After a dozen years, Perkins and some other bandmates left
Waters to form the Legendary Blues Band, and he also performed
as a sideman on albums by Chicago blues guitarist Buddy Guy and
singer Neil Diamond.
He went out on his own when he was in his 80s and in 1988
released an album of Chicago blues entitled "After Hours."
Perkins won blues music's version of the Grammy, the W.C.
Handy Award, for keyboard playing for 11 straight years and the
prize for traditional blues man in 2004. He was inducted into
the Blues Hall of Fame in 2003.
He made appearances in blues clubs alone or in a trio,
often sporting a homburg, one foot stomping to the beat --
although never on Sundays.
"I ask the Lord, please forgive me for the stuff I done
trying to make a nickel," he told the Tribune.
(Reporting by Corrie MacLaggan in Austin; Writing by Andrew
Stern in Chicago; Editing by Peter Cooney)