Blues musician "Pinetop" Perkins dies at 97

Mon Mar 21, 2011 7:49pm EDT
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AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - 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 play piano.

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.   Continued...