Pinetop Perkins: Heaven
April 17, 2012
By Grant Britt
Merle Haggard never had much use for piano players. “Can’t get ’em to play what they’re supposed to play,” he said in a ’95 interview. “They play everything on the goddanged keyboard.” Obviously he never met Pinetop Perkins. ‘Top plays what he’s spozed to – all the accents in place, the personification of boogie-woogie piano. On these previously unreleased sessions from 1986, when he was a spry 73 year old, Perkins is in top form. On “44 Blues,” his rough, almost incomprehensible vocals are the perfect counterpoint to his smooth, gliding piano style, punctuated here and there by a few left handed shots to make sure you’re paying attention. “Sittin’ On Top Of The World” is Willie Big Eyes Smith’s last known recording, with Perkins rolling along behind, tossing out graceful, but muscular trills. Even if you’ve heard him do his signature tune, “Pinetop’s Boogie Woogie,” on earlier recordings, this rollicking solo version is one of his best, with ‘Top obviously enjoying himself, talking a mile a minute as he gallops along. Ironically, even though Perkins is associated with the song, the tune was written by another Pinetop, Clarence “Pinetop” Smith, in 1928.
Perkins sounds relaxed and comfortable throughout this session, roaring through a bouncy version of “Sweet Home Chicago,” making up lyrics as he goes, enticing his darlin’ to come along to his adopted home town for a throwdown. The pianist trots out his crooning skills for “Pinetop’s Blues,” sounding like a much younger man .He turns the jazz standard “Willow Weep For Me” upside down, gently nudging it along in a boogie-woogie gait that sounds like it was custom fitted by his personal tailor.
Heaven is a fitting epitaph for Perkins, who died in March of last year at the age of 97. Even though he’s no longer with us, his notes are still trickling down in a heavenly shower. All you have to do is listen.