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Remembering Pinetop

Posted by Deborah Orazi on March 23, 2011 at 7:58 AM

When I moved to Austin seven years ago, one of the things I couldn’t get over was seeing Pinetop Perkins around town.

 Joe Willie ‘Pinetop’ Perkins, one of the original Delta bluesmen. Muddy Waters’ piano player. A guy who had recorded for Sam Phillips in Memphis.  Grammy winner.   

There he was sitting alone at a table at the Broken Spoke,an assortment of his CDs spread out in front of him for sale. I was surprised to see him at the Spoke that first time. But it turns out Pinetop was a country music fan.  

Each time I saw him there, I grew a little bolder. At first I would stop by the table just to take a picture and shake his hand. Soon I was lingering longer and longer until I eventually got the nerve to pull up a chair one night. He didn’t seem to mind at all.  From then on I would sit with him whenever  I saw him at the Spoke, allowing myself just one question per visit so as not to be a pest.

 Pinetop knew the blues all too well, in his private life as well as his music.  A time or two he talked about himself without my asking anything. One particular night he seemed melancholy, and out of the blue told of being stabbed by a woman (a pivotal event in his career that would transform him from a guitar player into a keyboardist), and of a traumatic episode of violence in his family. I still wonder why he told me, a virtual stranger.

Another evening at the Spoke, a big blond woman in a shortskirt walked by the table and bent down to pick up something she had dropped.The view left little to the imagination. Suppressing a giggle I turned to Pinetop to see if he noticed. I was met by wide grin.

“If you got it, flaunt it,” the then 92-year-old said, shaking his head.   

When Chuck Berry played the Paramount in Austin a few years ago, Pinetop was backstage visiting his old friend.

I was there, too, but I was out front in the audience, the proud recipient of a ‘King Bee Social Club’ guitar pick passed to me by Chuck’s son right after the concert ended. When the crowd cleared I walked onto the stage and looked out the back load-in door just in time to see Chuck drive down the back alley in a big sedan.

A few minutes later Pinetop appeared from the dressing room area and made a beeline for the piano on the far side of the stage. He sat down, spread his long fingers over the keys and began pounding out gospel songs. I stood by his side listening to the impromptu concert and clutching my guitar pick, all the while thinking I must be the luckiest girl in the world. 

 

 


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