Having the blues may be bad when you’re missing your baby or down and out on the wrong side of town, but there must be something cathartic about spreading the word too. There are a lot of elderly blues ambassadors out there who are not only happy to keep touring but are thriving at the same time: Koko Taylor, Buddy Guy and of course BB King are just a few in this number who are all in their seventies or beyond.
But even further on down the road is inimitable piano man, Joe Perkins aka Pinetop Perkins who turned 95 this summer and had a new album – Pinetop Perkins and Friends – to coincide with the happy event.
It’s hard to be cooler than that when you’re 95, I’d have to say.
This isn’t an experimental record or an avant garde approach to the blues; instead, this is meat-and-potatoes-no-carrots blues all the way, never straying too far from the twelve bar boogie we all know and love. It’s a tribute album basically, with some high profile blues personnel on board to deliver the message. But having said that, it isn’t predictable either and there’s certainly nothing lukewarm or hackneyed with Pinetop’s playing. He’s adept at matching tempo and banter with his guests at top speed and you can hear the tell-tale boogie-woogie style that he is famous for, marbled through each song. (Pinetop Perkins actually got his nickname from Clarence “Pinetop” Smith who was the originator of a piano piece entitled, appropriately enough, Pinetop’s Boogie-Woogie.)
The cd gets started with a raunchy, fast paced Take it Easy Baby also composed by Perkins and it’s clear from the beginning that he has no intention of following his own advice. He's all over the piano ably supplying his own gravelly vocals and appears to be enjoying himself immensely. Jimmie Vaughan also plays on this one, casually adding molten riffs in all the right places.
There’s a great version of Got my Mojo Working which Perkins clearly knows his way around since he was the pianist for Muddy Water’s own band in the late sixties, after Otis Spann passed away.
Whilst I see no reason at all to question the mojo of Eric Sardinas -- whose guitar and voice are on fire by the way – it is a bit of a stretch to hear 95 year old Pinetop making the same wild assertions about his own; however, the fact that he carries this off – complete with laughing asides to Sardinas addressing this very thing – makes the song work. Listen up for that lightning quick slide work here.
BB King joins Pinetop for Down in Mississipi (another Perkins composition) which is both playful and celebratory. There’s lots of endearing back and forth chat on this one punctuated by BB’s stinging licks and genuine respect.
How Long Blues/Come Back Baby is a sleepy bluesy duet between Pinetop and Chicago singer Nora Jean Brusco whose soulful, gritty vocal work is a highlight of the whole record. Eric Clapton is here too contributing a subtle background magnificence that leaves his own imprint on the song although the energy never wavers from Pinetop and Brusco.
Pinetop Perkins and Friends is a feel-good record in every way and would be a good introduction to the blues for those just getting into the genre and a must for solid fans. Remember as you listen that Pinetop is nearly a century old and still pounding out some seriously hot blues! Yeee-ah.
You can sample the songs below:
Buy Pinetop Perkins & Friends at Amazon.com!