Friday, March 25, 2011

A Few Items of Note

The blues world lost one of its genuine treasures this week when Pinetop Perkins passed away in his sleep at home in Austin, TX, at the age of 97.  One of the greatest piano players in the genre, Perkins was born in Belzoni, MS, and actually got his start as a guitarist, but got in a fight with a chorus girl in Helena, AR, and the tendons in his left arm were damaged. 

In his early career, he played with Robert Nighthawk and Sonny Boy Williamson on their radio shows in Helena, and with Nighthawk during his early 1950's sessions with Chess Records.  He also played with B. B. King and Earl Hooker, and during his tenure with Hooker, he recorded his version of Pinetop Smith's "Pinetop Boogie Woogie," that earned him his nickname for good (he had also been called "Pinetop" during his King Biscuit days with Williamson).

Perkins left the scene for most of the 60's, but came back in 1969 to replace Otis Spann in Muddy Waters' band and held down the piano stool for the next twelve years, leaving with several other members to form The Legendary Blues Band.  They recorded a couple of albums for Rounder in the 1980's.

Joined at the HipInterestingly enough, Perkins didn't really emerge as a frontman until he was approaching eighty years old, but when he did, it was with a vengeance, releasing fifteen albums in fifteen years.  He recorded and performed with just about everybody who's anybody in the blues world.  He won the Blues Music Award for best piano player so many consecutive years that they renamed it the Pinetop Perkins Award in 2003.  Most recently, he became the oldest Grammy winner ever when his collaboration with Willie "Big Eyes" Smith, Joined At The Hip, won for Best Traditional Blues Recording. 

For more information on this great bluesman's life, I highly recommend the 2007 DVD, Born In The Honey.  It's a fascinating study of his life up through his 94th year, with some cool stories from many of his contemporaries.  There's also a live CD that's included with the DVD.  Perkins was loved by everyone who came into contact with him and will be missed immensely by fans and fellow musicians alike.

In Friday Blues Fix's interview with Broke & Hungry Records chief Jeff Konkel a few months ago, he made mention of an upcoming 5-year anniversary two-disc retrospective in the Spring.  Well, Spring has sprung and the retrospective's release is just around the corner (April 19).  Called Mistakes Were Made: Five Years of Raw Blues, Damaged Livers, & Questionable Business Decisions - A Broke & Hungry Records Retrospective, this set features thirty tracks on two discs.  Sixteen of the tracks are choice selections from the excellent Broke & Hungry catalog, plus a few tracks from the M for Mississippi joint venture in 2008.  Fourteen tracks are either previously unreleased recordings made during the earlier recording sessions (which sound as good as what actually ended up on the CDs) or brand new recordings especially for this collection (four from Terry "Harmonica" Bean and two from Broke & Hungry utility man, Bill Abel).  Konkel wrote the liner notes, which include mini-bios for each artists, plus some of his own reminiscences.  This is a great set to get started with if you're interested in what the current Mississippi country blues sounds like, but I promise you will want to dig deeper into Broke & Hungry's other recordings once you've finished this one.

Playing The GameBlue Skunk Music has been putting out some quality product for a while now, but they have really set the bar pretty high with their most recent set of releases, which include the Stevie J CD I reviewed a couple of weeks back, The Diversity Project, and Howard Glazer and the El 34s excellent new set, Wired For Sound.  However, I think I may like the new one by Kevin Selfe and the Tornadoes, Playing The Game, best of all.  Selfe was a late bloomer, discovering the blues while studying to be a meteorologist at North Carolina State.  Even though he graduated with a degree in Meteorology, he decided to put that on the backburner and pursue a music career.  He started out with the Fat Daddy Band out of Virginia and performed at the 2003 IBC, recorded three CDs and stayed with the band six years before striking out on his own.  He's performed all over the U.S. with the Tornadoes and has continued to record.  Playing The Game is a great set of blues rooted in the traditional sounds of the past, but with a decidedly modern feel as well.  Selfe's guitar work is first rate, as are his vocals.  It's great to hear guys like Selfe doing their part to keep the blues alive, and this album will probably show up on some end-of-the-year Top Ten lists (including mine).  Check out this live performance of a track from the disc, called "Walking Funny."

Lee A. "House Rocker" Rhodes
When I was growing up, probably in my early to mid teens, I used to listen to one of the local radio stations at night on the weekends while I was lying in bed.  I had one of those clock radios with the 70's era funky-looking numbers.  I could set it to play an hour and it would automatically shut off after I fell asleep.  On the weekends way back then, one of the Meridian stations (I think it was WALT, which was on FM at the time) featured a guy named "The House Rocker" on Saturday nights and he would play tons of R&B, soul, and even the occasional blues tune during his two-hour show.  I learned a lot about music from the House Rocker and I really wanted to be a DJ after listening to him (unfortunately I sound more like Gomer Pyle than Gomer does).  Anyway, the reason I bring this up is because the House Rocker passed away this week in Meridian.  His real name was Lee Arthur Rhodes and he was 88 years old.  He was one of the first, if not the first, black DJs in the Meridian, MS area and played late night blues on WOKK for years, but he was heard on both the black and white stations in the area from the 50's through the 80's.  He's one of the main reasons that I ended up getting into this type and many, many other blues and R&B fans, both black and white, in this part of Mississippi.  Thanks for all the hours of listening pleasure, House Rocker.

This has been a short edition of FBF....some weeks are busier than others......but be sure to come back in the coming weeks as we'll be discussing more great blues artists of yesterday and today, along with some essential reading, viewing and listening material, both new and old.  Before we go, however, here's my very favorite Pinetop Perkins song, from the Antone's 10th Anniversary celebration in the mid 80's.  Perkins was in good company on this track, with James Cotton on harmonica and Jimmie Vaughan on guitar.  Check out Perkins' rollicking version of "Caledonia."  I think the sheer exuberance of this track captures the essence of Pinetop Perkins better than any track of his that I've heard.

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