Blues legend Joe Willie 'Pinetop' Perkins has died at 97


Image Credit: Gary Miller/

Legendary bluesman Joseph William Perkins, better known as Pinetop Perkins, has passed away at the age of 97, only days after coming out to see a SXSW Festival showcase near his home in Austin, Texas.

The Mississippi-born Perkins, known for his work with the likes of Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Robert Nighthawk, and Sonny Boy Williamson, began his career as a guitarist but switched to piano after injuries sustained in a fight in the 1940s (tendons in his left arm were severed, so the story goes, after a fight with a choir girl in Helena, Arkansas).

King told the Associated Press in an email statement: “He was one of the last great Mississippi Bluesmen. He had such a distinctive voice, and he sure could play the piano. He will be missed not only by me, but by lovers of music all over the world.”

Perkins also appeared briefly in the 1980 movie The Blues Brothers (in a scene in which he argued with John Lee Hooker over the authorship of Hooker’s classic track “Boom Boom”) and holds the record for oldest Grammy Award recipient, having received a statuette for Best Traditional Blues Album in 2008 for his Last of the Great Mississippi Delta Bluesmen: Live In Dallas.

In 2004, when he was 91, Perkins miraculously survived a car wreck in which his automobile was hit by an oncoming train; he continued to perform—in fact, he had more than 20 scheduled shows at the time of his death—and received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005. Watch him jam live, below, at SXSW that same year:

Said his longtime collaborator Willie “Big Eyes” Smith to the AP, “We knew he lived a good life. What can you say about the man? He left here in his sleep. That’s the way I want to go.”

Comments (17 total) Add your comment
  • Chris Davidson

    Pinetop spent a week living with my friends and i in New Jersey as he performed in the metro area back in the mid 90’s. He was a wonderful person to be around with fantastic stories and a great love of life. He amazed me with his music ability as well as his ability to keep up with people one third his age. He was a great musician and person. “Pinetop” you will always be remembered and missed… Rest in peace, we thank you.

    • Leslie

      I love him and was amazing

  • Grover

    KBBF and all your fans will miss you Pinetop. Rest in Peace.
    Your Mississippi Brothers

  • reb

    One night in a dance hall here in Austin, Pinetop walked up behind me and said in my ear, “Baby, you’re built for speed, and you got everything a good man need.” and just kept on walking.

    It’s a memory I treasure. RIP, sweet man.

    • sharon

      Excellent memory, thanks for sharing.

  • sharon

    RIP Pinetop, you contributed so much, thank you! You will be sorely missed.

  • scotty

    Been listened to you for 45 years…gonna miss ya Mr Perkins

  • Diana Wurster

    I will always remember Pinetop I use to clean his house and fish with him. He always had a nickname for everyone I was Red with the yams, Greg Campbell was the Bodygaurd. I will always remember the apple pies bananas and hot black coffee these were his favorites and don’t forget the cheesebugers at McD. We will miss you My Friend!!

  • Dwight

    Thank you “Pine Top” for all that you gave us !!! RIP

  • AER

    One of my favorite things about living here in Austin is getting to see Pinetop either playing or just hanging out at the great blues clubs downtown. He had his own table at Nuno’s on sixth back when it was still open. One night there, the place was packed and sitting down wasn’t an option. I was standing next to Pinetop and he offered me a seat at his table and got me a drink. One of the coolest moments other than actually seeing him play. I will always cherish the night wehn I had a drink with Pinetop Perkins.

  • Berni Simmons

    I feel blessed to have had a chance to see him perform at the Poconos Blues Festival last year. Amazing man! He will be dearly missed by all blues fans.

  • scotta352



    Thank you Mr. Perkins for all the joy you gave to the world. Rest in peace, we’ll miss you.

  • Brodie McLean

    On Saturday March 19th 2011 I was at the Mississippi Music Showcase on the 18th Floor of the Hilton Garden Inn at the Austin SXSW Music Festival. Pinetop Perkins was part of the audience. I asked for and was given permission to take a picture of him. After the picture I shook his hand and thanked him.He looked up and said your welcome. I now have a wonderful memory of him.

  • Danielle “dani”

    Just was made aware of “Pine”‘s passing. Good Lord! he lived a long life.As a former LaPorte, IN resident and patron at “Buck’s”,I got to know “Pine”he always had petnames for people, he called me ‘sweet thing’. I think he just could not remember names, but always friends!It was always a party and something special when “Pine” would ‘sit in’ with the local band or a Headliner. Pine has a sound/rhythem unique. No One, can compare. My wish to you; “Pine”, I hope you have KFC wings and all the panfry fish you can catch in the afterlife!! Thank You for the wisdom/experiences you shared on the shore of Clear Lake and of ‘places of home’.

  • Robert Cashatt

    Pinetop I only just heard of and would have like to hare him. I found a DVD about him at clud. I found him neat person and would like to have meet him.

  • play2win

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