Review of Pinetop Perkins DVD

Montalvo Arts Center

Born In The Honey: The Pinetop Perkins Story

Sagebrush/Vizztone SB 101
By Lee Hildebrand

“He’s not only a musician, but let me tell ya, he’s got some of God in him. You better believe that,” Hubert Sumlin says of Pinetop Perkins in the DVD Born In the Honey.

Joe Willie Perkins, born 94 years ago on Honey Island Plantation in Belzoni, Mississippi, is an unstoppable force of nature. The documentary, directed by Peter Carlson, provides plenty of evidence. In the mid-1940s, a chorus girl slashed Perkins’ left arm, severing a=2 0biceps tendon. (“The bass rolled like thunder on the piano till that happened,” he comments. “Can’t do it no more.”) A few years later, in Chicago, Earl Hooker’s amp blew up near Perkins, rupturing his eardrum and causing a 50 percent loss of hearing. In 1994, he was placed under house arrest for numerous DUIs, then forced into rehab. (“I didn’t quit; they made me quit,” he quips.) And he still smokes cigarettes. (“He must have been smoking for 75 years, and his lungs are clearer than mine – and I don’t even smoke,” Willie “Big Eyes” Smith observes.) The film doesn’t even mention the incident in 2004 in La Porte, Indiana, when a train slammed into Perkins’ car. The vehicle was totaled, but the pianist was unscathed.

The fascinating film features interviews with Sumlin, Smith, Sam Carr, Bubba Sullivan, Ike Turner, Bobby Rush (who says of Perkins, “Not only was he a piano player…he was a lady player, too”), Paul Oscher, Ann Rabson, Dr. John, Lonnie Brooks, Mitch Woods, Taj Mahal, Eddy Clearwater, Marcia Ball, Kim Wilson, Bernard Allison, Koko Taylor, and, of course, Perkins himself. Everyone has great things to say about the pianist, including Taylor, whose tells him she’d marry him if she didn’t already have a husband. And there’s loads of club and concert footage, with different bands at various venues. The best of the groups – and the one featured most prominently – finds Perkins in the company of his former Muddy Waters cohorts Smith, Calvin Jones, and Bob Margolin.

The DVD comes with a 10-song CD. Nine tracks were recorded live in Chicago when Perkins was 87 with a rhythm section comprising drummer Smith, bassist Bob Stooger, and guitarist Frank Krokowski. They open with the Waters band’s instrumental theme, Jimmy Smith’s Back At The Chicken Shack, to which Perkins adds the lyrics of Amos Milburn’s Chicken Shack Boogie. Other selections include How Long Blues, Just A Little Bit (the Rosco Gordon tune, miscredited to Magic Sam), Grinder Man Blues and two other Perkins originals, and, for a closer, Got My Mojo Working. Work on, Mr. Perkins!