Playing By Ear At 95: Pinetop Perkins

PinetopPerkins and Friends video

Forget Li’l Wayne. I’m rooting for Pinetop Perkins tonight at the Grammy Awards. The blues piano man is still doing it to it at age 95, and his album Pinetop Perkins and Friends
is one of five nominees for Best Traditional Blues Album this year. Listen to Pinetop’s voice on NPR Music, warm and mellow as aged Kentucky bourbon, and you’ll think he should get the Grammy for sexiest sound bite, too. Uh-huh.

Perkins picked up the blues purely by ear. As a young man, he got a job backing up harmonica legend Sonny Boy Williamson. They played together for a long-running radio show called King Biscuit Time.

Perkins says he realized back then that he had a gift: He could hear in his mind where the music was headed before it actually happened. Before the other musicians heard them, he says, he could hear the chords and imagine the harmonies.

“I can hear that stuff coming to me before it gets to me, and do it to it,” he says. “It comes in my mind. Can hear the changes coming before they get to me. ‘How you do that? You don’t read it?’ No, I don’t read that stuff. No! I didn’t get no schoolin.'”

On the audio clip, that last quote is punctuated with Pinetop’s signature “Uh-huh.”

Want more? Check out Pinetop’s boogie at SxSW in 2005. Be warned, it ends too soon. Uh-huh.

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