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Pinetop Perkins, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith – Joined at the Hip

Telarc Records

13 tracks; 58.33 minutes

Surely everybody reading Blues Blast will know all about Pinetop Perkins who was Muddy Water’s pianist through the 70’s and is the last living legend who played back in the 30’s. Pinetop will turn 97 in July and is still touring, often in the company of fellow Chicago legends, as is the case with his latest release alongside Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, Muddy’s drummer for many years.

As has been the case for the last few years, Willie leaves the drum stool to front the band on harp and vocals, leaving the kit to his son, Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith. Bass is in the hands of the always immaculate (playing and suits) Bob Stroger and guitar is handled mainly by Little Frank Krakowski, a long-time associate of Smith’s, with some help from John Primer. This is therefore top level Chicago blues from a first class ensemble.

The songs are mainly drawn from Willie’s pen, with covers of some judiciously chosen favorites. The set opens in classic Chicago style with “Grown up to be a man” before one of my favorite tracks, an energetic romp through Sonny Boy 1’s “Cut that out”, with call and response vocals from both guys. Track three is “Take your eyes off my woman” (I know what’s on your mind) with excellent vocals from Willie. The longest cut is track 4 “Walking down the Highway” which at 6.40 offers lots of solo scope for everyone. Special mention to Kenny’s emphatic drumming here!

Next up is “Gambling Blues” a rolling blues shuffle with strong harp work and a nice clear guitar solo. “I would like to have a girl like you” is a shuffle with a strong beat and hook. Track 7 is the gospel tune “Take my hand, Precious Lord”, sung by Pinetop and apparently a spontaneous recording in the studio – witness the amusing ending, with a quick quote from “Jingle Bells”! Given Pinetop’s age one always fears that he may know something we do not, but he sounds in rude health here!

A really swinging tune, with great piano, “You’d better slow down” precedes the only instrumental on the CD, entitled “Minor Blues”. Another swinger, this was apparently also an improvised cut in the studio and is a harp feature for Willie, with a nice walking bass part.

“I feel so good” is the tune we all know from Big Bill Broonzy. Here the band takes the tune at a fastish pace with Willie’s relaxed vocal a strong feature. “Lord, Lord, Lord” sounds like it might be another gospel tune, but instead it is a sad slow blues about lost love. In sharp contrast “Grindin’ man” is a traditional blues theme with a lascivious lyric about the strong demand for the grinder’s services amongst the ladies! Interestingly this little jewel is sung by Pinetop himself, so perhaps that is what keeps him so fit!

Closer is SBW11’s “Eyesight to the Blind”, played at a fast pace and bookending the CD well with a return to the classic Chicago sound of the opening cut.

So, there it is. 97 years young, still playing beautifully, singing, recording and touring. Hats off to Pinetop Perkins; may we all live so long and so well! And kudos also to Willie “Big Eyes” Smith and the rest of the band for a really enjoyable slice of classic Chicago blues.

Reviewer John Mitchell is a blues enthusiast based in the UK. He also travels to the States most years to see live blues music. He went on his first Legendary Blues Cruise in January 2010 and had such a good time he will be back in 2011!

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