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Who will replace Pinetop?

By Wally Northway

Mississippians shouldn’t just be saddened by the news of the passing of legendary blues pianist Pinetop Perkins, we should be worried, too.

Who will ever replace him?

The master keyboardist died at his home in Austin, Texas, today. He was 97 years old.

Pinetop’s influence had spread well beyond his hometown of Belzoni by the 1950s, playing sideman to such bluesmen as Ike Turner and Sonny Boy Williamson. His career really took off after he caught the ear of fellow Mississippian Muddy Waters, who added him to his band in the late 1960s. He went on to release more than a dozen albums and win Grammies, including a lifetime achievement award.

It is very common to hear current blues and rock-and-roll keyboardists list Pinetop as one of their top influences. They don’t just listen to Pinetop’s work to be entertained — they listen to him to learn and to be inspired.

In a statement, B.B. King called Pinetop “one of the last great Mississippi bluesmen,” adding that he will be missed “by lovers of music all over the world.”

Indeed, the world has long been hearing the songs coming from the Mississippi Delta from masters such as Pinetop. The State of Mississippi has put on a huge push lately to package this cultural heritage through efforts such as the Mississippi Blues Trail.

When asked why he returns to his hometown of Indianola every year for the B.B. King Day blues show, King said it was because he is hoping that he will inspire others to take up the genre so they could fill his spot when he could no longer play the festival.

In other words, King is concerned that Mississippi will lose its blues greats, and no one will be around to replace them.

So, we should be worried. Who will we erect Mississippi Blues Trail markers for 10, 20, 30 years from now? The world is waiting — and listening.

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