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July Feature: Pinetop Perkins and Bobby Blue Bland

Throughout July, Crossroads marks the centennial birthday of influential blues pianist, long time Muddy Waters band member and blues session player Pinetop Perkins. We'll also pay tribute to the great blues singer Bobby Blue Bland, who passed away last month at the age of 83.


Perkins, who was born  in Belzoni, Mississippi on July 7, 1913, was one of the masters of blues piano. He began playing (first guitar) at an early age and was soon performing at honky tonks and house parties throughout the Delta. He went on to work with Sonny Boy Williamson on the famed King Biscuit radio show, toured with Robert Nighthawk and Earl Hooker, and recorded for Sun Records, including on his own version of "Pinetop's Boogie Woogie," which became his signature song.

Pinetop Perkins as part of the Muddy Waters Band:


In 1969. Perkins replaced Otis Spann in Muddy Waters band and would have a major role in the sound and success of the group during Waters' comeback era. He remained with Muddy until 1980 when he and other band members formed the Grammy-nominated Legendary Blues Band.  Amazingly Perkins didn't release his first solo album until he was 75 and his solo career finally took off when he released a string of 15 albums in 15 years starting in his eighties.

Pinetop Perkins from his last recording session with "How Long"


Perkins was nominated for more Grammys as a solo artist. He also received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and an NEA National Heritage Fellowship, and was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame. He won so many Blues Music Awards that the piano award was finally named after him in 2003. Perkins became the oldest Grammy winner ever with his last album, Joined at the Hip with Willie 'Big Eyes' Smith, that won for Best Traditional Blues Album about a month before he passed away at the age of 97.


Crossroads will also pay tribute to Bobby Blue Bland throughout the month as well. Bland was one of the most distinctive vocalists in the blues and for a time one of its biggest hitmakers. In the decade between 1958 and 1968, he posted more than 30 Top 20 R&B hits, including the classics  "Farther Up the Road," "I Pity the Fool," "That's the Way Love Is," and "Turn On Your Love Light."

B.B.King and Bobby Blue Bland perform "It's My Own Fault" on Soul Train


Bland was born on January 27, 1937 in a town just north of Memphis. He moved to that town in his teens and while working day jobs starting singing first in a gospel group and then in the Beale Streeters, a group that also included B.B. King, Junior Parker, Roscoe Gordon, and Johnny Ace. He made early recordings with Chess, Duke and Modern before a stint in the Army. Upon his return to civilian life, Bland had his first breakthrough hit in 1955 with "It's My Life Baby." On the heels of his many hits with Duke Records, he toured constantly. He  refined the distinctive vocal style, alternately smooth and squalling, that became his trademark, and that combined with his sophisticated big band backup gave him the moniker of "Sinatra of the blues."  His soulful approach also made him one of the foundational artists in the then emerging soul-blues style.

Bobby Blue Bland with a live performance of his classic, "I'll Take Care of You"


Bland had some brief crossover success in the '70s with the albums Dreamer and California Album, but largely found his audience among blues and R&B fans. He continued recording through '90s, was inducted into both the Blues and Rock Halls of Fame and received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.