Pinetop Perkins with the John Primer Band

Intergenerational blues summits are all too rare these days, especially between such well-matched musicians: pianist Pinetop Perkins, who’s 87, and guitarist John Primer, a relative youngster at 56, are both masters of the straight-ahead postwar Chicago style. His age notwithstanding, Perkins can still light fires: last year he released Live at Antone’s, Vol. 1 (Antone’s), recorded in 1995 at the Austin nightclub, and on a nimble version of “Pinetop’s Mambo” his treble rolls practically dance over a sparse, precise left-hand bass line. On Ivory Joe Hunter’s classic “I Almost Lost My Mind,” he abandons his usual effervescence for tender introspection; combined with his chiming, satiny tone and rich pop-jazz chording, it lends a deep melancholy to a song too often rendered as a maudlin lament. He even freshens shopworn standards like “Got My Mojo Working,” “Just a Little Bit,” and “Caldonia,” inserting deft upper-register twists and curls into his right-hand runs. Perkins and Primer both played in Muddy Waters’s band, though never together–Primer joined in 1980, just after Perkins concluded his stint. The sensual whine of Waters’s slide is audible in his leads, alongside the piercing attack of his longtime colleague Magic Slim; his improvisations tend to climb aggressively through the scale, spiked with strategically placed string shivers, bends, and accents. A recent addition to Primer’s band, harpist Steve Bell, is the up-and-coming generation’s representative at these gigs–son and protege of the legendary Carey, he’s also the capstone of Primer’s lineup. His style is clearly based on his father’s, with its broad swoops, rapid-fire flurries, and vocal ululations sung through the harmonica, but every time I see him he seems to have added something new: lately his tone is keener in the upper register, more tubular and solid through the middle, and his style is more hornlike, with daredevil intervals and angular lines. Friday and Saturday, March 30 and 31, 9:30 PM, Rosa’s Lounge, 3420 W. Armitage; 773-342-0452. Pianist Detroit Junior will take over for Perkins at midnight on Saturday; according to the club, Perkins recently learned his father was a preacher, and now prefers not to play on Sundays.


Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/James Fraher.