Friday, February 8, 2013

The Day I Met A Blues Legend (Almost ...)


Pine Top Perkins and the story of how I came across him in a bar - and I didn't even realize it! We frequently hear stories about the old blues legends, but usually we don't get to meet one. I did get to meet one, but it didn't work out in the way I thought it would be. A long time ago in a Galaxy far, far away ...


Anyone interested in the original blues, either guitar or piano, know the names of the 'blues legends', such as Pine Top Perkins. They were the guys that started it all. None of them had to try and understand the blues , they were the blues! Names like Lightnin' Hopkins, Robert Johnson and Big Bill Broonzy come to mind.

 In 1998, when I was living in Indiana, I was often thirsty for the sound of old-style blues. Someone told me that there was a blues bar called 'Buck's Working Man's Pub' in a town an hour's drive away in the town of La Porte. After work, I eagerly climbed into the car and set off.

Given directions by the locals, I made my way down main street, turned left at the second corner past the town hall and crossed the railroad tracks to the more disreputable side of town. At last, I'd get to see a slice of the real blues. The bar wasn't up to much. I got myself a beer and found my way to room at the back, following the sound of a loud electric band.

The place was about half full. Chicago blues wasn't really what I was looking for anyway - I was always more interested in learning how to play the blues in the old acoustic style.. The old fellow at my table told me the locals had hired the band as it was the bar's owner's birthday today. He didn't say much after that. The band finished the number and the singer addressed the audience. "Happy Birthday, Pinetop", he shouted, and carried on "Ladies and gentlemen, Pinetop has agreed to play a couple of numbers for us."

The old guy next to me got up and walked up to the stage, sitting down in front of a grand piano. He played a slow boogie which became increasingly complex with each passing bar. I mentally kicked myself as I realized I'd been sitting next to a real master, an original
blues man. Pinetop played only a couple songs and then walked past me out of the room. He didn't appear again the rest of the night.

With hindsight, I thought questions I should have asked him, but maybe it's just as well. It was the guys birthday and he could have been bothered by a stranger's questions. Legends are just people, you know.

How Long Blues