Pinetop really did pick cotton from sunup to sundown on a Mississippi plantation. He really did learn to copy the licks of Blind Lemon Jefferson and other mentors (including someone he calls Terrible Sludge) by stretching a wire - he calls it a "diddly bow" - between two nails in his boyhood shack. He really did run gambling houses and play juke joints, plantation parties, whorehouses and chicken fights, where sometimes the only pay was the carcass of the chicken that lost the fight. He really did switch from guitar to piano after a woman slit the tendons and muscles in his left arm with a knife.
Of course, none of this would matter much if Pinetop didn't deliver the goods. But his distinctive rolling style, caused in part by the way his compromised left arm approaches the keys, made him one of the now-legendary King Biscuit Boys, who provided blues tuneage to listeners across the South on the King Biscuit Time radio program out of Helena, Arkansas in the 1940s (yes, the earlier version of the King Biscuit Flower Hour!). When he joined the great northward migration from the Mississippi Delta to Chicago, his playing caught the attention of Muddy Waters, the father of the electric blues, who employed Pinetop for eleven years. His legacy rivals that of any living blues artist.
The lineup for the May 1 gig includes pianist/singer Perkins (who, at 96, is likely the world's oldest still-active blues musician); guitarist Hubert Sumlin, 79; and drummer/singer Willie "Big Eyes" Smith, 74. The group has recently been on the road with such babies as guitarist Bob Margolin, 61, and at 60 each, bassist Bob Stroger and harmonica ace James "Sugar Blue" Whiting (whom Rolling Stones fans may fondly recall for his red-hot harp work on "Miss You"). Best-known for his searing work with Howlin' Wolf and James Cotton, Sumlin was a key influence on the Stones, the Yardbirds, Cream, the Allman Brothers and numerous other bluesy rock bands in the 1960s and beyond.
All tickets for the "Blues Blowout" concert are $22, and are available at the college; the Chatham Bookstore; and the Greene County Council on the Arts in Catskill. To order tickets by telephone (major credit cards accepted), call (518) 828-4181, extension 3344, weekdays.