Pinetop Perkins, one of the last old-school bluesmen who played with Muddy Waters and became the oldest Grammy winner this year, died Monday at his home of cardiac arrest. He was 97.
Perkins was having chest pains when he went to take a nap and paramedics could not revive him, said Hugh Southard, Perkins' agent for the last 15 years.
The piano man played with an aggressive style and sang with a distinctive gravelly voice.
B.B. King said in an emailed statement that he was saddened by the loss of his friend.
"He was one of the last great Mississippi Bluesmen," King said. "He had such a distinctive voice, and he sure could play the piano. He will be missed not only by me, but by lovers of music all over the world".
Perkins accompanied Sonny Boy Williamson on the popular King Biscuit Time radio show broadcast on KFFA in Helena, Arkansas, in the 1940s. He toured with Ike Turner in the 1950s and joined Waters' band in 1969.
"He is the blues, he is the epitome of it," Southard said. "He lived it, breathed it."
Perkins won a Grammy in February for best traditional blues album for "Joined at the Hip: Pinetop Perkins & Willie `Big Eyes' Smith." That win made Perkins the oldest Grammy winner, edging out late comedian George Burns, who was 95 when he won in the spoken category for "Gracie: A Love Story" in 1990.
"We knew he lived a good life. What can you say about the man? He left here in his sleep. That's the way I want to go," said Smith, who lives in Chicago.
Perkins also won a 2007 Grammy for best traditional blues album for his collaboration on the "Last of the Great Mississippi Delta Bluesmen: Live in Dallas." He also received a lifetime achievement Grammy in 2005.
Even at his age, he was a regular fixture at Austin blues clubs, playing regular gigs up to last month. He had more than 20 performances booked this year, Southard said. After they won the Grammy this year, Smith and Perkins discussed recording another CD.
Perkins was born in Belzoni, Mississippi, in 1913 and was believed to be the oldest of the old-time Delta blues musicians still performing.
In an 80-year career, he played at juke joints, nightclubs and festivals. He didn't start recording in his own name until he was in his 70s and released more than 15 solo records since 1992.
That drive to keep playing the blues is what kept him alive, Southard said.
Smith said Perkins once told him he was happiest when he was playing music.
Perkins also loved fast food and was a smoker until the day he died.
"Two cheeseburgers, apple pie, a cigarette and a pretty girl was all he wanted," Southard said.
Perkins, who had no survivors, will be buried in his hometown, Southard said, but details were not immediately available. An Austin tribute to honor his life and music will be scheduled within the next week, Southard said.
Perkins moved to Austin in 2004 to live with an associate since he had no family.
Byrd reported from Jackson, Mississippi.