Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Pinetop Perkins Foundation

Pinetop Perkins was one of the last great Mississippi Bluesmen. He began playing blues around 1927 and is widely regarded as one of the best blues pianists.

The Pinetop Perkins Foundation is a tax exempt non-profit organization. It's mission is to provide encouragement and support for youth and young people at the beginning of their musical career; and help provide care and safety for elderly musicians at the twilight of their career.

That’s a lofty and noble mission, and one in which I plan to become heavily involved. What’s not to admire about this foundation?

As I sit here at my desk, early on a Saturday morning, I’m thinking about Austin Young and Jack Gaffney. Austin is 15 and Jack is 13. Last night they both played Clarksdale, MS’s renowned Ground Zero Blues Club®, famously co-owned by Academy Award® winning actor, Morgan Freeman. Not bad for a couple of Colorado teenagers.

Here’s how this went down: shortly after Mr. Perkins’ passing, I was speaking with Foundation Board Member, Bob Margolin, about the mission and how I might become involved. Bob thought that I should speak with Board President and Pinetop’s long-time manager, Patricia “Pattop” Morgan, but to wait a few weeks until she had time to decompress from the funerals and breathe a little bit. So I did.

Fast forward a few weeks. I began organizing a Pinetop Perkins Tribute Tour with Bob Margolin, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, Bob Stroger, Jimmy Mays, and Muddy’s son, Big Bill Morganfield (who got the idea rolling). So I checked everyone’s calendars, and all were all available from September 29 - October 2 (it’s coming up soon!). Making my life significantly easier, four of the five share an agency, Blue Mountain, so I had only to deal with Derek Smith, the sole agent from any of the Big Three I’ve actually met, and one with whom I have a comfortable working relationship. So we cleared the dates, and then I had to explain what I have in mind for this tribute.

Here is the email I sent him: 


Here are my thoughts about the tour: It started with Big Bill talking with Dan the week Pine passed. Bill was here and mentioned that he'd like to do some sort of tribute. From that conversation came my involvement later that evening, and from a one-night gig to a short tour.

My idea is to have an empty piano bench with a framed photo of Pinetop, and only people who have played with him on the bandstand. I've also arranged for some Colorado teenagers to perform an opening set; last month at one of my fund-raisers (I have a lot of them...), these guys tore it up on a 45-min. set dedicated to Pinetop. Bob M. has played with these kids before, and he loved the idea. From that, I decided I would bill this as a Pinetop Perkins Foundation Awareness tour as well, with the next generation of the Blues opening and demonstrating what can happen when kids are exposed to the Blues. And, because I tend to think long-term, I can also see this being an annual fund/awareness raiser, although not necessarily with so many big names on the bill.

I've worked for three years with several young Blues musicians, between the ages of 6 - 17, and I love encouraging them and giving them a stage. I always invite them to sit in with Bob M. when he's here, and these relationships are becoming strong. I spoke with Bob about perhaps having Young Austin (his name is Austin Young, and he's a 15-year-old slinger who's sat in with Bob a couple of times now) as a Pinetop Perkins Foundation Ambassador, spreading the word whenever he plays, which is a lot.

I'm going on and on now, but I need you to understand that I have a lot more in mind than just one 4-gig tour. I'd like to be involved in helping the Foundation, and you can speak to Bob about my fund/awareness raising abilities. I'm not known as The Professional Tin Cup for nothing.

I haven't addressed these ideas with you before, as Bob thought it best to give Pat some time after Pine's passing, and I agreed. However, perhaps now is as good a time as any to discuss the Foundation and any assistance I can render. Thanks,


Derek forwarded my email to Pattop, and she loved the idea. Derek then sent me Pat’s phone number and said, “Call her.” So I did. By the conclusion of that long conversation, Pat had offered a couple of scholarships to this years PPF’s Youth Workshop Series Masterclasses in piano and guitar. I immediately thought of Austin, and mentioned him to Pat. She then asked me if I knew any piano players. I said no, but that I know of one who I could probably find (apparently there are a lot more young guitarists out there than pianists). So I set out to find him.

About a year ago, my friend and Blues singer, Jill Watkins and I were at the Boulder Creek Festival downtown. We rounded a corner and came upon the Teen Stage and heard some jammin’ keys accompanied by the voice of an angel. It took a minute to locate the source as he was barely visible behind his keyboard. Unfortunately, we were running a bit late meeting people so we could only stay for one song, but it was long enough to have tears running down Jill’s face and my jaw on the ground. Next to the stage was a small table with his cards on it, so I grabbed one. And promptly lost it. All I could remember was his name started with a “J.” Not much to go on, but I knew I could simply contact the people who book the festival to find out. I had a very busy week, so it was going to have wait.

Later that week, I was speaking with Lionel Young who happen to mention a really good young piano player had come to the Outlook for one of our Sunday Blues jams. He couldn’t remember his name, but described him to me and I knew it was my missing “J.” I told Lionel that I needed to find him, so to please ask some of the jammers if they could remember his name.

That Saturday night, the Outlook was hosting our first-ever show with the amazing Otis Taylor, so I was a nervous wreak. The show sold out, and all was great! Right around the beginning of the second set, I was standing in the sound booth when I felt a firm tap on my shoulder, I turned around and it was Lionel with his hands on a kids shoulders, and he said, “Aren’t you looking for a piano player?” I looked at the face of the boy, and it was him! Jack Gaffney. And because of that, he played Ground Zero last night. He went to Clarksdale! I still haven’t been to Clarksdale!

The workshop was from June 15 - 17, concluding with a jam last night at Ground Zero. Please visit the site to learn more about the Youth in Spotlight program and how you can help.

Pattop and I are talking about initiating a Youth Ambassador Program, and I’ve made a note to call her early next week to fine tune the concept. Having tremendously talented teenagers out there spreading the word about the Blues and the Pinetop Perkins Foundation is how we secure the future of our beloved music. And I can think of no better way to honor and thank Mr. Joe Willie “Pinetop” Perkins than helping to guarantee his music lives on.

~Honey Bee Sepeda~

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