Born in the Honey chronicles the life of piano legend Pinetop Perkins, who has been playing the Mississippi Delta blues for 80-plus years. Called the greatest living blues pianist, Perkins was born in 1913 and learned to play piano from his stepfather. As a young man, he sometimes ran a moonshine still, sometimes worked in the cotton fields, sometimes played behind other bluesmen like Sonny Boy Williamson and a young Ike Turner (whom Perkins taught to play piano). By the late 1920s, Perkins was already performing regularly.
Though the documentary is mostly a straight biography, there are glimpses into the changing America Perkins lived in. The pre-civil rights South was a different place for blacks back then, no matter how talented they were. When Perkins almost lost the use of his left arm after a woman cut him, white nightclub owners had to arrange for Perkins, who is black, to be seen at the all-white hospital. His arm was saved but never returned to full strength.
The DVD isn't without filler. Bobby Rush tells a story about Pinetop and Rush letting a bandmate chat up a transvestite. When the poor guy finds out he's spent all night talking to a man, he's momentarily stunned and then decides he's spent too much money on "her" to call it quits. Pinetop is a blues piano legend, and the only story Bobby Rush can think of is about a tranny working girl.
Pinetop Perkins performs Saturday, June 2, at the House of Blues Cambridge Room.
Much more interesting are the stories by Perkins himself. Humble and prone to underplay his importance, he discusses his accomplishments as if every piano player can claim to have a career that spans nine decades.
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Ninety-three at the time of the filming, Perkins, who continues to tour, is still in fine form, as the clips of his recent performances show. The DVD comes with a CD, Pinetop Perkins on the 88's, Live in Chicago. The tracks include several written by Perkins, such as "Rather Quit Her Than Hit Her."