The Austin funeral for 97-year-old blues legend Pinetop Perkins ended as it began, with friends, fans and musicians filing past the open casket of a 78-pound blues giant. But in the 90 minutes in between, there were stories, music and tears at the packed chapel of the Cook-Walden Funeral Home.
Three former Perkins bandmates in the great Muddy Waters blues group of the 1970s spoke and played slow blues at the service, including Willie Smith, who won a Grammy with Pinetop just last month for their album "Joined At the Hip." Mississippi native Smith, who met Perkins when Smith was 7, got choked up when he said the full-of-love piano player "didn't sneak away; he slept away." Perkins died of cardiac arrest at his home in North Austin one week ago .
Waters guitar player Bob Margolin , the youngest in the band when Pinetop was the oldest, played "How Long Blues," a favorite Perkins tune, and then talked about the man who replaced Otis Spann in 1969 .
"I thought (Pinetop) would live forever, and he came closer than anyone I've ever known," Margolin said. He said Perkins had smoked every day since 1922, ate all his meals at McDonald's and drank whiskey until he was 85 and ordered to undergo treatment after being arrested with an open container. "Jerry Portnoy (a Waters sideman) called me one day in 1983 and said he had some bad news. I thought that maybe it was Pinetop, but Jerry told me that Muddy had died. I thank God Pinetop had 28 more years of living to do."
Once when Perkins was clowning around after a gig, Margolin said, Waters said he was once a man, twice a child. "But you couldn't be mad at Pinetop. He lived in the moment ... which could be why he lived so long."
Some who couldn't make the funeral, including the great Howlin' Wolf guitarist Hubert Sumlin , sent tributes to be read, with Sumlin suggesting, to laughter from the crowd, that in Perkins' honor "the Pearly Gates are being reconstructed into the Golden Arches."
Perkins' manager the last 16 years, former Berkeley professor Pat Morgan, read a poem she'd recently found that her daughter, then 8, wrote after a piano lesson from houseguest Perkins. It ended, "I'm glad I know you, now maybe I can be great, too."
Perkins caretaker Barry Nowlin recounted the joy Perkins felt when he received an honorary Grammy in 2005, which revived his career. "I asked Pinetop, what's the best thing about winning that Lifetime Achievement Award," said Nowlin, "and he said, 'that I was alive to receive it.'u2009"
Perkins will be buried Saturday in Clarksdale, Miss., near his birthplace of Belzoni.
A celebration of his life was held Monday night at Antone's.