Piano Red, was born William Lee Perryman on October 19, 1911, in Hampton, Georgia, was an iconic blues musician whose distinctive piano style and soulful voice captivated audiences for decades. His profound influence on the blues genre earned him recognition as one of the most celebrated figures in blues history. This biography delves into the life, career, music, and lasting legacy of the great Piano Red.
Growing up in a musical family, Perryman was exposed to the blues from a young age. His father, John “Peter” Perryman, was a talented blues guitarist who often played at local gatherings, and his mother, Lula, sang spirituals in the church choir. Young William was drawn to music and began tinkering with the piano, quickly displaying a natural talent for the instrument. By his teenage years, he had developed his unique style, incorporating boogie-woogie and ragtime into his playing.
In the 1930s, Perryman adopted the stage name “Piano Red” and started performing in clubs and bars around Atlanta. His lively and energetic performances earned him the nickname “Dr. Feelgood,” a reference to his ability to uplift and heal the spirits of his listeners through music. His repertoire included a blend of blues, boogie-woogie, and upbeat party tunes that resonated with diverse audiences.
In 1936, Piano Red recorded his first tracks for the RCA Victor label, which included his signature song “Rockin’ with Red.” Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, he released a string of successful singles, often backed by his band “The Meter-Tones.” His recordings, characterized by infectious rhythms and his soulful voice, stood out in the burgeoning Rhythm and Blues scene, gaining him widespread popularity.
Later Life and History:
As the 1960s rolled in, Piano Red’s career entered a new phase as he relocated to New York City. There, he embraced the emerging soul music movement, infusing it with his traditional blues sensibilities. He recorded under the name “Dr. Feelgood & the Interns” and enjoyed considerable success with hits like “Doctor Feel-Good” and “Mr. Moonlight.”
In the late 1960s, Piano Red returned to Atlanta and continued to perform regularly, enjoying a dedicated fan base. Despite facing health challenges in his later years, he remained committed to his music and performed until shortly before his passing in 1989 at the age of 73.
Piano Red drew inspiration from various blues and jazz legends, such as Fats Waller, Leroy Carr, and Speckled Red. He was also influenced by the boogie-woogie piano style of artists like Albert Ammons and Meade Lux Lewis. However, he managed to infuse his own personality and flair into his music, making it truly distinctive.
Piano Red’s impact on the blues genre extended beyond his lifetime. His piano playing and powerful vocals influenced countless musicians, both within and outside the blues community. He bridged the gap between traditional blues and R&B, leaving an indelible mark on the evolving landscape of American music.
Piano Red’s journey from a young pianist in Georgia to a legendary blues artist remains an inspiring tale of passion, perseverance, and talent. His soul-stirring music continues to resonate with audiences worldwide, cementing his place among the greats of blues history. As long as the blues endure, the memory of Piano Red, the ever-enchanting “Dr. Feelgood,” will live on.