Piano Red biography
William "Willie" Lee Perryman (October 19, 1911 – July 25, 1985 His simple, hard-pounding left hand and his percussive right hand, coupled with his cheerful shout brought him considerable success over three decades. Life Perryman was born on a farm near Hampton, Georgia, where his parents Ada and Henry Perryman sharecropped. He was part of a large family, though sources differ on exactly how many brothers and sisters he had. Perryman was an albino African American, as was his older brother Rufus, who also had a blues piano career as "Speckled Red". When Perryman was six years old, his father gave up farming and moved the family to Atlanta to work in a factory. Not much is known about Perryman's education or early life, but he recalled that his mother bought a piano for her two albino sons. Both brothers had very poor vision, an effect of their albinism, so neither took formal music lessons, but they developed their barrelhouse style through playing by ear. Perryman sometimes recalled imitating Rufus's style after watching him play, but it is doubtful that his brother was a major influence. Rufus, nineteen years older than Perryman, left Georgia in 1925 and did not return until a 1960 visit. Another influence that Perryman cited in interviews was Fats Waller, whose records his mother brought home. Other influences were likely the local blues pianists playing at "house" or "rent" parties, which were common community fund-raisers of that era. By the early 1930s, Perryman was playing at house parties, juke joints, and barrelhouses in Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee. He developed his percussive playing style and harsh singing style to compensate for the lack of sound systems and to overcome the noise of people talking in venues. He worked these circuits with other Georgia bluesmen, including Barbecue Bob, Charlie Hicks, Curley Weaver, and "Blind Willie" McTell. Perryman married in the early 1930s, and he and his wife, Flora, had two daughters. He obtained seasonal employment performing in Brevard, North Carolina, a mountain resort town, and he commuted back and forth between there and Atlanta. The Brevard job brought him before white audiences; by 1934 he had also begun to play at white clubs in Atlanta. In Atlanta he would play at a white club until midnight and then head over to an African American club, where he would play until 4 a.m. Perryman developed a repertoire of pop standards, which were more popular among the white audiences, while continuing his blues sets in the African American clubs. Around 1936 he began to be billed as 'Piano Red', and made his first recordings with McTell in Augusta for Vocalion Records, although these were never released. He also began working as an upholsterer, a trade which he occasionally maintained through later years. In 1950 after spending the last 14 years upholstering and playing music on weekends, Red recorded "Rockin' with Red" and "Red's Boogie" at the WGST radio studios in Atlanta for RCA Victor. Both songs became national hits, reaching #5 and #3 respectively on the Billboard R&B chart, and "Rockin' with Red" has since been covered many times under many titles. This success, and further hits "The Wrong Yo Yo" (allegedly written by Speckled Red), "Laying The Boogie" and "Just Right Bounce", allowed him to resume an active performing schedule. He also recorded sessions in New York City and Nashville during the early 1950s. In the mid 1950s he also worked as a disc jockey on radio stations WGST and WAOK in Atlanta, broadcasting 'The Piano Red Show', later 'The Dr. Feelgood Show', directly from a small shack in his back yard. A young James Brown made an appearance on his show in the late 1950s. His involvement had him appearing on a flatbed truck in many parades, which led to his song "Peachtree Parade". From the mid 1950s until the late 1960s, he recorded for several record label, including Columbia, for which he made several records, Checker, for whom he recorded eight sides with Willie Dixon on bass, and Groove Records, a subsidiary of RCA Victor, producing the first hit for that label. On Okeh Records, in 1961, he began using the name Dr. Feelgood and the Interns, releasing several hits, including the much-covered "Doctor Feelgood". The persona was one he had initially adopted on his radio shows. The new career was short-lived, though, and Piano Red was never able to regain his former stature. In 1964, The Beatles recorded a cover of the b-side of "Doctor Feelgood," titled "Mr. Moonlight" (written by Roy Lee Johnson). It appeared on the British album, Beatles for Sale and the US album Beatles '65. In 1966, The Lovin' Spoonful, recorded his song "Bald Headed Lena" on their second album, Daydream. He continued to be a popular performer in Underground Atlanta, and had several European tours late in his career, including appearances at the Montreux Jazz Festival, Berlin Jazz Festival, Chancellor Helmut Schmidt's inauguration, and on BBC Radio. During this time, he was befriended by Bill Wyman, Keith Richards, Mick Jagger, Eric Clapton, and Paul McCartney, and Pete Ham of Badfinger wrote a song in his honor. Muhlenbrink's Saloon closed in 1979 and he found himself without a regular job. That lasted until 1981, when he was hired to perform five nights a week at The Excelsior Mill in Atlanta. In 1984, he asked co-owner Michael Reeves to arrange a live recording and Reeves arranged for a mobile recording in October of that year. He was diagnosed with cancer that same year and died in July of 1985 at Dekalb General Hospital in Decatur, Georgia. Among those who attended his funeral were the Governor of Georgia and the Mayor of Atlanta. The tapes from the Excelsior Mill remained in Reeves's possession for twenty-five years. In April of 2010, he formed a partnership with author and producer David Fulmer to release a CD of the recording until the title "The Lost Atlanta Tapes." The CD was released by Landslide Records on August 17th, 2010. Legacy Dr. Feelgood are a UK pub rock band, which was formed in mid 1971. The name of the band, Dr. Feelgood, is slang for heroin, or for doctors who are prepared to overprescribe drugs. Piano Red's song "Dr Feelgood" was covered by several UK beat groups including Johnny Kidd & The Pirates, who used it as the b-side to their 1964 single, "Always and Ever", from where it was chosen by the band.