Q&A with Chicago veteran blues drummer Merle Perkins, played behind some of the biggest names in blues

"Blues represents everyday life. Blues has given me the opportunity to make a living."

Merle Perkins: Everyday I have the Blues

As a teenager Merle played in the Spirit of St. Louis Drum & Bugle Corp. “There is where it all started for me with the drums. If it was not for drum corp., I would not be a drummer today. I owe it all to drum corp.” Merle moved to Chicago from St. Louis, MO. In the 70s his first gig was with Buddy Guy & Jr. Wells. There is where it all began with the Blues. Merle Perkins has been recording and touring with: Buddy Guy & Jr. Wells, James Cotton, Lonnie Brooks, Freddy King, Albert King, Charlie Musselwhite, Jimmy Dawkins, John Little John, Big Twist & The Mellow Fellows, Magic Slim & The Teardrops, Eddy Clearwater, Joe Kelly & The Blue Shadow, McKinley Mitchell, Michael Coleman & The BackBreakers, Willie Kent & The Gents, Buster Benton, Son Seals, Chick Willie, Eddie Shaw, Abe Locke, and Larry Davis.

(Photo: The legendary Chicago-based blues drummer Merle Perkins, then & now still kicking)

In 1990, he started his own band, Merle Perkins & The Perkolators, Merle says: “The reason why I started it was because other musicians kept saying you played with everybody, why don't you start you own band. So I decided to give it a shot. It was fun at first, but it started to get hard as I went on. So I decided to get out why I am ahead. It is easy to be a side man that way you don't have to worry about anybody else but your self.”


Interview by Michael Limnios

How has the Blues music influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

Playing the blues for 54 yrs. has gave me chance to see what this big world look like. By playing in 22 country & also 47 states and the small towns in both. Being a blues man could not be no better than that!

How has the music business changed over the years since you first started in music?

There are not a lot of blues clubs around like there was when I first started playing.

What do you miss most nowadays from the blues of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

Well, the real blues is not like the days when I was playing! All the real blues artists I have played with & recorded with has passed on. But Buddy Guy & he will be retiring this yr.

What moment changed your music life the most? What's the balance in music between technique and soul?

Well, me playing blues has got me write ups in magazine & blues awards and having friends & fans all over the world! That is the good life of playing the blues for me. And I have played more than blues in other style of music like disco, rock, soul. But it did not get me the things I got in playing the blues! Me being in drum corps is the reason why I am a drummer today. I will be getting a drum award this yr. Drum Corps World Hall Of Fame 2024.

"Is sharing my life of me being a Legend to young blues musician to get where I am today! Because young musician have take over the blues for us when we are gone. Keeping the blues a live & then they can share the blues when they get of age etc." (Veteran drummer, Merle Perkins / Photo by Twist Turner)

What made you fall in love with the blues music? What does the BLUES mean to you & what does Blues offered you?

The groove of the music, and I like the fact that blues is about everyday life. Blues represents everyday life. Blues has given me the opportunity to make a living.

How do you describe Merle Perkins’ sound? What are the difference your session works and your own project?

I say what I mean, and I mean what I say. My session work is more in the pocket, and with The Perkolators, I was able to express myself more freely on the drums.

Which was the best moment of your career and which was the worst?

The best times were when I was traveling and meeting people of different nationalities. The worst times are when I travel far from Chicago, only to find out I'm getting paid from the door sales.

What experiences in your life make you a GOOD bluesman? 

Being a dependable musician, spontaneous and on time.

What are some of the most memorable gigs and jams you've had?

Playing on the Legendary Blues Cruise and going to Japan and Brazil.

Are there any memories from Buddy Guy and Junior Wells, which you’d like to share with us?

That was one of the first professional bands that I ever played with. Junior Wells was one of the nicest and comical guys I've ever met. Buddy Guy is and outstanding guitar player and worked really hard to get to where he's at today.

(Well, me playing blues has got me write ups in magazine & blues awards and having friends & fans all over the world! That is the good life of playing the blues for me. And I have played more than blues in other style of music like disco, rock, soul. But it did not get me the things I got in playing the blues! Me being in drum corps is the reason why I am a drummer today. I will be getting a drum award this yr. Drum Corps World Hall Of Fame 2024." (Merle Perkins, 2019 / Photo by Michael Murphy)

Are there any memories from Lonnie Brooks, Albert King, Freddie King, and Memphis Slim, which you’d like to share with us?

I really miss playing the real blues artists like that. But I have recording of them that will always be with me being 78 & be 79 this yr. Still doing a few gigs here & there at my age.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?

Me being in drum corps you learn how to read drum music. When you read drum music help you be a better drummer. In playing blues and so on!

Why is it important to we preserve and spread the blues? What is the role of Blues today’s society?

Is sharing my life of me being a Legend to young blues musician to get where I am today! Because young musician have take over the blues for us when we are gone. Keeping the blues a live & then they can share the blues when they get of age etc.

Do you think there is an audience for jazz music in its current state? or at least a potential for young people to become future audiences and fans?

Well, there are jazz players today & young players. But not like in the old days just like blues music!

John Coltrane said "My music is the spiritual expression of what I am...". How do you understand the spirit, music, and the meaning of life?

I think that it is in all kinds of music you play that spirit stay with you for life. In my life I have seen blues musician play music when they are sick. And me being sick sometime but I still go and play a gig, For me music life is in your blood for life until I cannot pick up a drum stick any more!

"The groove of the music, and I like the fact that blues is about everyday life. Blues represents everyday life. Blues has given me the opportunity to make a living." (Photo: Chicago-based drummer Merle Perkins has been recording and touring with many blues legends as, Buddy Guy & Jr. Wells, James Cotton, Lonnie Brooks, Freddy King, Albert King, Jimmy Dawkins, John Little John, Magic Slim & The Teardrops, Eddy Clearwater, Buster Benton, Son Seals, Chick Willie, Eddie Shaw, Abe Locke, and others.)

Which memory from Chicago of 70s makes you smile? I wonder if you could tell me a few things about the Chicagoan blues scene at 70s...

The big natural hairstyles, platform shoes and different colored clothes.
Back in the 70's, there were a lot of places to play and a lot of clubs in Chicago.

From whom have you have learned the most secrets about the blues music?

Buddy Scott, Johnny Dollar, Big Twist & the Mellow Fellows, James Cotton, and Magic Slim & the Teardrops.

What do you think is the main characteristic of you personality that made you a bluesman? Give one wish for the BLUES...

Dedication to my drums! Blues power!!!

You have played with many great bluesmen, which are mentioned to be a legend. It must be hard, but which gigs have been the biggest experiences for you?

Lonnie Brooks, Albert King, Freddie King, Michael Coleman, Willie Mabon, Memphis Slim, Junior Wells and Buddy Guy. Their musical style was great. They had a lot of dedication to keeping the blues alive.

What advice would you give to aspiring musicians thinking of pursuing a career in the craft?

Stay on top of whatever instrument you play, be on time and have a good attitude.

Some music styles can be fads but the blues is always with us. Why do think that is? What is the best advice a bluesman ever gave you?

Because the music is about everyday life! To play a good groove and have the right feeling of the music.

(Photo: Merle Perkins)

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