Merle Perkins. Photo: Merle Perkins

Perkins, Merle #176 [English]

Merle Perkins. Photo: Merle Perkins

This is a look into the life of a legendary blues drummer who’s dedication, contributions, and unique style of playing drums has brought him to stages all over the world. He continues with his legendary status and devotion to perform and record with the same passion that remains with him today, as it did in the beginning. Dedicating his music to the Drum Corps, aspiring musicians every where, and most especially to his beloved mother Frances Perkins Moncibais, who unfortunately passed away in 2009.

Still percolating on drums nearly fifty years, Merle Perkins was born on July 20th, 1945 in Kansas City, Kansas to Frances Perkins and his father, who Merle never met. Merle grew up as an only child. Merles mother Frances was a jazz singer who sang in quartets in and around Kansas City, including Footsch Goodson’s Band. Frances sang jazzy styles in the likes of Sarah Vaughn and Dinah Washington. Also she listened to the sounds of big band jazz records in her home. Merle has always loved the drums, and said that as early as he can remember, his mother would take him to parades, where the drums would fascinate him, year after year.

In 1956 Merle moved to St.Louis, Mo at the age of 11. During his teen years he often watched the drum Corps practicing in the school yard and in 1962 Merle joined the Pleasant Green Drum and Bugle Corp. In 1963 he joined the Spirit of St.Louis Drum and Bugle organization, that values its pride on discipline, great skills of reading and timing. Teaching self-respect and excellence on performing and an outstanding appearance, having to cut his hair in being presentable. As well as be able to read music and play drums very well to become a member. Merle did and as a result his membership in the only black Drum Corps “The Spirit of St.Louis” he performed in St.Louis March, through out the northwest side and participating in competitions.

While in St.Louis, Merle met the first Blues Legend that he would eventually perform with in later years. Merle met Albert King at a club on Whitier and Eastern Avenue at 15 years old, and they ended up playing pool, of all things. In 1964, Merle and his mother Frances moved once again, this time to Chicago, and they moved in on 44st. and Prairie, Bronzeville. Ill. His passion to continue to be an even better drummer, as Merle pointed out; “the Drum Corps is in your blood forever”, because of the closeness of those who perform as a team. In fact many well known and famous drummers came from a Drum & Bugle Corp, for example Steve Gadd among many others.

Merle bought his first drum kit at a pawn shop. It was a cheap Beverly kit, yet it was good enough for Merle, who practiced relentlessly on it, until he bought a professional kit. It was a Ludwig, that he felt was specially made for him. Merle was influenced strongly by Billy Cobham, the legendary drummer who was the first black drummer to play double bass in fusion jazz and rock. Merle listened to Cobham in jazz guitarist John McLaughlin’s band, which led Merle to buy a double bass. And at that time in 1970 no one in blues was playing drums like this, so Merle became the first drummer to do so. He became very good on a blues kit and adding more tone and sounds to his great abilities as a drummer, and it paid off.

Merle was playing around Chicago in 1970, when he was asked to perform with the legendary Freddie King. Merle went on a small tour in the Ohio Valley with King, on a bill opening for Leon Russell. Buddy Guy and Junior Wells came next as Merle joined their band and toured consistently, even appearing live on television.
The artists that Merle would find himself performing with after this, would include a very long list: Lonnie Brooks, Albert King, James Cotton, John Littlejohn, Buster Benton, Jimmy Johnson, Michael Coleman, McKinley Mitchell, Big Twist and the Mellow Fellows, Magic Slim, Abb Locke, Charlie Mussselwhite, Willie Kent, Joe Kelly and the Blue Shadows, Carey Bell, Son Seals, Johnny Dollar, A.C. Reed, Otis Clay, Lafayette Leake, Lovie Lee, Chick Willis, Larry Davis, Honeyboy Edwards, Maurice Vaughn and Eddie Clearwater for 11 years. He also performed with Pinetop Perkins, Bob Stroger, and Willie “Big Eyes Smith” And of course a band leader of his own band; Merle Perkins and the Perkolaters, from 1990-1997 in which he toured extensively. 

Merle has performed in 47 of the United States, and also Canada many times. As well as Brazil, Japan, England, Sweden, France, Russia, Turkey, Jamaica, Spain, Germany, the Netherlands, Austria and other countries. Merle has recorded with many of the artists under such record labels as; Alligator, Delmark, Wolf (Austria), Ronn, Isabell, JSP, Evidence music, Big Boy, Blue Chicago Records, Upstairs Records, The Blues and Rock Connection and Nostalgia, among other labels. He has performed on all Chicago TV Stations. Merle recalled how wonderful a person Lonnie Brooks was, and during their practices the sons Ronnie and Wayne Baker Brooks used to watch them rehearse. Merle further stated that he never thought that they would grow into being the talented and fine musicians they are today.

During Merles later years working with Eddy Clearwater, tragedy again struck Merle. On July 25th 2009, his beloved mother passed away. Frances Perkins and Merle were extremely close. As his mother was also well liked by many artists as well as being known as a very kind, sweet lady. The loss of his mother was so devastating that Merle came close to leaving music behind all together. Now he dedicates all his music to his mother. Since then Merle has been very busy. As his drum solos allow him to shine on the wide range of influences and techniques he uses. Including taking pride as being the first drummer in blues to use a double bass drum. His variety of sounds are wide as well, from sounds of light gentle rain falling from the sky, to sounds of snapping fingers to the sound of thunder.
Merle currently tours and records with various artists. Recently he released a promotional DVD video titled “Merle Perkins Through The Years”, that shows just an inkling of his career. As well as the CD; “Out of Brazil” on Chico Records with Ivan Marcio. A CD was released; “The Chicago Blues Sessions, volume 1”, includes special guests, as well as Merle singing vocal lead tracks. Merle has also sang at times throughout his career.

One thing that Merle has never did, but has such a deep passion to do, is to teach all drummers techniques as a blues drummer, by way of holding workshops in music stores and in different settings. As a way of giving back and inspiring drummers of all kinds. As Merle continues to say “Never give up and do your best, because anything can happen”! In March 2013 Merle will be recording his 2nd CD with Ivan Marcio in Brazil and will be performing as Merle Perkins & the Brazilian Blues Bash, and expects a wonderful release.

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