Veteran guitarist, singer, and songwriter Bill Perry was one of the most inventive storytellers in the modern blues idiom, yet sadly, he passed away from a heart attack in the summer of 2007. He was 50. He burst upon the national blues touring circuit in the mid-'90s with the short-lived Point Blank/Virgin Record label. Born and raised in Chester, NY, Perry got his first guitar at age five. He quickly learned the theme from "Batman" on it while growing up in a music-filled household. Perry's grandmother played organ in the church, but Perry was attracted to his father's Jimmy Smith albums, which featured jazz/blues guitarist Kenny Burrell. During his formative years, his favorite guitarists were Jimi Hendrix, Duane Allman, and Johnny Winter. He also loved Albert Collins, B.B. King, and Freddie King.
In a biography accompanying one of his Blind Pig Records releases, Perry described his influences and their effect on his playing and performance styles: "I love traditional blues and I listen to it at home a lot. But to play the really classic old blues stuff wouldn't be natural for me, because I don't come from that. I liked Johnny Winter and Eric Clapton because they turned blues around in their own way and made it popular. That's what I'm trying to do."
By the time he was 13, Perry had entered his first talent show. He led a procession of rock and blues-rock bands through high school, cutting his teeth as a lead guitarist and lead vocalist. After high school, Perry spent time in California and Colorado, all the while honing his distinctive guitar stylings. In 1988, he began accompanying folk singer Richie Havens at shows where Havens wanted to perform in a trio format, and in 1989, he also toured with Rick Danko, Garth Hudson, and Levon Helm from the Band as part of the 20th anniversary of Woodstock tour of Europe.
One night in a New York City blues club, Perry and his band played a set of Jimi Hendrix songs. Folksinger Havens approached him and asked for his phone number. Havens subsequently took Perry on a tour of Japan, even though Perry had never flown before. While on the road with Havens, Perry began to seriously hone his skills as a songwriter. Inspired in part by all his traveling, he had plenty of ideas for blues songs.
Perry released his first album for Pointblank/ Virgin, Love Scars, in 1996 and followed it up with a succession of other excellent releases, including Greycourt Lightning in 1998. The label folded in the late '90s, and Perry began a long and successful relationship with Blind Pig Records. In 1999, he released High Octane on Car Wash Records, a live album recorded at Manny's Car Wash, the now-defunct Upper East Side Manhattan blues nightclub.
Perry put in a rousing, show-stopping performance at the Bishopstock Blues Festival in England later in 1999, which attracted the attention of Blind Pig Records. He released Fire It Up, an album co-produced by Jimmy Vivino, in 2001, and followed up with several other good releases that showcasing the extent of his talents as a songwriter, including Crazy Kind of Life in 2002, Raw Deal, produced by Popa Chubby, his longtime comrade on the New York City blues scene, and his last album, Don't Know Nothing About Love, released in 2006. Perry was well-liked and very much respected on the New York City and New England blues scenes, and while he made forays into other areas of the country and into Europe, he was a victim of ever-tightening radio formats that allowed for less blues on commercial and public radio outlets.
After his passing in July, 2007, folksinger Havens told the Times-Herald Record in New York's Hudson Valley, "He wrote songs that you could swear were written by Muddy Waters. I think he's the best blues musician in the world, but he's very shy when it comes to his music and I think that's what drives him to do so well…he'll tell you he's just Bill Perry, but when he's on-stage, he's a monster." ~ Richard Skelly