William Lee Perryman (Piano Red) was born in Georgia (with Louisiana genes) in 1911. Before he was twenty he was performing blues, rags and songs in camp grounds, fish fries, juke joints, theaters—anywhere he could play and earn a living. Morphing his style from straight blues to R&B earned Red such hits as “Rocking With Red” and “Dr. Feelgood” (which would later become his stage name). Red, an albino African-American signed to RCA, gave the label its first bit hit on the R&B charts, and heused to drive a bright red car around Atlanta with his name and the RCA Victor logo emblazoned on the side.
As is not so unusual with pioneering American artists, Piano Red was appreciated more in Europe. Pete Ham of Badfinger wrote a song about him and he was adored by McCartney, Clapton and various Stones. He opened shows for Keith Richards’ New Barbarians and for Peter Tosh. There’s an argument that the boogieing, barrel-housing, barnstorming Piano Red was the spark that ignited the whole rock and roll inferno. What is indisputable is that he was a master performer who never lost his love of an audience. The Lost Atlanta Tapes is a live recording is from his later career working a regular club gig at the Excelsior Mill in the 1980s. After more than fifty years performing his voice sounds strong and his piano chops still cut it. Red and his band play good time music with utter professionalism and not a trace of weariness, stomping and gliding over the cocktail chatter and whipping up a lovely atmosphere for people out on the town.