Blind from birth, Perry spent his youth learning from older bluesmen and as a young man he traveled throughout the South performing on street corners. He met many musicians in his wanderings but Blind Willie Johnson, whose style Tillis’ resembles, and Muddy Waters, who were just starting out in Clarksdale at the time, made a deep impression on him.
How We Helped:
Reverend Perry Tillis, part of Music Maker from 1995 until his passing in 2004, received sustenance grants and was featured in the book Music Makers: Portraits and Songs from the Roots of America.
Perry Tillis was born on July 29th, 1919 in Elba, Alabama. Swedish blues researcher Bengt Olson met Perry Tillis in 1972 way out in the country outside of the small town of Elba in southeast Alabama. He reflected on his past to Bengt, “If you’re a musician it’s hard to escape dreamy-eyed women and strong liquor. When I saw what my drinkin’ and good timin’ was doing to my family. I decided to put a stop to it. My sinful life just tore my family to pieces, and I hated to see that, ‘cause I loved my kids. With God’s help I made it.” Perry became a preacher and stopped playing the blues but has a wonderful repertoire of deeply personal and traditional religious songs. Rev. Perry Tillis passed away on November 3rd, 2004.