THE DEAD MUSICIAN DIRECTORY
Presley covered Perkins' unforgettably introed
signature song, "Blue Suede Shoes" (although
Perkins enjoyed by far his biggest hit with his
version). The Beatles were raving Perkins fanatics,
"officially" recording not only "Honey Don't,"
"Matchbox," and "Everybody's Trying To Be My
Baby," but performing "Sure To Fall," "Lend Me
Your Comb" and "Glad All Over" in BBC sessions
(Lennon later covered "Blue Suede Shoes" as a
solo artist). Perkins was also part of the legendary
"Million Dollar Quartet" (actually a trio, with
Presley and Lewis).
Perkins' own career was thrown off course by a
near-fatal 1956 auto accident, and its last four
decades were pretty much a postscript to his two
glory years at Sun Records, although not without
accomplishment and honor. He toured the world
(on his own and as part of Johnny Cash's revue);
made some great, underappreciated records
(notably for Columbia); and collaborated with all
manner of musicians (an album with NRBQ, a pair
of rockabilly-alumni sessions — Survivors with
Cash and Lewis, Class of '55 with Cash, Lewis
and Orbison) and in 1996 released his last album,
Go Cat Go!, with appearances from admirers
including John Fogerty (whose "Bad Moon Rising"
and other hits owe a clear debt to Perkins), Bono,
Willie Nelson, Tom Petty, George, Paul and Ringo,
and many more. The album's material was a
mixture of new songs and old, leaning heavily on
the Sun classics. Which was perfectly justified —
their appeal is undying, and likely will resonate far
into the next century.
JACKSON, Tenn. (AP) — George Harrison
took acoustic guitar in hand and paid
musical tribute to rock 'n' roll pioneer
Carl Perkins, singing Perkins' early tune
"Your True Love'' at his funeral.
Harrison was among fans and
entertainers who packed a Lambuth
University auditorium Friday to
remember Perkins, a contemporary of
Elvis Presley — he wrote "Blue Suede
Shoes'' — and a key influence on generations of rockers.
Known for his lightning-quick guitar playing, Perkins was famed
one of the proponents of rockabilly, a cross of rhythm-and-blues
and country music that came out of Sun Records in Memphis,
Tenn., in the mid-1950s.
"Carl was the coolest cat I know,'' Wynonna Judd said in her
eulogy. "When I watched him, I realized I could only wish to be
Perkins, 65, died Monday from complications from a series of
Among the hundreds of mourners at the funeral were entertainers
Garth Brooks, Ricky Skaggs, Billy Ray Cyrus, Jerry Lee Lewis,
Johnny Rivers and Judd. About 200 people watched on TV
monitors in another building.
Musical tributes came from Elton John and Eric Clapton; Paul
McCartney sent a videotape in which he recounted the Beatles'
fascination with Perkins' music while growing up in Liverpool,
England. Bob Dylan sent a note, which Judd read.
"He really stood for freedom. That whole sound stood for all
degrees of freedom. It would just jump right off the turntable. We
wanted to go where that was happening,'' Dylan wrote.
None of Perkins' rock and country standards was as well known
"Blue Suede Shoes,'' which was hit for Presley and was recorded
by John Lennon and Jimi Hendrix. The Beatles recorded his
"Honey Don't,'' "Matchbox'' and "Everybody's Trying to Be My
Baby.'' Johnny Cash scored a No. 1 country hit with "Daddy Sang
Bass.'' On the way out, Harrison gave a bear hug to Lewis, who
was part of the Sun Records stable of
artists at the same time as Perkins,
Presley and Cash.
Perkins was inducted into the Rock and
Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.
He also wrote some of the top hit records in rock 'n' roll and country
music. A near-fatal traffic
accident in 1956, coupled with alcoholism and Elvis Presley's rise, kept
him from achieving the kind of stardom some thought was his due.
Perkins wrote and recorded "Blue Suede Shoes" in 1956, and his version sold
2 million copies before Presley's rendition became a hit. He also wrote the rockabilly standard
"Dixie Fried" and the songs "Honey Don't," "Matchbox" and "Everybody's
Trying to Be My Baby," which were later covered by the Beatles.
His relationship with the Beatles lasted long after the group's breakup
in 1970. Perkins sang
a duet with Paul McCartney on the country ballad "Get It," a song off McCartney's
1982 album, "Tug of War." On the same record, he played rhythm guitar on the
McCartney-Stevie Wonder hit duet, "Ebony and Ivory."
Praised Beatles, Rolling Stones
Beatles George Harrison and Ringo Starr appeared with him in a
cable TV special in London, "Carl Perkins and Friends: A Rockabilly Session."
"George Harrison told me 'Man, you wrote your songs, you sang your songs,
you played your guitar,'" Perkins said once in an interview. "'That's what we wanted to do.'"
Perkins credited the Beatles and the Rolling Stones with taking rockabilly further than he
thought it could go. "They advanced it so much," he said. "That rockabilly sound wasn't as simple as
I thought it was."
"They put a nice suit on rockabilly," he said in another
interview. "They never
really strayed from the simplicity of it. They just beautified it."
The son of a tenant farmer, Perkins grew up picking cotton, and was
fascinated by the gospel music
sung by blacks working in the cotton fields. He would also go behind the family chicken house
and pretend he was singing on Nashville's Grand Ole Opry.
At 7, he began playing a guitar that his father had made from a cigar
and baling wire. He wrote "Blue Suede Shoes" after hearing a boy telling his prom date
not to step on his blue suede shoes. Perkins went back to his home a housing project
and wrote the song on a brown potato sack.
Had a renaissance in the '80s
Shortly after recording the song, Perkins was hurt in a traffic accident and spent a year recovering.
It not only prevented him from capitalizing on his fame, but also marked the start of a long struggle
with alcoholism. He said he finally overcame the addiction after throwing his last bottle of whisky
into the Pacific Ocean near Encino, California, in 1967.
But it was during the hiatus caused by the accident that Presley recorded
"Blue Suede Shoes" and
capitalized on the popularity Perkins had been building. "I was bucking a good-looking cat called
Elvis who had beautiful hair, wasn't married, and had all kinds of great moves," Perkins said years later.
The '80s provided a renaissance of sorts for Perkins. In 1985, he taped the cable TV special that
included famous musicians such as Beatles George Harrison and Ringo Starr who were
influenced by his pioneering style. In 1986, he joined Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis
and Roy Orbison on the album "Class of '55." It was a reprise of an informal jam session he,
Presley, Cash and Lewis had done in the 1950s that was later released as an album.
Gold record his biggest thrill
Perkins was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987 but said his biggest thrill
was getting a gold record for "Blue Suede Shoes." "After all those days in the cotton fields,
the dreams came true on a gold record on a piece of wood," he said. "It's in my den where I
can look at it every day. I wear it out lookin' at it." Perkins is survived by his wife, Valda, three
sons and a daughter. Funeral arrangements were not immediately available.
|While doing a show with Johnny Cash in 1955, Cash suggested that Carl write a song based on a saying he had heard in the chow line while he was in the service, "don't step on my blue suede shoes." A few nights later Perkins noticed a dancer in the crowd trying to keep his girlfriend away from his new blue sueded shoes. This sparked the idea Cash had given him and at three o'clock the next morning he wrote out the lyrics to "Blue Suede Shoes" on an empty potato bag.|
He was born to sharecroppers Buck
and Louise Perkins (misspelled on his birth certificate as
'Perkings') and was soon out in the fields picking cotton and living in a one country shack with his
parents, older brother Jay and his younger brother Clayton. Working alongside Blacks in the field
every day, it's not at all surprising that when Carl was gifted with a second hand guitar, he went to a
local sharecropper for lessons, learning first hand the boogie rhythm that he would later build a career
on. By his teens, Carl was playing electric guitar and had recruited his brothers Jay on rhythm guitar
and Clayton on string bass to become his first band. The Perkins Brothers Band, featuring both Carl
and Jay on lead vocals, quickly established themselves as the hottest band in the get hot or go home
cutthroat Jackson, Tennessee honky tonk circuit. It was here that Carl started composing his first
songs with an eye toward the future. Watching the dance floor at all times for a reaction, Perkins
kept reshaping these loosely structured songs until he had a completed composition, which would
then be finally put to paper. Carl was already sending demos to New York record companies, who
kept rejecting him, sometimes explaining that this strange new hybrid of country with a Black rhythm
fit no current commercial trend. But once Perkins heard Elvis on the radio, he not only knew what to
call it, but knew that there was a record company person who finally understood it and was also
willing to gamble in promoting it. That man was Sam Phillips and the record company was Sun
Records, and that's exactly where Carl headed in 1954 to get an audition.
It was here at his first Sun audition
that the structure of the Perkins Brothers Band changed forever.
Phillips didn't show the least bit of interest in Jay's Ernest Tubb-styled vocals, but flipped over Carl's
singing and guitar playing. A scant four months later, he had issued the first Carl Perkins record,
"Movie Magg" and "Turn Around," both sides written by the artist. By his second session, he had
added W.S. Holland -- a friend of Clayton's -- to the band playing drums, a relatively new
innovation to country music at the time. Phillips was still channeling Perkins in a strictly hillbilly vein,
feeling that two artists doing the same type of music (in this case, Elvis and rockabilly) would cancel
each other out. But after selling Elvis' contract to RCA Victor in December, Carl was encouraged to
finally let his rocking soul come up for air at his next Sun session. And rock he did with a double
whammy blast that proved to be his ticket to the bigs. The chance overhearing of a conversation at a
dance one night between two teenagers coupled with a song idea suggestion from label mate Johnny
Cash, inspired Perkins to approach Sam with a new song he had written called "Blue Suede Shoes."
After cutting two sides that Phillips planned on releasing as a single by the Perkins Brothers Band,
Carl laid down three takes each of "Blue Suede Shoes" and another rocker, "Honey Don't." A month
later, Sam decides to shelve the two country sides and go with the rockers as Carl's next single.
Three months later, "Blue Suede Shoes," a tune that borrowed stylistically from pop, country and
R&B music, is sitting at the top of all charts, the first record to accomplish such a feat while
becoming Sun's first million seller in the bargain.
Ready to cash in on a national basis,
Carl and the boys headed up to New York for the first time to
appear on the Perry Como Show. While enroute their car rammed the back of a poultry truck,
putting Carl and his brother Jay in the hospital with a cracked skull and broken neck, respectively.
While in traction, Perkins saw Presley performing his song on the Dorsey Brother Stage Show, his
moment of fame and recognition snatched away from him. Carl shrugged his shoulders and went
back to the road and the Sun studios, trying to pick up where he left off.
The follow-ups to "Shoes" were, in
many ways, superior to his initial hit, but each succeeding Sun
single held diminishing sales and it wasn't until the British Invasion and the subsequent rockabilly
revival of the early '70s that the general public got to truly savor classics like "Boppin' the Blues,"
"Matchbox," "Everybody's Trying to Be My Baby," "Your True Love," "Dixie Fried," "Put Your Cat
Clothes On," and "All Mama's Children." While labelmates Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis (who
played piano on "Matchbox") were scoring hit after hit, Carl was becoming disillusioned with his fate,
fueled by his increasing dependence on alcohol and the death of brother Jay to cancer. He kept
plugging along and when Johnny Cash left Sun to go to Columbia in 1958, Perkins followed him
over. The royalty rate was better, and Carl had no shortage of great songs to record, but Columbia's
Nashville watch the clock production methods killed any of the spontaneity that was the charm of the
Sun records. By the early '60s, after being dropped by Columbia and moving over to Decca with
little success, Carl was back playing the honky tonks and contemplating getting out of the business
altogether. A call from a booking agent in 1964 offering a tour of England changed all of that.
Temporarily swearing off the bottle, Perkins was greeted in Britain as a conquering hero, playing to
sold out audiences and being particularly lauded by a young beat group on the top of the charts
named the Beatles.
George Harrison had cut his musical teeth
on Carl's Sun recordings (as had most British guitarists)
and the Fab Four ended up recording more tunes by him than any other artist except themselves.
The British tour not only rejuvenated his outlook, but suddenly made him realize that he had gone
-- through no maneuvering of his own -- from has been to legend in a country he had never played
in before. Upon his return to the States, he hooked up with old friend and former labelmate Johnny
Cash and was a regular fixture of his road show for the next ten years, bringing his battle with alcohol
to an end. The '80s dawned with Perkins going on his own with a new band consisting of his sons
backing him. His election to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in the mid-'80s was no less than his due.
While battles with throat cancer and other ailments have curtailed his work load in the '90s, Carl
Perkins continues to write, record and perform, still grateful to be a part of the music business, while
being totally secure that his place in the history books is assured. -- Cub Koda