THE DEAD MUSICIAN DIRECTORY
Of course Campbell was thrilled to be recording with a
childhood hero -- but more than that, even after 20
years as a professional playing in one of rock's
premier bands, Campbell was in awe of Perkins' style
and technique.The 65-year-old forefather of rock 'n'
roll, who died in Jackson, Tenn., on Monday from
stroke-related complications, burned with fire until the
end, Campbell said.
"I could understand his left hand, the chording and
which notes he was picking," said Campell on
Tuesday by phone from his Southern California home.
"But the right hand -- the rhythm of his thumb, the
stroke of his fingers and the syncopation of his style --
was flabbergasting. Not only was it difficult, but the feel
and the swing of it was almost impossible to duplicate.
[Ex-Beatles guitarist] George Harrison got pretty close
to it, but he was probably the only one that really
Petty summed up his band's admiration succinctly in a
statement released Tuesday. "We all loved Carl,"
Petty said. "It's a great loss."
Along with such legends as Elvis Presley and guitar
great Chuck Berry, Perkins was a key figure in
shaping the meld of country and rhythm & blues that
took the United States and the world by storm in the
mid-'50s. Although "Blue Suede Shoes" (RealAudio
excerpt) was his biggest hit (and the song that helped
launch Presley), tunes such as "Honey Don't"
(RealAudio excerpt), "Matchbox" and "Everybody's
Trying To Be My Baby" influenced countless
musicians, most notably the Beatles, who later
recorded their own versions of several Perkins
A 1956 car accident prevented Perkins from fully
capitalizing on the success of "Blue Suede Shoes."
While his most famous work was recorded before the
end of 1957, Perkins' influence extended for decades
beyond that, as the guitarist (also known for his
country-western wardrobe and his large physical
stature), persevered through battles with alcoholism
In 1982, Dave Alvin, then guitarist for the Los Angeles
roots punk band the Blasters, had the opportunity to
invite two guests to join his band for a taping of PBS'
"Soundstage" program. He chose Willie Dixon and
Perkins, his favorite guitar player.
"It was one of the highlights of my career," Alvin
recalled from L.A. "I played with Carl for about nine
songs. He was a great, emotional guitar player, a very
good songwriter and a very sweet man. Carl got
banged up a lot -- through the sadness, the tragedy
and the success -- but he survived through it all."
After they recorded together, Tom Petty and the
Heartbreakers played two nights with Perkins during a
series of shows early last year in San Francisco.
Campbell echoed Alvin's awestruck memory of playing
with the legend who helped give birth to rock as we
know it, calling the moment "magical."
"There's only a handful of people that folks Tom's and
my age are influenced by and inspired by, and he was
one of them," Campbell said. "To play with him was
like the biggest thrill you could ever dream of. He was
really on both nights, and he seemed really happy to
be playing with us. It was almost overwhelming to be
on-stage with somebody like that."
Former Commander Cody and His Lost Planet
Airmen guitarist Bill Kirchen said that while some other
early rock heroes mellowed with age, Perkins still
attacked each and every show with vigor. As a
member of the Cody band in the late '60s, Kirchen
used to play many of Perkins' songs. He first saw the
guitarist perform in 1969 as a part of Johnny Cash's
touring group, then didn't see him again for 20 years.
"I don't think he'd lost a step, man!" Kirchen said. "Carl
was rocking out up there, playing fabulous guitar. Of all
the guys from the '50s who I saw, he was the closest to
always being on top of his game."
Another big fan of Perkins was Lee Rocker, who
Perkins chose as music supervisor for a planned
upcoming TV special, "Carl Perkins From The Cotton
Fields," which was to trace music through the legend's
eyes from gospel and blues to '40s honky tonk and
'50s rock straight through Beatles' covers of Perkins
classics and the rockabilly revival of the '80s and '90s.
In early production stages when Perkins had his first
massive stroke, the show piqued the interest of such
living legends as Jon Fogerty, Petty, Paul McCartney,
Van Morrison and Wynona Judd.
Reacting to the praise that Perkins recently bestowed
upon him following the release of Rocker's new album,
Rocker said in a prepared statement, "I am
overwhelmed by the compliment but no one can ever
do what Carl Perkins did for music. He is the legend."
Perkins' funeral will be held Friday at Womack Chapel
at Lambuth University in Jackson, Tenn. [Tues., Jan.
20, 1998, 6 p.m. PST]
© 1997 Addicted To Noise.
Carl Perkins, one of rock 'n'
roll's founding fathers and the man who
famously warned the world to lay off of his
blue suede shoes, died Monday in Jackson, Tenn.
He was 65.
Mr. Perkins died at Jackson-Madison County Hospital
from complications related to several strokes he had
suffered since last November.
Musicians from around the world, including Johnny
Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis, have begun offering Mr.
Perkins' family condolences; many are expected to
attend his funeral on Friday in Jackson.
"All the old Sun Records people who are still living
have contacted us," said family spokesman Albert Hall
on Tuesday. Hall said he expected members of the
Beatles -- upon whom Mr. Perkins had profound
influence -- to be on hand for the musician's viewing or
Mr. Perkins was part of the stable of rock 'n' roll
pioneers, including Elvis Presley, Lewis, Cash and
Roy Orbison, to arise from Memphis, Tenn.'s Sun
Records label in the mid-1950s.
"We have lost absolutely one of the people I say is as
responsible as anybody for rock 'n' roll," Sun Records
founder Sam Phillips told the Associated Press.
In 1955, Mr. Perkins recorded his first hit single for
Sun, the rockabilly anthem "Blue Suede Shoes." In its
introductory call to arms, "Go, cat, go!", Mr. Perkins
captured the rebel spirit of a cocksure hillbilly dressed
to the nines in his city-slicker shoes. The song also
introduced the world to Mr. Perkins' expert guitar
picking, which revealed more visible ties to country
and western music than did the work of other Sun
artists such as Presley or Lewis.
"Perkins' meat was his rockabilly," wrote Jimmy
Guterman in the liner notes to 1994's The Sun
Records Collection. "He repeatedly drove full speed
to the edge of the world, leaned over the cliff to enjoy
the view for a brief second, and then, as he knew he
must, pulled back and carefully headed home."
Although "Blue Suede Shoes" eventually sold two
million copies and was the first single to top
simultaneously the pop, country and R&B charts, Mr.
Perkins was prevented from fully capitalizing on the
song's success when he was in an automobile
accident in March 1956. While Mr. Perkins was laid up
in recovery, Presley recorded his own version of the
song and continued his assent to become the King of
Rock and Roll.
Despite his setback, Mr. Perkins, who toured the
South in the mid-'50s with Elvis in a Cadillac, went on
to record a string of influential songs for Sun over the
following two years. Cuts such as "Honey Don't,"
"Everybody's Trying To Be My Baby" and "Matchbox"
shaped the musical direction of the early Beatles (who
recorded their own versions of all three songs) as
much as the work of Little Richard and Chuck Berry.
In the mid-1960s, Mr. Perkins began a decade-long
stint as guitarist for Johnny Cash, who had a hit with
the Perkins-penned "Daddy Sang Bass."
"Carl was a very close friend over 40 years," Cash told
AP. "His musical legacy is certain to prevail forever."
During his tenure with Cash's band, Mr. Perkins
overcame a 15-year struggle with alcoholism. He then
largely avoided health problems until 1991, when he
was diagnosed with throat cancer. Mr. Perkins beat
the illness after a two-year battle. In June of last year,
he underwent surgery to clear a blocked carotid artery.
In 1996, Mr. Perkins released the album Go, Cat, Go!
in conjunction with an autobiography of the same title.
The album included many re-recordings of Mr. Perkins'
songs, with several notable musicians -- Cash, Tom
Petty, Bono, Willie Nelson, along with Beatles Paul
McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr --
stepping in to pay tribute to him.
Mr. Perkins was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of
Fame in 1987.
In addition to devoting time to his career as a
musician, Mr. Perkins also supported efforts to relieve
the suffering of children. In the early 1980s, a benefit
concert he organized helped provide funds to open the
Carl Perkins Center for the Prevention of Child Abuse
in Jackson, Tenn.
Mr. Perkins is survived by his wife Valda, daughter
Debbie Swift, and sons Greg, Stan and Steve Perkins.
A public viewing for Mr. Perkins will be held on
Wednesday and Thursday at Smith North Chapel in
Jackson. A public funeral is scheduled for Friday at
Womack Chapel at Lambuth University in Jackson.
[Tues., Jan. 20, 1998, 9 a.m. PST]
THE DEAD MUSICIAN DIRECTORY