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Blue Suede Shoes
“While on tour with Elvis Presley and Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash walked into a small dressing area behind the stage before a gig in Parkin, Arkansas during the late summer of 1955. ‘Have you been doing any writing?’ Cash asked Perkins. ‘Nothin’ worth writin’ home about,’ replied Perkins. ‘I have an idea. You oughta write a song about blue suede shoes,’ Cash told him. Carl noticed shoes of blue suede were showing up in stores around both Jackson and Memphis, Tennessee but never gave a thought to write about them. ‘I don’t know anything about those shoes, John,’ Carl mentioned." (1)
Hard times best describe the life led by Carl Perkins during his early years. Born in Tiptonville, Tennessee on April 9, 1932 to poor sharecroppers Buck and Louise Perkins, Carl was the middle son of three boys. In a small house with no electricity, indoor plumbing and newspaper plugging holes in the walls, Carl began both his formal education and joined his family working in the cotton fields at the age of six. Carl was introduced to the gospel sounds of the black sharecroppers working those same cotton fields. On Saturday nights, the Perkins family tuned into Nashville’s WSM on their battery-operated radio to hear the Grand Ole Opry. Such was the influence of the music around the six-year old Perkins, he asked his father for a guitar. With no money to spend, Buck fashioned a make-shift instrument from a broom handle and an empty cigar box. Carl was gifted his first guitar when his parents bought a worn Gene Autry model from a neighbor who needed the money.
While working the fields and learning to play his guitar, young Carl befriended John Westbrook, a 60-year old sharecropper who not only taught Carl how to pick cotton but how to master finger placement on his guitar. When a frustrated Carl couldn’t duplicate the sound produced by “Uncle” John, he was advised by the elder, “It’s not just the guitar, it’s in the fingers. Get close to it and feel it vibrate.” (2)
Over the next few years, Carl developed into a rhythm player with a style all his own. That style wasn’t always appreciated. “What are you singin’?” his father asked. “That’s not the way Roy Acuff sings it.” Carl responded tentatively, “I don’t know, Daddy.” Older brother by two years, Jay chimed in, as older brothers will, “It’s terrible.” Buck declared, “That’s right. You’re ruining Roy Acuff’s music, and Bill Monroe’s along with it. That’s not the way they play.” Carl defended himself. “I don’t think I’m messin’ them up. I like the feel of them this way.” It was Carl’s mother who had the final word. “Why don’t you leave him alone? Let the boy play it like he wants to.” (3)
Carl continued to play his guitar his own way … to the point he had dreams of playing on the Opry like his heroes Acuff and Monroe. Once, as Jay and Carl made their way to the cotton patch, Jay attempted to snap Carl back to reality. “Why don’t you want to be a truck driver like me? You’ll never be on the Opry. They make a lot of money. Acuff and Monroe — no tellin’ how much they make. They aren’t going to pay you. You’ll never be like that.” Carl knew where his future was and replied, “Well, you just drive your truck. I’m gonna be singin’ on stage. That’s what I’m gonna do.” (3)
It wasn’t long before Jay’s attitude changed — especially once he heard Ernest Tubb. Carl put Jay’s interest to use by teaching him to play a rhythm guitar to back his own solos. It wasn’t long before the Perkins Brothers became a duo. In 1944 when Jay finished the eighth grade, he announced he was done with school. Carl followed Jay’s retreat from higher education just two years later. Shortly after, the Perkins family moved 70 miles southeast to Madison County looking for a better life beyond the cotton fields.
The Perkins family fortunes took a turn for the better as Carl got a job milking cows and making morning deliveries with his father and Jay took a job at a nearby mattress factory. Within a few months, Carl composed his first song — Movie Magg — a story of taking his girl to a western movie. With the positive approval of Jay and his mother and father, Carl’s songwriting career had begun.
In late 1946, the Perkins Brothers (Jay was 16, Carl was 14) took their first paying job at the Cotton Boll Tavern located twelve miles south of Jackson. Their pay that first Wednesday night consisted of four dollars or so in tips and four free beers. (4) The Wednesday night gig led to an offer to play Fridays and Saturdays at a honky tonk named the Sand Ditch in Jackson. When Carl told his mother about the job offer, she expressed her displeasure. “Boys, be careful. Please don’t play at the Sand Ditch,” she requested. She apparently heard about the fights that occurred and was concerned about safety of her underaged sons. “Momma, that’s the only way we’re ever gonna get anywhere,” Carl insisted. “They aren’t gonna pay us to play in church. We want to do this.” (4)
Jay and Carl pursued their musical lifestyle but it came at a cost. The same drive to play his music presented itself in unintended ways. Smoking, drinking whatever was available and the availability of numbers of young women — was all part of the routine. And they loved every minute of it.
The Perkins Brothers Band became a big draw around the Bemis and Jackson areas of Tennessee. Carl added a Harmony electric guitar to the act but still believed their sound was thin. The duo needed a bass that slapped out the rhythm. Younger brother Clayton, who dropped out of school after completing the eighth grade in 1948, was Carl’s likely candidate to be the bass player. Clayton resisted the offer but after minimal practice, he was eventually added to the group. Carl recalled. “The minute Clayton started clickin’ behind Jay’s rhythm, it (the group’s unique sound) exploded. It was a feel, a sound, something that I heard in my head (while working the fields). I knew people would like it. We would fill every club we’d play in.” (5)
Soon, there were local radio shows and some TV appearances. A connection at local radio station WJTS recorded the Perkins Brothers as Carl sent tapes to Columbia and RCA in New York. Sometimes the packages were returned unopened and other times, they weren’t returned at all.
In late summer of 1949, Carl met Valda Crider who would become his wife. It was Valda, who would channel the energy inside Carl insisting that if “he wanted to sing on the Grand Ole Opry or anywhere else in the world, he could do it.” She was a keeper. They were married on January 24, 1953. (6)
1953 proved to be a pivotal year for Carl personally and professionally. Valda gave birth to their first child, Carl Stanley Perkins. The new family had a new home in a rent-controlled apartment complex and the Perkins Brothers added drummer W.S. Holland. It was also the year his musical fortune took a turn for the better.
When a New York label rejected his tape, someone included a note that read “We think your music is interesting but we don’t know where it fits in with what we’re promoting right now.” Carl took it as a positive sign. “That’s what I want them to say, Valda,” Carl told his bride. “The music’s not bad, but they don’t know what it is! Someday, somebody will know what it is!” (7)
That someday happened during the summer of 1953. Valda, while ironing heard the song, Blue Moon of Kentucky by Elvis Presley on the radio. She called out to Carl in another room. “Carl, listen to this. It sounds like you.” From the clicking of the bass to the highly-energized vocal, Carl found a kindred spirit. He also found his intended direction — instead of Nashville, his future belonged in Memphis. “There’s a man in Memphis who understands what we’re doing. I need to see him.” (7)
Carl Perkins in a 1956 publicity photo.
Photo courtesy of Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images.
In October of 1954, Carl, Clayton and Jay loaded the car and headed to Memphis. Showing up unannounced on the doorstep of Sun Records, Presley’s label, was a chancy proposition at best. When Carl walked into the lobby of the record company, he was immediately rebuffed by a secretary who told him, “We have this boy, Elvis Presley, and we aren’t listening to anybody else right now.” As Carl told his brothers about his exchange with the secretary, a Cadillac pulled up and parked in front of Carl’s 1941 Plymouth. The driver’s expensive style of dress told Carl this was a man of importance. This man was Sam Phillips. This was the opportunity Carl had waited for. After introducing himself and asking for an audition, Carl was told by Phillips, “Man, I’m too busy, I don’t have time,” as Phillips headed for the door. “Just listen to one or two songs,” Carl pleaded, “You just don’t know what this would mean to me.” Phillips relented, but only slightly. “Okay, get set up. But I’m busy and can’t listen long.” (8)
Ready to go in the studio with the Perkins Brothers on the floor and Phillips in the control booth, Jay stepped up to the mic and began one of his self-penned traditional country songs. Phillips cut him off before he completed the first verse. “No, I don’t like that. Got anything else?” Another of Jay’s songs got the same abrupt rejection. “There’s already an Ernest Tubb out there,” the studio owner snapped. Jay was angry and Clayton was ready to leave. But Carl kept both in check. As Phillips emerged from his perch, Carl asked for one more song. “I’m gonna play him one of my songs,” Carl told his brothers. Philips paused, “Do it.” Carl launched into Movie Magg, the song written on his front porch when he was just fourteen. (8)
With Phillips standing in front of the brothers, Carl lost himself in the performance. Phillips, with his head down and tapping his foot to the beat, listened intently to the entirety of the song. After a pause, the silence was broken. “Now that’s original. The way you play it, the way you sing it and the way you wrote it,” the label owner told Carl. A second run-through didn’t impress as much. “It’s country, but it’s uptempo and it’s a different type of country,” Phillips said in a warmer tone. “You come with another song like that and we’ll talk about a record deal.” As Jay and Clayton packed their instruments and headed for the door, Phillips’ hand gripped Carl’s shoulder. “Now you’re the one that needs to do the singin’. You don’t sound like anybody else which may give you a chance. Just keep writing those uptempo songs and stay in touch. There may be something there.” (8)
It took but a few weeks before the Perkins Brothers returned to Memphis with another original song as Sam requested and this trip, they added drummer W.S. to their lineup. Once set up in the studio, Perkins eased into Movie Magg. The second take was a winner. For the second song, Carl chose another self-penned title, Honky Tonk Gal. Phillips liked the song but the band hadn’t nailed it as they did Movie Magg. “I wanna release it. But I also want a good country ballad. Write me a ballad.” (9)
After another two weeks, Carl called Sam and told him that he had the ballad. After playing a few bars over the phone, Phillips liked it so much that he told Carl to return to the studio as soon as possible. Knowing the strength of the song and the potential for a breakout double-sided hit of a unique artist, Phillips went for broke and hired country music studio legends, Quentin Claunch, an electric guitar player, fiddler Bill Cantrell and Stan Kessler, a steel guitar specialist. The augmented group nailed the flip side, Turn Around.
Fast forward to February of 1955, when Carl first heard Turn Around on a local radio station. Carl heard the DJ say, “Listen to this record by Carl Lee Perkins,” followed by the opening licks of Bill Cantrell’s fiddle. It was the first time he heard his voice on the radio and the sound paralyzed him for a moment. A short time later, Phillips mailed Carl two 78 RPM copies of the release on a Sun subsidiary, Flip Records, but they arrived broken. Carl drove to the local record store and bought a copy to bring home and play on a borrowed record player. As Turn Around played, both Carl and Valda broke down in tears. “All the feelings were revealing inside my soul and they really came to life when I got those first two records,” Carl remembered. “I wanted to absorb every second of them. It was a dream I had chased all my life, and Valda shared that dream.” (10)
Turn Around was getting some spins on local radio and as a result, the Perkins Brothers were picking up better paying jobs locally. Soon the group received an offer to open for Elvis Presley on tour. The door of opportunity swung wide open.
Carl and the group joined Elvis for shows in Mariana and West Memphis, Arkansas around the early summer of 1955. Backstage after Carl opened, Presley, waiting to be introduced, paced the dressing room, unable to sit still. Carl, the veteran of years of live performances, tried to settle the man-child from Tupelo. “Man, why are you nervous? They’re gonna love you!” Presley responded, “Oh, God, they may not.” Clutching his head, Elvis said, “Now you’re through, and if I went on first, I’d be through — oh, my God!” When the emcee announced Elvis, he was out the door and sprinting to the stage. (10)
Carl never saw anything like it. “It was all brand-new. From the side of the stage, I’d stick my head out to see when they would scream so loud. Tears were rolling down their faces —falling with their head back against another's face — just stacked against the stage.” Perkins met Presley when came off stage. “You can’t tell me you were scared,” Carl said. “You started rippin’ ‘em!” EP responded, “I wasn’t rippin’ ‘em. I was just movin’ around a little. They did it. I didn’t do anything.” To which Carl replied, “Yeah, they’re doin’ it themselves, but you’re causing it.” (10)
From the movie set of Jamboree, 1957, Los Angeles, California. L-R Clayton Perkins on bass, Carl Perkins on lead guitar, W.S. Holland on drums and Jay Perkins rhythm guitar.
Photo courtesy of Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images.
Touring kept food on the table as the Perkins family were ready for their third child. Sam Phillips was happy with Carl’s showing on the charts with his first release so he invited him back in the studio in mid-June to record four more original tunes. Two of the songs recorded that day, Let the Jukebox Keep on Playing and Gone, Gone, Gone were scheduled for August release, this time on the Sun label as Flip was discontinued due a threatened lawsuit. What You Do When You’re Cryin’ and You Can’t Make Love to Somebody rounded out the session — with all four songs augmented by the talents of Cantrell, Claunch and Kesler.
About this same time, Johnny Cash was added to the Sun roster and produced original songs such as Hey! Porter, Folsom Prison Blue and Cry! Cry! Cry! Cash joined Perkins and Presley on tour throughout Arkansas and Mississippi. In late summer near early fall, Cash, whose band the Tennessee Two, joined Carl and Elvis for a show in Parkin, Arkansas. It was then that Cash told Carl about an experience he had while serving in Air Force that could present a song-writing opportunity.
An airman by the name of C.V. White (the C.V. stood for Champagne Velvet, Cash was told) would dress up in his Air Force blues with black shoes whenever he would secure a three-day pass. “Before he headed to town, he’d always come by and get me to inspect him, because he wanted to look the best he could for the ladies of Munich,” Cash recalled. “You look sharp. You got your shoes shined up real good.” To which White replied, “Those are not Air Force black, those are blue suede shoes tonight. Don’t step on my blue suede shoes.” (11)
On October 21, 1955, the Perkins Brothers were booked to play a show for college students at the Supper Club, sponsored by Jackson’s Union University. Eager to play to a crowd much like that when he played with Presley and Cash, Carl noted it was like a “honky tonk crowd, but a sober one with teenage voices laughing and shouting and young bodies bopping in time with the infectious rhythm.” (11) Carl scanned the crowd and his eyes settled on an attractive couple dancing near the stage who responded when he kicked a leg out or spun in a different direction.
Between songs, Carl heard a somewhat angry male voice near the stage. It was the male partner of the couple who danced in front of him just seconds ago chastising his date for a territorial violation. “Uh-Uh! Don’t step on my suedes,” he sternly reminded her. “I’m sorry,” the date answered. “I’m really sorry.” Carl looked down at the boy’s blue suede shoes which now had a white mark on them. The couple danced together the remainder of the evening but the boy never forgave his date for the fashion faux pas. Carl thought, “Good Gracious! With a pretty little thing like that and all he could think about was his blue suede shoes.” (11)
When Carl returned home that night, as was his usual habit, he took a few minutes to unwind and then head for bed. Even at 3:00 AM, he laid there and recalled the couple on the dance floor. Happily dancing, the scuff mark, the reprimand and the apology all played in visions on Carl’s mind as he tried to sleep. But to no avail. Suddenly, his brain connected the dots. He remembered what Johnny Cash told him about blue suede shoes. He slithered out of bed and headed downstairs. He had work to do.
When inspiration encompasses an artist, it develops in unexpected ways. Carl decided to start the song with a nursery rhyme. After a few tries, he settled with the lyrics, “Well, it’s one for the money, two for the show, three to get ready, now go, man, go!” Strumming on his guitar, he broke into a boogie woogie rhythm and the song began writing itself. (11)
He emptied a paper bag full of potatoes and wrote the lyrics as quickly as they came to mind, even misspelling the title, Blue Swade. In the process, his unique sense of composition imagined the different parts the members of his band would play. He played with the lyrics and worked out solos before eventually retiring to bed. When he awoke, he dressed, headed downstairs passing Valda preparing family breakfast and grabbed his guitar and played the song again. “Carl, I like that,” Valda responded. “I really like that!” Carl told her, “If you like it now, wait till you hear it when the band joins in. If we can get it done like I hear it...” Carl thought it could mean the end of playing in honky tonks for good. (12)
After introducing the song to brother Jay, Carl called Sam Phillips and played a part of Blue Suede Shoes over the phone. “Sounds good,” was the matter-of-fact response from Phillips, something that irritated Carl. Perkins wasn’t about to let the perceived slight stop him. He was ready to record. For Phillips, he developed a not-so-fast attitude and told Carl to “keep working and be patient.” After all, Phillips wanted the current Perkins single, Gone, Gone, Gone to run its course. Besides, the delay gave the Perkins Brothers Band a chance to test the song with live audiences and clean up the arrangement. (12)
Memories can fade over time and facts can be lost retelling a story over a period of years. Johnny Cash, in a 1988 interview, had his own spin on the story of Blue Suede Shoes. “Carl Perkins and I were in Amory, Mississippi, with Elvis. Now Elvis, of course, was hotter than a pistol … and Carl hadn’t had a hit. He’d had two country records. He asked me to write a song with him. I said, ‘You take this idea and write it yourself.’ This blue suede shoes line that my buddy used to say had been in my mind ever since I went to Sun. I told Carl about it and he said, ‘That’s the one I’m looking for,’ and he wrote it that night. He started it backstage, but he went home and finished it.” Cash said he never regretted giving the “blue suede shoes” concept to Carl. “I’m still glad I did, because he was my best friend, and he deserved a hit. He’d worked hard for one.” (13)
On December 19, 1955, Phillips summoned Carl to the studio. “Do that 'shoes' song,” Sam told Carl. The first take was dull and had no energy. Carl adlibbed some lyrics that didn’t fit and missed on his guitar solo. That wasn’t the case with take two.
Carl changed the line of “Go, man, go” to “Go, cat, go!” (some sources state it was at Phillips behest), his guitar solos sizzled and his band was in the zone with him. A third take produced a feel much like the first one — no magic at all. Carl, still not satisfied with any of the three performances, told Phillips, “I gotta do it again.” Phillips asked, “Why?” Carl replied, “I made some guitar mistakes.” Phillips played all three takes for Carl. “I can beat any of that with the guitar,” Carl pleaded. Phillips knew he had a hit. “You just listen to this break,” Phillips said as he cued up one of the second takes two’s solos. “Did you hear that? You burnt it! We’re not changing anything. This record’s a smash!” (14)
Seeing Phillips reaction, Carl listened again to take two. Something in that second review changed his opinion. “I felt I had the best rockabilly song I had ever written. I liked the beginning and I liked the way I sang ‘blue suede shoes.’ I felt really good when I heard the playback on the studio speakers. I had a tingle that had never been there before. I looked at Jay, Clayton and W.S. with a different look. That was the moment I had searched for all my life. We talked about it all the way home.” It was Jay who said, “That one might do it. You may have cut something that’s gonna get someplace.” (14)
The second song recorded that fateful day, Honey Don’t, became the flip side to Blue Suede Shoes. The session ended with recordings of two more original compositions by Carl, Tennessee and Sure To Fall. Carl described the 13-day interim between the recording of single (pressed on vinyl at both on 78 and 45 rpm) and the day of its release (January 1, 1956) as the “longest wait in the world.” (15)
Both of the 78 copies Sam sent to Carl arrived broken — just as the previous releases on the brittle format had done. Carl couldn’t wait for replacements so he drove to a local record store to purchase a copy he could bring home to play for Valda. When the clerk produced a 45 copy, Carl stared in disbelief — he had not been made aware of the format change. “(That) won’t sell. That big ol’ hole, little bitty record…nobody’s gonna buy that.” After purchasing a used record player with a 45 adapter, Carl was relieved to know the groove on the new single did indeed contain the same song he previously recorded in Memphis. (15)
Carl was wrong about sales of the record in the 45rpm format. In Cleveland alone, after a DJ featured the song prominently on his nightly show, a distributor placed an order for 25,000 additional copies before the end of January. After four appearances on the Big D Jamboree radio show in Dallas and a string of one-nighters in the Southwest, local music stores were reportedly selling 20,000 copies of the record a day. (16) Sales upped the band’s price from $100 a night to $250. Not only was the money better, but Carl was now the headliner. (15)
On March 3, 1956, Shoes entered the Billboard Hot 100 at #83. (17) Other artists were taking notice and covering Shoes. Elvis, who was now recording on the RCA label, covered the song for his first album, Elvis Presley. The recording took place on January 30, 1956 in New York. Presley performed the song on national television three times in 1956. The first was February 11 on The Dorsey Brothers Stage Show. He also performed it again on his third appearance on Stage Show on March 17, and again on The Milton Berle Show on April 3. (18) According to Scotty Moore, who played guitar on Elvis’ recording, "We just went in there and started playing, just winged it. Just followed however Elvis felt." According to reports confirmed by Sam Phillips, RCA Victor producer Steve Sholes agreed not to release Presley's version of the song as a single while Perkins' release was hot. The Elvis version of Blue Suede Shoes was released as a single on September 8, 1956 — two weeks after Perkins hit left the Hot 100 chart. (19)
On March 17, the day that Carl and band broke Shoes nationally on ABC’s Ozark Jubilee, Shoes landed at the #3 spot on the R&B chart making Carl the first country artist to reach that crossover status. (20)
Sam Phillips rented a Chrysler limousine for the band’s tour up the Eastern seaboard culminating in an appearance on The Perry Como Show on March 24. After a March 21 appearance in Norfolk, Virginia, the band hit the road in the early morning hours for a trip to the Big Apple. Memphis disc jockey, Stuart Pinkham, hired by Phillips to drive, crashed the car into a pickup truck outside Dover, Delaware just before sunup on March 22. The driver of the pickup was killed. The Chrysler rolled four times down the road, smashed against a guard rail, then plunged over a bridge resting right side up on the banks of a stream. Jay suffered a broken neck and internal injuries, Clayton, Pinkham and W.S. suffered cuts. Carl, who was laying face down in the water was saved by W.S. from drowning. Carl suffered a broken collarbone, three fractured vertebrae, a severe concussion and lacerations over his body. (21)
Carl recalled how life went on as he was laid up in the hospital. “They were gonna give me a gold record. Sam Phillips was already in New York and was gonna surprise me and announce to the world on The Perry Como Show that my record was number one on all three charts – something that rarely ever happened then. As a result of the wreck, I didn’t get to make the show. I watched Elvis from my hospital bed do Blue Suede Shoes. I’ve been asked many times how I felt about that. I always admired Elvis; I liked what he did. I knew he had the same feel for the music that I did; we loved the same type of things. And nobody was topping anybody. I did lay there thinking, ‘what if?’–but Elvis had the looks on me. He was hittin’ ‘em with his sideburns, flashy clothes, and no ring on his finger; I was married, with three kids. There was no way of keepin’ Elvis from being the man.” (22)
As Carl and other band members were healing, Shoes continued its ascent up the charts. After the debut, the song eventually topped at #2 for four weeks (17) trailing only Heartbreak Hotel by Elvis. (23)
Sam Phillips presents Carl with his gold record for Blue Suede Shoes in April of 1956.
Photo courtesy of Colin Escott, Showtime Archive, Toronto, Canada.
In mid-April, Carl was back in Sun Studios recording six new songs including Dixie Fried and Everybody’s Trying to Be My Baby. Carl resumed touring on April 21 with the Big D Jamboree tour in Beaumont, Texas with Ed Cisco filling in for Jay on rhythm guitar. By this time, Shoes had surpassed one-million in sales earning Perkins a gold record. The Perkins Brothers rescheduled their performance on the Como Show and performed Blue Suede Shoes on May 26, 1956 with Jay playing guitar while wearing a neck brace. (24)
In the fall of 1956, Carl was booked on the Grand Ole Opry. His childhood dream was realized as his mother, father and wife would watch his performance from the front row. W.S. stayed home as the Opry didn’t allow drums. “We made it,” Carl told Jay and Clayton. “This is it.” The dressing room at the Ryman Auditorium was tiny (“hardly larger than two outhouses put together”) as the myth and reality of the hallowed stage collided in front of them. Roy Acuff introduced the Perkins Brothers. Carl stepped to the mic and greeted the audience. “I want to sing my new record,” as he broke into Blue Suede Shoes. The boys were greeted with polite applause as the song opened and the audience sat quietly as the band played. They followed with Honey Don’t, with much the same reaction. Too much had happened after Shoes became a hit. His appearance on the Opry was underwhelming by comparison. (25)
Other Perkins songs recorded and released on the Sun label in 1956 included Boppin’ The Blues while Matchbox made its debut in 1957. Your True Love was the last Sun single to hit the charts. Carl then signed a five-year deal to Columbia where he hit the pop charts with singles, Pink Pedal Pushers in 1958 and Pointed Toe Shoes in 1969. (17) In 1963, Carl signed with Decca and worked with famed producer, Owen Bradley but nothing happened.
Considering retiring from the music business, Carl accepted an offer to tour England with Chuck Berry. The English fans treated Perkins like royalty. Backed by the Nashville Teens, Perkins attacked the shows the way he did honky tonk audiences a decade ago.
On the last night of the tour, Carl was invited to a party where he met the Beatles. Eager to meet one of their early influences, George Harrison quizzed Carl about many of Sun hits. “What key was Honey Don’t?” he asked. “How do you play the intro?” John Lennon entered into the conversation and invited Carl to their recording session the next day. Carl showed up at the Abbey Road studios on June 1. Paul McCartney was at the piano while Lennon was rehearsing Slow Down. Carl sat next to an idle Ringo Starr who asked Perkins if he could sing some of his songs. “You mean you want me to write you some songs?” Carl asked the drummer. “That would be nice,” answered Ringo, “But I really like Honey Don’t and Matchbox. Do you care if I do those songs?” Carl answered, “Shoot, no, man. I’d love it!” That afternoon, the Beatles recorded five takes of Matchbox. The song was released on the American LP Something New. The Beatles also recorded Honey Don’t and Everybody’s Trying to Be My Baby in two October sessions and released them in the USA on their Beatles ’65 album. (26)
In 1966, Carl released two songs that charted on the Dollie label and later joined Johnny Cash on tour where he wrote the Cash hit, Daddy Sang Bass. The song led to a resurgence and Perkins resigned with Columbia where he recorded his top 20 hit, Restless in 1969. (27) Carl continued recording and performing for a number of years. His last album, Go, Cat, Go! was released in 1996. His last major concert performance was the Music for Montserrat all-star charity concert at London's Royal Albert Hall on September 15, 1997. (16)
Blue Suede Shoes was chosen by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as one of the "500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll". In 1986, Perkins' version was inducted in the Grammy Hall of Fame and in 1999, National Public Radio included Blue Suede Shoes in the NPR 100, in which NPR's music editors sought to compile the 100 most important American musical works of the 20th century.
In 2004, Perkins's version was ranked number 95 on Rolling Stone's list of "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time." Presley's recording of the song was also on the list, ranked number 423. The National Recording Preservation Board included the song in the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress in 2006. The board annually selects songs that are "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant." (16)
Jay Perkins died of cancer on October 20, 1958. (28)
Clayton Perkins died of a gunshot wound on December 25, 1973. (29)
Carl Perkins died of cancer on January 19, 1998. (16)
Varda Perkins died on November 15, 2005 in Jackson, Tennessee. (16)
Perry Como welcomes Carl to his show on May 26, 1956. Carl and the band perform Blue Suede Shoes.
From 1956, Elvis Presley performs Blue Suede Shoes in stereo and in color.
1) Carl Perkins and David McGee, Go, Cat, Go! The Life and Times of Carl Perkins, 1996, Page 128.
2) Perkins, Page 13.
3) Perkins, Pages 15-16.
4) Perkins, Pages 38-39.
5) Perkins, Page 47.
6) Perkins, Pages 58-60.
7) Perkins, Pages 78-79.
8) Perkins, Pages 87-90.
9) Perkins, Page 96.
10) Perkins, Pages 105-108.
11) Perkins, Pages 128-130.
12) Perkins, Pages 132-133.
13) Alan Hanson, Elvis History Blog, “Blue Suede Shoes” A Classic Cut For Two Rockabilly Singers, March 2011, Link.
14) Perkins, Pages 140-142.
15) Perkins, Pages 151-154.
16) Wikipedia, Blue Suede Shoes, Link.
17) Joel Whitburn, Top Pop Singles 1955-2002, Page 543.
18) Elvis’ Television Appearances, Link.
19) Perkins, Pages 162-163.
20) Jerry Naylor and Steve Halliday, Rockabilly Legends, Page 137.
21) Perkins, Pages 179-180.
22) Wayne Jancik, The Billboard Book of One-Hit Wonders, 1990, Page 15.
23) Perkins, Page 187.
24) TV.com, The Perry Como Show, Season 8, Episode 37. Link.
25) Perkins, Pages 219-220.
26) Perkins, Pages 297-299.
27) Michael Jack Kirby, Way Back Attack Carl Perkins, Link.
28) Perkins, Page 275.
29) Perkins, Pages 328-331.
Photo from 1956 courtesy of Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images.
© 2020 Jerry Reuss