Carl Perkins - Biography
Carl Lee Perkins (April 9,
1932 - January 19, 1998) was an American pioneer of rockabilly
music, a mix of rhythm and blues and country music that evolved at
Sun Records in Memphis in the early 1950s.
Born in Tiptonville, Tennessee, as
the son of a poor tenant farmer, Perkins grew up surrounded by
southern gospel music sung by blacks working in the cotton fields.
By age seven, he was playing a guitar his father made from a cigar
box, broomstick and baling wire. At age thirteen, he won a talent
contest with a song he wrote called "Movie Magg". Ten years later,
the same song convinced Sam Phillips to sign Perkins to his Sun
In 1956, a desperately poor and
struggling Perkins wrote the song "Blue Suede Shoes" on an old
potato sack. Produced by Sam Phillips, the record was a massive
chart success. In the United States, it went to #1 on Billboard
magazine's country music charts, to #4 on the pop music charts, and
to #3 on the rhythm & blues charts. In the United Kingdom, it became
a Top 10 hit. It was the first record by a Sun label artist to sell
a million copies. However, at the peak of the song's national
success, Perkins was involved in a near-fatal car accident. Perkins
could only watch as his friend, Elvis Presley, had a huge hit with a
cover version of "Blue Suede Shoes".
Intentionally or not, the Elvis
cover stole Perkins' thunder, and he never had another Top 40 hit,
even after his move to Columbia Records in 1958. However, his songs
were kept in the public eye by such groups as
the Beatles, who
covered "Matchbox", "Honey Don't", and "Everybody's Trying To Be My
Baby". In 1968, Johnny Cash took the Perkins-written "Daddy Sang
Bass" to #1 on the country music charts. Perkins would spend a
decade in Cash's touring band.
In 1982, Perkins made a guest
appearance on Paul McCartney's chart-topping album Tug Of War,
duetting with the former Beatle on the song "Get It".
The rockabilly revival of the 1980s
helped bring Perkins back into the limelight. In 1985, Perkins
re-recorded "Blue Suede Shoes" with two members of the Stray Cats,
as part of the soundtrack for the movie
Porky's Revenge. The next year, George Harrison,
Clapton, and Ringo Starr appeared with him on a television special
taped in London, England, called Carl Perkins and Friends: A
Also in 1986, he returned to the
Sun Studios in Memphis, joining Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Roy
Orbison on the album Class of '55. The record was a tribute
to their early years at Sun and, specifically, the "Million Dollar
Quartet" jam session involving Perkins, Presley, Cash, and Lewis on
December 4, 1956.
In 1985, he was inducted into the
Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame and in 1987, recognition of
Perkins' contribution to music came when he was inducted into the
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In addition, "Blue Suede Shoes" was
chosen as one of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that
Shaped Rock and Roll, and as a Grammy Hall of Fame Award recipient.
Perkins' last album, Go Cat Go!,
was released in 1996, and featured new collaborations with many of
the above artists, as well as Paul Simon, John Fogerty, Tom Petty,
Carl Perkins died at the age of 65
from throat cancer after suffering several strokes. He is interred
in the Ridgecrest Cemetery in Jackson, Tennessee.
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