Listen to this song made famous by Elvis, but written and originally recorded by rockabilly demigod and Million Dollar Quartet member Carl Perkins. It’s “Blue Suede Shoes”, not so much a song as a culturally significant statement that echoes down the decades as if from God’s own megaphone.
Carl Perkins never achieved the heights of fame when compared to his contemporaries, perhaps only because his career was not quite as fraught with controversy as it was in the careers of Jerry Lee Lewis (marrying his teenaged cousin), Chuck Berry (transporting an underage girl across a state line for the purposes of … well, you know), and Little Richard (a black, gay man in the 1950s? ‘Nuff said).
Yet, Perkins was as rock ‘n’ roll as any of them, mixing country with rhythm and blues with the greatest of ease, demonstrating how interrelated those genres of American music are, and crafting many an anthem to inspire rock fans everywhere.
This hit song was one of these. And even if fellow Sun Records artist Elvis Presley kind of stole his thunder with this one, his influence did not go unnoticed by the next generation of rock ‘n’ roll groups, including the Beatles who recorded a number of Perkins tunes even during the height of their own careers. His “Everybody’s Trying to Be My Baby” is the closing number on 1964’s Beatles For Sale album. That song’s lead singer, George Harrison, was a huge Perkins fan, temporarily christening himself as “Carl Harrison” when the Beatles were in Hamburg, and modeling his own approach to the guitar on Perkins’.
After a string of hits, Perkins appeared with Johnny Cash on a number of dates, including the historic Folsom Prison shows by the end of the 1960s with another Perkins – Luther Perkins – , Cash’s full-time guitar player in the Tennessee Three. And his songwriting continued in earnest, particularly on the country standard “Daddy Sang Bass”, which Cash also famously recorded. Perkins even wrote with Bob Dylan around the time of Dylan’s Nashville Skyline album.
One characteristic of Perkins’ career, and his personality, is consistency. Perkins held the torch high for the early rock ‘n’ roll and rockabilly sound, continued as a hard-working touring musician into the 80s and 90s, and working with a new generation of rockabillly musicians including revivalists the Stray Cats, and country-rock band The Kentucky Headhunters. He remained married to his wife Valda through out, clearly valuing the stability of family even when singing dangerous rock ‘n’ roll songs .
Upon his death in death 1998, George Harrison attended his funeral, struggling himself with a battle against cancer at the time. George passed by the original rock ‘n’ roller’s casket, and gave it an affectionate pat and then sang Perkins’ “Your True Love”, a final thank-you from one rock legend to another.