Carl Lee Perkins (April 9, 1932 -- January 19, 1998) was an American rockabilly musician who recorded most notably at Sun Records Studio in Memphis, Tennessee, beginning during 1954. His best known song is "Blue Suede Shoes".
According to Charlie Daniels, "Carl Perkins' songs personified the rockabilly era, and Carl Perkins' sound personifies the rockabilly sound more so than anybody involved in it, because he never changed." Perkins' songs were recorded by artists (and friends) as influential as Elvis Presley, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, and Johnny Cash, which further cemented his place in the history of popular music. Paul McCartney even claimed that "If there were no Carl Perkins, there would be no Beatles".
Called "the King of Rockabilly", he was inducted into the Rock and Roll, the Rockabilly, and the Nashville Songwriters Halls of Fame; and was a Grammy Hall of Fame Award recipient.
Perkins successfully auditioned for Sam Phillips at Sun Records during early October 1954. "Movie Magg" and "Turn Around" were released on the Phillips-owned Flip label (151) March 19, 1955, with "Turn Around" becoming a regional success. With the song getting airplay across the South and Southwest, Perkins was booked to appear along with Elvis Presley at theaters in Marianna and West Memphis, Arkansas. Commenting on the audience reaction to both Presley and himself Perkins said, "When I'd jump around they'd scream some, but they were gettin' ready for him. It was like TNT, man, it just exploded. All of a sudden the world was wrapped up in rock."
Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Two were the next musicians to be added to the performances by Sun musicians. During the summer of 1955 there were junkets to Little Rock, Forrest City, Arkansas, Corinth and Tupelo, Mississippi. Again performing at El Rancho, the Perkins brothers were involved in an automobile accident. A friend, who had been driving, was pinned by the steering wheel. Perkins managed to drag him from the car, which had begun burning. Clayton had been thrown from the car, but was not injured seriously.
Another Perkins's tune, "Gone Gone Gone", released in October 1955 by Sun, was also a regional success. It was "a bounce blues in flavorsome combined country and r.&b. idioms". It was backed by the more traditional "Let The Juke Box Keep On Playing," complete with fiddle, "Western Boogie" bass line, steel guitar and weepy vocal.
Commenting on Perkins's playing, Sam Phillips has been quoted as saying that, "I knew that Carl could rock and in fact he told me right from the start that he had been playing that music before Elvis came out on record... I wanted to see whether this was someone who could revolutionize the country end of the business."
That same autumn, Perkins wrote "Blue Suede Shoes" after seeing a dancer get angry with his date for scuffing up his shoes. Several weeks later, on December 19, 1955, Perkins and his band recorded the song during a session at Sun Studio in Memphis. Phillips suggested changes to the lyrics ("Go, cat, go") and the band changed the end of the song to a "boogie vamp".
Presley left Sun for a larger opportunity with RCA in November, and on December 19, 1955, Phillips, who had begun recording Perkins in late 1954, told Perkins, "Carl Perkins, you're my rockabilly cat now." Released on January 1, 1956, "Blue Suede Shoes" was a massive chart success. In the United States, it scored No. 1 on Billboard magazine's country music charts (the only No. 1 success he would have) and No. 2 on Billboard's Best Sellers popular music chart. On March 17, Perkins became the first country artist to score No. 3 on the rhythm & blues charts. That night, Perkins performed the song during his television debut on ABC-TV's Ozark Jubilee (Presley performed it for the second time that same night on CBS-TV's Stage Show; he'd first sung it on the program on February 11).
In the United Kingdom, the song became a Top Ten success, scoring No. 10 on the British charts. It was the first record by a Sun label artist to sell a million copies. The B side, "Honey Don't", was covered by The Beatles, Wanda Jackson and (in the 1970s) T. Rex. John Lennon sang lead on the song when the Beatles performed it before it was given to Ringo Starr to sing. Lennon also performed the song on the Lost Lennon Tapes.