Carl Perkins

TrackSingle / Album
Turn AroundFlip 501
Blue Suede ShoesSun 234
Honey Don'tSun 234
Boppin' The BluesSun 243
MatchboxSun 261
Your True LoveSun 261
Put Your Cat Clothes OnSun Rockabillys - Put Your Cat Clothes On
Glad All OverSun 287
HamboneColumbia 4-42514
Lonely HeartBrunswick 05909

 

Carl Perkins photo 1

Carl Perkins

 

 

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Carl Perkins playlist

 

Contributor: Dave Stephens

Elvis Presley’s first single, That’s All Right c/w Blue Moon Of Kentucky was released on 19th July 1954.

‘In July 1954, Perkins and his wife heard a new release of Blue Moon Of Kentucky by Elvis Presley, Scotty Moore and Bill Black on the radio. As the song faded out, Perkins said, “There’s a man in Memphis who understands what we’re doing. I need to go see him”.’ (Source: Wikipedia)

‘He was twenty-two-years old and had been working as a baker in Jackson before he quit to play the honky-tonks full-time. Then one day his wife, Valda, heard That’s All Right on the radio. ”That sounds a lot like you, Carl,” she said. And that was what had given him the idea.’ (Source: 706 Union Avenue)

Take your pick; they’re not totally dissimilar. Of more significance, perhaps, is that several paragraphs earlier, Wiki had noted, in relation to Carl and his brother Jay starting out in 1946 in the Cotton Boll tavern on Highway 45: ‘One of the songs they played was an up-tempo country blues shuffle version of Bill Monroe’s Blue Moon Of Kentucky’. So maybe there was a precursor to the music that Presley and his two cohorts cooked up in that famous session in the Sun Studio on 5th July 1954.

The Perkins Brothers Band, consisting of Carl, Jay and Clayton plus drummer W.S. Holland, drove to Memphis in September that year in a 1941 Plymouth with Clayton Perkins’ bass strapped to the top covered by a nine foot cotton sack (source: 706 Union Avenue which has been indispensable in putting this post together). They passed the audition with Sam Phillips, signed the contract and got themselves on the road again. They were back in October, or early November, for Carl’s first session (and the dating is only vague because of haphazard record-keeping in the early days at Sun).

Three songs were recorded in that session: Honky Tonk Babe/Gal was cut five times but Phillips pronounced that he wasn’t satisfied so it didn’t see release. It was essentially a country ditty – note the near yodel on the title line – but with rockabilly slap bass and blue notes appearing in the guitar breaks. The song was one that had been penned by Carl – as indeed most of his Sun singles would be – albeit with a co-writer sometimes present.

The other two from the session, Movie Magg and Turn Around, formed Carl’s first single, released in February 1955 on the Sun subsidiary, Flip records. If that date seems somewhat distant from the session date, I can only state that it came from 45cat, a usually reliable source. The A-side, Movie Magg, was another medium tempo country jogger with hints of rockabilly and, lyrically, elements of pop. While the ‘Magg’ in the title might have been a reference to a movie magazine, in fact it wasn’t, hence not a deliberate pun. The first two lines make it clear that Magg(ie) was a lady, viz. “Now let me take you to the movies Magg / so I can hold your hand”.

The flip, Turn Around, on which the Perkins team were joined in the studio by Quinton Claunch (guitar), Stan Kesler (steel guitar) and Bill Cantrell (fiddle), was country without any shadow of doubt. These three gentlemen were Phillips’ country A-Team and their presence shows the confidence Sam had in Carl as a country stylist (and song writer too). While the A-side might have been a nod towards the Presley rockabilly audience, Turn Around was aimed squarely at those folk who’d been buying the records of the great Hank Williams until his tragic death, two years or so earlier:

When you’re all alone and blue
And the world looks down on you
Turn around, I’ll be followin’ you

While, these days, those words might just have a stalker element about them, Carl makes his intentions clear in the soaring middle eight:

Turn around, I’ll be waitin’ behind you
With a love that’s real and never, ever dies

Like stablemate-to-be Jerry Lee Lewis who gets a walk-on part in a few paragraphs, Carl had one foot in country and the other in rockˈnˈroll and, just like Jerry, he did full justice to both.

I’m skipping single #2, not because of the quality – the A-side, Let The Juke Box Keep On Playing, was another fine country song and the flip, Gone Gone Gone, a step along the road to full on rockabilly – but numbers just ruled this pairing out. What is worthy of comment re this record is that Carl continued to make no overt attempt to ape Presley; he was his own man, and that continued throughout his career.

Well, it’s one for the money
Two for the show
Three to get ready
Now go, cat, go

On Monday 19th December 1955, Carl Perkins and band recorded Blue Suede Shoes at 706 Union Avenue. Less than a month preceding this session, Sam Phillips, who is listed as producer and recording engineer, had signed the contract which moved Elvis Presley lock, stock and barrel to RCA Victor. As a consequence Sam was highly likely to have been more inclined to give Perkins his head in the still emerging rockabilly market. Previously he’d seen him more as a country singer.

The record was released on 1st January 1956 and became the biggest selling rockabilly single ever, hitting #2 in the US Pop Chart and #1 in the country equivalent. In the UK it reached #10 and was Carl’s only hit. Perkins was also the recipient of a compliment from Elvis and his producer, Steve Sholes at RCA. On 30th January, in his second New York session, Elvis cut Blue Suede Shoes. Sholes however made an agreement with Sam Phillips not to release the Presley single version of the number while the Perkins original was still selling like hot cakes. The Presley single, which had been held back until August (though Sholes did put out an earlier EP with “Shoes” on) only achieved a measly #24 chart position.

For the sake of this essay I listened to both the Perkins original and the Presley version again and it was the original that won out as it had hitherto. To anyone who says that Carl sounds more staid and even stilted than Elvis, I’d turn that comment on its head and say that Elvis sounds a tad forced on this one in comparison to the more natural delivery of Carl. Indeed it’s Carl’s original that always comes to mind when I think “Blue Suede Shoes”. I hasten to add that both are fine records.

Sam Phillips followed through with his instincts in promoting Carl as a purveyor of rockabilly by putting another classic of the genre on the flip. If “Shoes” could be viewed as a novelty record or even gimmicky – regular criticisms of rock and roll in its early days – then Honey Don’t should be perceived as dealing with affairs of the heart in a non-trivial manner, though that didn’t mean that it couldn’t be a fun record as well. The great Hank wasn’t a total stranger to fun either in spite of a reputation for doom-shrouded ballads.

Well, how can you say you will, when you won’t
You tell me you do, baby, when you don’t?
Let me know, honey, how you feel
Tell the truth now, is love real?

Dave Marsh described the record in the following manner:

“This is red hot rockabilly with Perkins riding a heavy bed of amped-up bass and drums, accentuated by the bite of his own guitar. If his shouts and asides are tossed off with a sense of containment closer to country than R&B, that’s probably the best evidence that homespun Carl, not R&B driven Elvis or manic eclectic Jerry Lee was the archetypal rockabilly.”

In March 1956, while on route to New York City for an appearance on the Perry Como Show, the vehicle that Carl and the band were travelling in, crashed into the back of a pick-up truck. Carl sustained severe injuries to his neck which prevented him from live performance until late April. The Perkins bandwagon certainly lost some momentum because of the accident and, to this day, fans have continued to pose the question: “what if the accident had never happened; could Carl have been as big as Elvis?”. To which, with some reluctance, I have to answer with a no. Carl was undoubtedly equipped with much greater musical skills than his contemporary in terms of song writing and guitar playing; his vocal ability too, while not in the Elvis class was still ahead of many of his peers; but he was lacking in the looks department and perhaps of similar importance, in the ability to put on a show – note the live clip of Blue Suede Shoes at the start of this essay from a Perry Como Show that Carl did make; his attempts to liven things up visually look as if he was trying too hard; they didn’t come naturally.

But he still managed to produce a series of fine, often classic, records while at the Sun label. High in most fans’ esteem has to be Boppin’ The Blues, the immediate follow-up to Blue Suede Shoes. It was one of those ‘celebrating this marvellous thing called rock and roll’ type songs and was written with semi-regular co-writer Howard “Curly” Griffin. Lyrically, it was well above the norm for songs in this sub-genre and surely it had to have been Carl himself who wrote such lines as “Yeah, the doctor told me, boy you don’t need no pill/ Just a handful of nickels/ The jukebox will cure your ill”. While the number was a straightforward 12 bar rocker missing the stop-time feature of “Shoes” or the intriguing repeated drop from E to C in Honey Don’t, Carl’s vocal is more propulsive than hitherto and the break features our hero on aggressive chordal work, something rare in the country or early rock era.

The session held on 4th December 1956 was remarkable for two reasons. Firstly for the presence of Jerry Lee Lewis on piano. Jerry had signed with Sun in November and already had his first single out (Crazy Arms/End Of The Road); this was an attempt by Sam Phillips to use him in a support role. An unusually high number of songs were attempted with multiple takes being the norm. Only a relatively small number were selected for single release, with the bulk sitting in the can until they appeared on seventies rockabilly comps or relatively recent CDs of rare/unissued Perkins tracks.

I’ve selected a whopping three tracks from the session. They comprise a classic which saw release as a flip, a flawed but intriguing performance which was released as the A-side to track #1 and a third, the merits of which were only recognised after it gained its first release in the seventies rockabilly revival.

Well I’m sitting here wondering will a matchbox hold my clothes …

The first of the three, Blind Lemon Jefferson’s Matchbox, is the hands down classic. Although based on the Blind Lemon number, Carl only remembered one verse and inserted blues couplets he dragged from his memory for others. Anchored by a rock steady Lewis left hand boogie, Carl’s guitar is positively metallic and his vocal is amongst his very best, relaxed but forceful at the same time, deploying a number of grunts and yelps that almost put it into Charlie Feathers land.

The A-side to Matchbox, Your True Love, was a curious affair. In order to emphasise the pop aspects of the song which was decidedly more teen oriented than most of his compositions, Sam added a vocal chorus and, even more unusually, speeded the track up having the effect of raising the vocal by a full tone (from E to F-sharp). According to the gents at 706UnionAvenue this was something that was regularly done on Fats Domino records including many we know and love. However Fats’ label Imperial only speeded up enough to raise the pitch by half a tone. The full tone effect on the Perkins track does put him dangerously close to Alvin & the Chipmunks territory. But I can forgive Sam. The slight speeding up is something I got used to fairly quickly and the track itself is of the sort that Sun excelled at, sitting in that hinterland between pop, country and rockabilly, not unlike the occasional Warren Smith track and some from lesser-known Sun artists.

And this is it. Note in particular the intro – one to get you to sit up and take notice – and the fine middle eight.

Jerry Lee is less prominent on Your True Love but he’s all over Put Your Cat Clothes On, to the extent that the credit should probably read “Carl Perkins featuring Jerry Lee Lewis”. He slips in a glissando shortly after the song starts and Carl even does him the honour of giving him the first break. That said, Carl isn’t overawed and on the second break his aggressive picking almost outdoes the maestro. The song might have been little more than a novelty produced to capitalise on the sales of Blue Suede Shoes but the band ably headed by Carl and abetted by Jerry make such thoughts disappear. Quite why Sam ignored this one we’ll never know. His instincts for a hit were usually unerring.

Elsewhere there were other tracks of interest in the mainly shelved results of the 4th December session. Carl’s version of Louis Jordan’s Caldonia is an exercise in excess. Carl spits, slurs and snarls the words while his guitar takes on near punk era edge. According – once again – to those good people at 706UnionAvenue, there was often whisky flowing on Sun sessions and on this one it was particularly plentiful. In total contrast to Caldonia, Keeper Of The Key(s) is a country weepie wherein Carl shows the world – or he would have if Sam had released the track – that his vocal abilities have been under-appreciated, and maybe under-recorded, over the years. Just listen to that falsetto lift at the end. Jerry makes no attempt to hog the limelight and provides the perfect backdrop.

I said that 4th December 1956 at Sun Records was significant for two reasons. The second was that, when things were drawing to a close, Elvis Presley and, separately, Johnny Cash, showed up and the session turned into a singalong with Elvis and Jerry taking turns at the piano, and Sam making sure that tapes were still rolling. This, of course, was the never to be repeated Million Dollar Quartet jam session, an event that seems to have reverberated through the decades.

Move forward a year and it’s Carl’s final session for Sun. He’d eventually decided to follow erstwhile label mate Johnny Cash to Columbia, having received an invite back in August ’57; Carl took longer to make up his mind. Glad All Over, the result of that final session, wasn’t even a Perkins song, but it could have been – it was certainly good enough.

Ain’t no doubt about it, this must be love
One little kiss from you and I feel glad all over
Ooh baby, hot-dang-dilly, it’s so silly but I’m glad all over

The clip features Carl lip syncing to the song in the film Jamboree Disc Jockey Jamboree in the UK).

Carl never had a sniff of the Top 40 let alone Top 20 after Blue Suede Shoes so maybe his feeling was correct about needing to move on from Sun. The flipside of that coin is that Sam Phillips could well have been right about needing to find or tailor aspects of Carl’s output that would appeal to a teen audience in order to achieve/maximise sales. Carl made plenty of fine records while at Sun. Think tracks like Sure To Fall, Lend Me Your Comb, Tennessee, Dixie Fried, That’s Right, Wrong Yo Yo, Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby. All great but how many of these had teen appeal? Sam’s ambivalence is also borne out by the fact that several of these weren’t selected for single release (or were selected but then held back presumably after doubts surfaced), and only saw the light of day on his debut Sun LP, Dance Album Of Carl Perkins, which was released after Carl’s Columbia move.

I’d just proffer an opinion before moving on: in rockabilly terms Carl’s work at Sun is, in my view, second only to the tiny handful of records that Elvis made in his brief sojourn at the label plus the few he made at RCA.

Columbia treated Carl with kid gloves on his first session in Nashville in February 1958, Both tracks cut, Pink Pedal Pushers and Jive After Five, were Perkins compositions and both could almost have come from the Sun studio, so close was the resemblance. Missing was a Perkins guitar break on each and, more importantly, atmosphere. This wasn’t Sun and you knew it but Columbia deserve marks for trying.

Before mentioning any further Columbia material I should declare an interest. As recall of the fifties dropped further into the memory cells, my interest in Carl didn’t evaporate and, in 1968 or not long after, I discovered an LP entitled Carl Perkins: King Of Rock from CBS. It contained a generous 16 tracks drawn from Carl’s singles during his first period with Columbia, from 1958 to 1963, with a focus on the rockier ones. It’s worth repeating the final sentence on the sleeve notes from Norman Jopling (a music journo who had his finger very much on the pulse in the sixties):

“And you can hear, on this LP, one of the finest selections put together of a cross-section of Perkins material, most of which has never been issued here – just listen to what REAL Rock’n’Roll sounds like by one of the men who created the earth-shattering sound!”

Norman might have been taking the odd liberty there but, given that the only buyers of such an album were going to be Perkins nuts such as self, it didn’t really do any harm (and certainly didn’t raise expectations unduly). The content was actually better than I expected while in no way matching Sun quality. In terms of selections, I was tempted by Columbia single #2 flip, Pop Let Me Have The Car which continued the teen chronicler theme (though not written by Carl) and Pointed Toe Shoes (“Everything’s all reet, I got ‘em on my feet, I said points coming back again” and those words were from Carl). However for originality none of the others stood a chance with the relatively late (1962) Hambone in the list. Co-written by Carl and with no attempt whatsoever to ape Sun rockabilly, this was almost Coasters-ville with a dumb bass voice taking the opening line and duetting with Carl (who takes the Hambone role) on the first verse. Not only that, this was one of those relatively rare records which featured a Diddley beat but wasn’t from the man himself.

Hambone, Hambone where you been?
I been to Hollywood City and I’m going again
What you go out there to do?
Well I went out there to make a picture or two
Uh say, how they like you in Hollywood?
Well now, Frankie and the boys said I done real good
etc.

(And for more on the song, see Footnotes)

Pink Pedal Pushers and Pointed Toe Shoes squeaked into the bottom of the Hot 100 but that was it for Carl at Columbia and they pulled the plug in late summer ’63. He switched to Decca and was pushed more in a country direction. Throughout this timeframe Carl was taking more and more to the bottle, depressed at the way his career was stalling.

In May 1964, he toured the UK with Chuck Berry. While both could have been seen as has-beens in terms of their careers, Berry was starting to receive plaudits from a new wave of fans as the Brit R&B Boom (or Blues Boom, whatever you want to call it) gathered pace. Chuck, understandably, was top of the bill but in addition to his new fans, the old rockers turned out in force to see both Americans. Carl was amazed at his reception; doubly so after a personal visit from the Beatles.

While in the UK, Carl managed to find time to cut both sides of a single which saw release on Brunswick (UK only) which was at that time releasing Carl’s US Decca records. Although Wiki mention the single, it doesn’t seem to have been highly publicised judging by the low numbers of YouTube hits. However, according to one of the commentators in 45cat, the NME had a front page advert for the record on 12th June 1964 so I guess we have to take from that the old platitude that memories are short. Which is a shame because both sides are as good as anything he’d released in the post-Sun period. Backing Carl were the Nashville Teens which might, at least in part, explain why the A-side, Lonely Heart – and both sides were penned by Carl – was a most unusual hybrid of Carl Perkins country/rockabilly and Sixties Brit Beat. I’d label it Country Rock, so Carl beat Gram to the punch in my book, though of course Don & Phil were there before both but that’s another story. Take a listen. It’s a grower:

And it’s my final selection. The flip side Big Bad Blues was also jostling for attention. Carl obviously liked the track since he went on and rerecorded it in ’75 backed by Scotty Moore, D.J. Fontana and the Jordanaires.

That might have been a good end to the Perkins story but there was more. When Carl returned to the US he hooked up with Johnny Cash and became part of his touring show, playing lead guitar in the backing group and having a brief section with the limelight on him before Johnny took the stage. During this period he wrote the song Daddy Sang Bass for JC giving him a Country Chart #1. He (Carl) also switched record label again to a small outfit named Dollie Records and managed to get himself a couple of Country Top 40 records with them.

Blue Suede Shoes was Carl’s only hit in the US or UK Top Forty terms, making him a one-hit-wonder in most people’s eyes (and in Toppermost speak). Which hurt. And that hurt didn’t go away. Things like the 1964 UK Tour helped a bit as did a TV Special put together to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of Blue Suede Shoes. Carl sang many of his own Sun era songs plus others. Among the latter was the one that started it all, Bill Monroe’s Blue Moon Of Kentucky as part of a medley. The team backing him up included two Beatles – George and Ringo – plus Eric Clapton, Dave Edmunds, Rosanne Cash and some Stray Cats. Below you’ll find that medley portion from the show (and there’s a further clip in the Footnotes). Note George taking Scotty Moore’s break in the opener That’s All Right; Eric closely watching Carl’s hands on the guitar on Night Train To Memphis; Rosanne’s very eighties hairstyle & clobber and the pleasure displayed by all (particularly Ringo) on the closing Amen. For a bonus it’s followed by a slowed-down singalong Glad All Over.

Carl made a lot more fine records and there were several reunions with artists and friends from the Sun era. I’d just make mention of one number from his second spell with Columbia, Restless. Originally cut in ’68 but this is the live (audio only) version from the Johnny Cash at San Quentin show.

Carl died of throat cancer in January 1998 after suffering several minor strokes. He was 65.

George Harrison sang Your True Love at Carl’s funeral. Also present were Johnny Cash, June Carter Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Garth Brooks, Ricky Skaggs, Johnny Rivers and Wynona Judd. Bob Dylan sent a note which was read out by Ms Judd:

“He really stood for freedom. That whole sound stood for all the degrees of freedom. It would just jump right off the turntable. We wanted to go where that was happening.” (Source: The Rockabilly Hall Of Fame)

 

Carl Perkins photo 4

 

FOOTNOTES

1. Carl Perkins was born near Tiptonville, Tennessee, in 1932. He started on guitar as a child and by his teens was already playing an electric model with brothers Jay on rhythm guitar and Clayton on upright bass. In 1947, the family moved to Madison County, close to Jackson. In the late forties Carl and his band became regular performers in the road taverns in the area. He also started appearing on WTJS-AM radio in Jackson. By all accounts Carl and his band established a reputation for being the hottest band around Jackson, utilising a more blues-based approach than other country outfits.

2. According to the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame, Carl was heavily influenced by Bill Monroe. The site quotes him as saying, “Some of those old songs (of his) are so close to rockabilly it’s scary”.

3. The 706UnionAvenue writers tell us that Movie Magg was written by Carl when he was 14 years old and it survived intact with only minor lyrical changes until the audition at Sun and subsequent recording and release as single #1. That same source also states that it’s likely that Sam Phillips came up with the title which only appears – with an “s” attached – in the first line and nowhere else in the song.

4. The “Elvis Australia” website has a substantial feature on Carl Perkins written by David Troedson. Within it David documents the early relationship between Presley and Perkins, zeroing in on Presley’s nervousness prior to performance, an unexpected condition for one who performed so spectacularly well, right from the early days. He also provides a detailed breakdown of the origins of the song, Blue Suede Shoes. The Johnny referred to is Cash.

“Johnny told Carl the story about C.V. White and the blue suede shoes. C.V. White was a black airman from Virginia, Johnny had known while serving in the US Air Force in Germany.

“When they got a three day pass they would get out their best uniforms, polish the brass, and spit-shine their shoes. One night C.V. White said something to Johnny that really struck him …

“C.V. would come by and say, ‘How do I look, man?’ ‘Like a million dollars,’ Johnny would tell him. One night C.V. followed with ‘Well, just don’t step on my blue suede shoes!’ ‘They’re not blue suede, C.V. They’re air force black, like everyone else’s,’ Johnny replied. ‘No, man. Tonight they’re blue suede. Don’t step on ’em!’ said C.V.”

On 21st October 1955, Carl and the band were doing a gig at the Union University in Jackson when, during a brief break between numbers in his set, Carl heard one of the dancers say to his date “Don’t step on my suedes”, and, yes, when Carl looked down he saw that the guy was wearing blue suede shoes. The Cash story hit him and he couldn’t sleep that evening until he’d fleshed out that image into the song we know as Blue Suede Shoes.

5. Whether Blue Suede Shoes is “the biggest selling rockabilly single ever” is perhaps, debateable but what is certainly true is that rockabilly as a genre didn’t give rise to all that many chart hits. In terms of alternative contenders, Be Bop A Lula has similar claims but it’s arguable whether one would strictly call it rockabilly. I wouldn’t classify Jerry Lee’s Sun singles as being rockabilly since (a) they’re piano dominated, and (b) they don’t contain the usual rockabilly tropes but I recognise scope for argument here too and am aware that Jerry’s often ‘lumped in’ with rockabilly for want of a category. Presley’s Sun singles didn’t make the national charts and that applies too to their rerelease by RCA. Personally I wouldn’t classify Presley’s early RCA rock hits – Heartbreak Hotel, Don’t Be Cruel, Hound Dog, All Shook Up, Teddy Bear – as rockabilly either.

The gentlemen at 706UnionAvenue also make the observation that Blue Suede Shoes was the first true rock and roll hit in the sense of an ‘all market hit’, that is, it sold well in all three of the nation’s charts, Pop, R&B and Country.

The song has been covered by umpteen people and, of possibly greater interest, has been referenced in a lot of other songs over the years. My favourite of these is the quirky Stranger In Blue Suede Shoes from Kevin Ayers in 1971.

6. Wikipedia contains a fine article on the origins of the song Matchbox. The writer starts off with a mention of Ma Rainey’s Lost Wandering Blues from 1924 which contains the key line “I’m sittin’ here wonderin’, will a matchbox hold my clothes”.

Blind Lemon Jefferson picked up on the line and used it for the title of his Matchbox Blues in 1927. The key line appears in the second verse and the punchline to that verse is “Ain’t got so many matches but I got so far to go”. Other versions of the song followed including interpretations from Lead Belly and Big Bill Broonzy. It crossed the tracks too with versions from Roy Newman and the Shelton Brothers. It’s noticeable that both the Newman and the Shelton Brothers versions switch Blind Lemon’s second verse into their first verse making the connection between the title and the lyrics more explicit.

The Wiki writer then goes on to say that it was Carl’s father Buck who came up with the song suggestion but was only able to remember a few lines. Carl sang those lyrics that his father had passed on to him and added further semi-improvised couplets. What’s more, Carl has stated that he’d never heard the Blind Lemon Jefferson record when he recorded Matchbox.

Jerry Lee also included the number on his first Sun album, presumably having recalled it from the Perkins session. It has to be said that it’s also an excellent version, closer to blues than the Carl take but with predictable focus on the singer himself, no surprise there! The clip provides both the undubbed and dubbed (with vocal group) take which was released.

7. The eagle-eyed/eared reader will note that I appear to have deployed a live version of Your True Love instead of the speeded-up recorded one. That is not in fact the case. A clever uploader has put on YouTube a live Perkins clip with the group performing the number from the Tex Ritter Show but used the record for the soundtrack instead of the live performance track. This is as it should be. The number was a George Harrison favourite. This clip has Dave Edmunds and George performing the number with Carl in the 1985 TV Special.

8. The Beatles were out-and-out Perkins fans. In the Wiki list of songs they covered, the Perkins name appears six times (though only three of these were on official studio albums).

9. Alvin & the Chipmunks won’t be known to many of today’s readers. To quote Wiki, “Alvin and the Chipmunks, originally David Seville and the Chipmunks or simply the Chipmunks, are an American animated virtual band created by Ross Bagdasarian for a novelty record.” Bagdasarian provided all the voices which were then speeded up. The record, Witch Doctor, was successful and led to further records, indeed a whole industry grew up around the Chipmunks. They weren’t alone; imitators followed suit. Quite how widespread the technique was of only marginally speeding up a track but not admitting to such, as in Your True Love, I don’t know. Presumably it was used at Imperial to make Domino sound slightly more youthful and the horns that bit crisper.

10. Put Your Cat Clothes On made its first official appearance on record on the LP, Sun Rockabillys – Put Your Cat Clothes On which was released in 1973. Its success led to a Volume 2, Volume 3 and more, plus numerous copycat sets from other labels. The compilers evidently felt that Carl’s unreleased track was a big draw since they not only used it in the compilation title but also gave it pole position as track number one on side one.

11. The song The Keeper Of The Key(s) was written by Lance Guynes, Beverly Stewart, Kenny Devine and Harlan Howard and was recorded first by Wynn Stewart in 1956 with covers in the early to mid sixties coming from Buck Owens, Hank Locklin and Wanda Jackson. As noted in the main text it was one of the songs recorded by Carl on 4th December 1956 and appeared again during the Million Dollar Quartet session that followed.

12. Although Wiki makes no mention of the fact, those knowledgeable guys at 706UnionAvenue tell us that the original version of Lend Me Your Comb comes from a relatively little-known lady called Carol Hughes. This is the Hughes cut (together with the flip). There was also a version from a gent called Bernie Nee. According to 45cat, all three versions were released in December ’57. Carol Hughes came from New Jersey. She released 12 singles between 1956 and 1962 but only Lend Me Your Comb raised much interest with that mainly being from folk in Canada.

13. Pink Pedal Pushers, the Perkins written number which appeared on the A-side of his first Columbia single, wasn’t a new song; it was knocking around in the latter days of his Sun contract and cut(s) emerged in the seventies. However, one can sympathise with Columbia for taking a much simpler approach to its melody line; take 3 of the Sun song was over-ambitious in its arrangement featuring a merge of 12 bar blues with the descending chord sequence used in a number of places but most obviously in Ray Charles/Percy Mayfield’s song, Hit The Road Jack.

14. The song Hambone deserves an essay in its own right. Peter Viney makes reference to it in his fine Bo Diddley Toppermost:

“The debate over the Bo Diddley rhythm, aka hambone, or Shave & A Haircut Two Bits is unresolvable, but it will be forever known as the Bo Diddley beat.”

As Peter implies, the origins of the song pre-date Diddley. In Mama Lisa’s blog on Kid Songs From Around The World she describes it as a rhymed chant or rhythmic dance and expands this to:

“Hambone is a sort of ‘dance’ described as a ‘thigh slapping art form’. It came from Africa and was performed by slaves. It involves slapping various parts of the body – especially the hips, thighs, chest and arms – and also stomping. The noise of the slapping and stomping plays the role of percussion in the song, keeping the beat.”

With the words (as also used by Perkins and co-writer W. Walker but then extended)

Hambone, hambone where you been?
Around the world and back again.
Whatcha gonna do when you get back?
Take a little walk by the railroad track.
Hambone, hambone, hambone,
Doin’ that crazy hambone.

There’s a much longer write-up on the song or chant, Hambone, in the Grizzly Bear blog edited by Azizi Powell. In this there’s another or alternate verse of the lyrics quoted, as follows:

Hambone, hambone have you heard
Papa gonna buy me a mockingbird
If that mockingbird don’t sing
Papa gonna buy me a diamond ring
If that diamond ring don’t shine
Papa gonna buy me a nanny goat
It that nanny goat don’t rate
Papa gonna whup my boom-de-yay
Hambone!

… which would appear to have been borrowed almost wholesale by the Mighty Bo. There’s a version of Hambone from Red Saunders & his Orch (with Dolores Hawkins & the Hambone Kids) from 1952 which majors on this verse and it’s likely that Inez and Charlie Foxx based their Mockingbird single on it too.

In terms of ‘modern’ or non kids version of the song, my digging came across one from Tennessee Ernie Ford and a lady called Bucky Tibbes from 1952 plus a much more recent one from Taj Mahal. There’s also a semi-instrumental Doing The Hambone from Little Booker on Imperial (and written by Dave Bartholomew) in ’54. But in terms of source for the Perkins version we need to look much closer to what was once ‘home’ and the cut made by minor artist Rayburn Anthony for Sun in 1960 with the great Eddie Bush on guitar. Carl’s drummer from the Sun era, W.S. Holland, was the man who arranged for an audition for Rayburn with Sam Phillips. This is the slower, brooding Hambone from Rayburn Anthony.

But in closing this rather lengthy footnote, I would make the observation that there’s little doubt that Bo Diddley made that rhythm more explicit. Peter’s word “unresolvable” in terms of its origin does seem apt. For completeness I should also point the reader at the essay on the “Bo Diddley Beat” in Wikipedia.

15. Also on the bill for the Berry/Perkins UK tour in May 1964 were the Animals, the Nashville Teens (who also backed Carl), Kingsize Taylor & the Dominoes, the Other Two and the Swinging Blue Jeans. The last named left the tour halfway through and were replaced by Gene Vincent, reportedly due to adverse audience reaction (see the Bradford Timeline).

16. Dollie Records was a small indie based in Nashville which appears to have been founded in 1966.

17. Carl has an unusual claim to fame that very few can boast: he completed the composing of a song that Bob Dylan had started. The song is called Champaign, Illinois and this is the story. It saw release on Carl’s 1969 Columbia LP, On Top. The writer of the feature, John Steinbacher, describes the track as “not that interesting” but for completeness, this is it and in slightly more generous mood than John, I’d say that it was of its time.

18. I’m normally more inclined to use quotations about an artist rather than from an artist. However, in the case of Carl I’ll make an exception. It was captured by those wonderful people who put 706UnionAvenue together and this was how it appeared in the text:

Twenty years later, his frustration and bitterness dimmed and his place in the history books assured, Perkins characterised Sam Phillips as a man who was ”as near a genius as any man I ever met. He didn’t have a light in the studio saying ‘ready’, or a clock on the studio wall to scare you. There was no such thing as a standard three-hour session. He said, ‘Get in there and pick, boy. We’ll find the record when we get through.’ There was a feeling there that I’ve never found since. We were trying 100 percent, and Sam Phillips captured it.”

 

Carl Perkins photo 2

The Million Dollar Quartet (l to r): Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash

 

Carl Perkins photo 3

Carl Perkins (1932–1998)

 

Sun Records: Carl Perkins

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: Carl Perkins

Rockabilly Hall of Fame: Carl Perkins

Memphis Music Hall of Fame: Carl Perkins

Carl Perkins Discography

“Go Cat Go: The Life & Times Of Carl Perkins” by Carl Perkins & David McGee (Atlantic Books, 1996)

Carl Perkins biography (iTunes)

Dave Stephens is the author of two books on popular music. His first, “RocknRoll”, is described by one reviewer as “probably the most useful single source of information on 50s & 60s music I’ve come across”. Dave followed this up with “London Rocks” in 2016, an analysis of the early years of the London (American) record label in the UK. You can follow him on Twitter @DangerousDaveXX

Read the Toppermosts of some of the other artists mentioned in this post:
Animals, Kevin Ayers, Chuck Berry, Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, Coasters, Bo Diddley, Fats Domino, Charlie Feathers, George Harrison, Jerry Lee Lewis, Taj Mahal, Percy Mayfield, Bill Monroe, Buck Owens, Elvis Presley, Johnny Rivers, Warren Smith, Hank Williams

TopperPost #807

4 Comments

  1. David Lewis
    Aug 11, 2019

    Possibly, just possibly, my favourite Dave Stephens article so far. Even if Carl Perkins hadn’t been a major influence on one George Harrison, and Elvis did an inferior version of Blue Suede shoes, Carl’s place in rockabilly history is secure. No rock wardrobe is complete without blue suede shoes.
    How did you keep it to ten? (Not that I’m changing any)

  2. Andrew Shields
    Aug 11, 2019

    Dave, thanks for this great piece on someone who still seems strangely underrated as a songwriter and artist. Would have to have ‘Dixie Fried’ in my Top 10, though. Thanks again.

  3. Peter Viney
    Aug 12, 2019

    A brilliant piece. The country museum in Nashville has someone’s blue suede shoes (probably Elvis’s because they would have been used in GI Blues when he re-cut it in stereo). They’re much darker navy blue than I had imagined! I always saw a bright French blue in my mind. You also put the dates that show Scotty Moore’s comment that Elvis recorded it to get Carl money while he was in hospital were mistaken afterthoughts – as you say Elvis cut it 30 January. The accident was in March.
    There are a couple of later albums I enjoy which also indicate his fans. Go Cat Go was 1996 and has new duets plus older stuff like The Plastic Ono Band from 1969 and the Jimi Hendrix Blue Suede Shoes and Honey Don’t by Carl plus Ringo Starr & The All Starr Band. Paul Simon produced some new tracks, and two, A Mile Out of Memphis and Rockabilly Music are fantastic. Rockabilly Music was co-written by Paul Simon and Carl Perkins. (The tune and words sound VERY Paul Simon). My Old Friend is a duet with Paul McCartney (a bit sugary). Give Me Back My Job features Carl, Bono, Tom Petty, Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson!
    ‘Friends, Family & Legends’ in 1992 saw Carl doing some later material like Bruce’s Pink Cadillac and Book Faded Brown (which The Band also covered).

    • Dave Stephens
      Aug 13, 2019

      Gentlemen, thanks for your very kind comments. If I can make an observation: I was more concerned about this Topper than usual since it had had a totally disjointed production for private reasons. Maybe I tried that bit harder when it came to bringing it all together. Maybe it was Carl. I live in hope that I can convey a little of what an artist means to me but I’m sure that’s what we all try to do. David & Andrew, you’re right, 10 was nowhere near adequate. Peter, thanks for the update on the later Carl; “Rockabilly Music” was better than I thought it was going to be.

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