Although he had comparatively few hit recordings, Carl Perkins is regarded to be one of the trailblazers of rock ‘n’ roll. Perkins’ reputation is built largely on his songwriting skills; however, it is also a product of a lengthy career as a performer and recording artist.
Born to a sharecropping family in Tiptonville, Tennessee, Perkins was one of the many young rockabilly performers (others included Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, Billy Lee Riley, and Charlie Rich) drawn to Sam Phillips’ Sun Records studio following Elvis Presley’s early success there. Playing a dance one night, Perkins was inspired by the sight of a young man’s pride in his footwear to write the song, "Blue Suede Shoes" (Sun 234). Recorded December, 19, 1955, the song rose high on the pop (#2), country (#1), and R&B (#2) charts early the following year. However, a serious car crash en route to appear on TV’s "Perry Como Show" in late March 1956 sidelined him for many months, significantly dampening his career momentum.
When recovered, Perkins creased the charts a few more times with "Boppin’ the Blues" (Sun 243; 1956; #7 C&W, #60 pop), "Dixie Fried" (Sun 249; 1956; #10 C&W), "Your True Love" (Sun 261; 195; #13 C&W, #67 pop), "Pink Pedal Pushers" (Columbia 41131; 1958; #17 C&W, #91 pop), and "Pointed Toe Shoes" (Columbia; 1959). When the hits stopped, he continued performing live; an English tour in 1963 spurred the Beatles to record three songs from his repertoire: "Everybody’s Trying to Be My Baby," "Honey Don’t," and "Matchbox." After overcoming chronic drug and alcohol abuse, he played with Johnny Cash’s road show ten years beginning in the mid-1960s. His solo spots on Cash’s 1969-1971 network television run led to another Columbia recording contract. Two album release—On Top (Columbia 9931; 1969) and Boppin’ the Blues (with NRBQ; Columbia 9981; 1970) were modest sellers in the rock market, while nine of his singles made the country charts between 1966-1987 (for the Dollie, Columbia, Mercury, and America labels).
In 1976, Perkins formed his own band, the C.P. Express, featuring sons Stan on drums and Greg on bass guitar. By the late 1980s, they were calling themselves the "Imarocker" band (augmented by sax great Ace Cannon). Although he would record new material on occasion, much of it tended to be imbued with nostalgia, including Ol’ Blue Suede’s Back (Jet 208; 1978)—comprised of updated country-rock versions of classic 1950s songs, it sold more than 100,000 copies in England—and The Class of ’55 (1985), which also featured Cash, Lewis, and Orbison augmented by admirers such as John Fogerty and Rick Nelson. These releases, however, were overwhelmed by the glut of reissues devoted to his Sun tracks, including Lil’ Bit Of Gold (Rhino 373015; 1988), The Carl Perkins CD Box Set (Charly 2; 1990), and The Classic Carl Perkins (Bear Family 15494; 1990).
Perkins received many tributes during the latter years of his life, most notably induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. An authorized biography, David McGee’s Go, Cat, Go! The Life and Times of Carl Perkins, the King of Rockabilly, appeared in 1994.
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