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Carl Perkins iTunes Tracks

Carl Perkins

Known to pop-pickers for his self-scribed one-hit-wonder, `Blue Suede Shoes’ (subsequently recorded by a plethora of acts from ELVIS and The DAVE CLARK FIVE to JIMI HENDRIX and The TOY DOLLS), 50s rockabilly singer/guitarist CARL PERKINS was much more than just one song. Held in high esteem by his peers and regarded by his musical descendants (The BEATLES, The STRAY CATS et al) as one of the all-time songwriters of his time, Carl’s inevitable switch into country music garnered further plaudits.
Born Carl Lee Perkins (misspelt “Perkings” on the certificate), April 9, 1932, Tiptonville, Tennessee, life as a poor cotton-picking sharecropper, alongside his elder brother Jay and the younger Clayton, were tough in their shack down on the farm. But through adversity came strength and, working alongside the African-American community gave the siblings impetus to take up instruments: singer Carl would take up electric guitar lessons from a knowledgeable sharecropper, while Jay (also a singer) took up rhythm guitar, and Clayton, the upright bass. By early 1947, the Perkins family had relocated to Madison County, TN.
Almost immediately, The Perkins Brothers Band took their show on the road, playing for free beers in local honky-tonk bars by night, before returning to their various day jobs in the morning. They relocated to Jackson “Little Memphis”, Tennessee. Often fighting with the rowdy taverners, by the turn of the decade, they’d grown tired of the constant battles and the hopelessness of going nowhere fast. A regular spot on their local WTJS-AM radio show had exposed Carl and his brothers to a wider audience, an opportunity they would exploit during the following few years.
With his wife for inspiration, Valda Crider (whom he married in January ‘53), Carl composed several songs that went awry in the minds and bank-books of New York imprints, but undeterred he wrote some more. On hearing demos of the younger ELVIS, who’d just struck up a deal at Sam Phillips’ fledgling Sun Records (soon-to-be home to ROY ORBISON, JOHNNY CASH and JERRY LEE LEWIS), PERKINS was convinced of his destiny.
Phillips initially marketed him as a hillbilly/C&W artist on the small subsidiary, Flip, while Carl’s siblings (along with newcomer W.S. “Fluke” Holland on drums), continuing to back him on his debut solo single in early 1955: `Movie Magg’ (b/w `Turn Around’). With the subsequent defection of ELVIS to R.C.A., PERKINS was groomed as Phillips’s “Great White Hope”, but in the Grand Ol Opry-styled `Let The Jukebox Keep On Playing’, a step back in time was virtually ignored.
Perfecting his ELVIS-cloned/rockabilly combination of black rhythm and white melody on third single, `Blue Suede Shoes’, PERKINS narrowly missed the top spot in early ’56 (a No.10 smash in Britain). The dance-floor-filler was regarded as another RnR classic, although it was The King that ironically popularised it while the author lay in hospital recovering from a serious car crash; his brothers also had a lucky escape, although Jay (who suffered a broken neck) was to die a few years later.
Unable to capitalise on his success, PERKINS found it hard to re-establish his name after the formulaic `Boppin’ The Blues’ stalled at a lowly No.70. Competition was rife in the summer when ELVIS ruled and other stars such as GENE VINCENT (and `Be Bop A Lula’) were filling the juke boxes and airwaves nationwide. Still, after another false start by way of `Dixie Fried’, PERKINS was testing the buying public with spring 1957’s `Your True Love’ (b/w the superb `Matchbox’); the latter his swansong Sun hit when `That’s Right’ and `Glad All Over’ mysteriously bombed. 1958’s DANCE ALBUM OF… CARL PERKINS {*7} was also found wanting chart-wise, but there was hope for the guitar great when Columbia Records took up the option of inking a deal.
A hit or miss for most fans of rock’n’roll, two minor breakers `Pink Pedal Pushers’ and `Pointed Toe Shoes’ – the latter released summer ’59 – had little say in any comeback and, to prove that Carl had lost his musical mojo, rock’n’roll covers LP, WHOLE LOTTA SHAKIN’ (1958) {*6}, was down to performance rather than importance.
Marketed as a singles act (for Columbia until 1963, and Decca Records until 1965), only country stars and the British Invasion thought the man’s work worthy of a re-vamp, although it was no reflection on his abundant talent. Disillusioned, he’d succumbed to alcoholism as his career slid into decline. Nevertheless, stars like The BEATLES and JOHNNY CASH (also now a fellow devout Christian!) ensured the PERKINS name would not be forgotten; the Fab Four covered his songs while the latter giant of country took him on as guest guitarist/featured solo singer.
Having issued several singles on the Dollie imprint (London Records in Britain), Carl’s long-awaited third album, COUNTRY BOY’S DREAM (1968) {*6}, hit back at his critics who’d thought him long gone. Columbia Records were again proud to relay the man’s songs on record, as the solo ON TOP (1969) {*6} and the collaborative BOPPIN’ THE BLUES (1970) {*6} – billed alongside hippie-ish country rock revival band N.B.R.Q. – returned the man some Nashville street cred. The resurgence of the genre gave rise to movie-makers tapping into the dearth of stars willing to keep the motor running and, in 1970’s Little Fauss And Big Halsy (starring Robert Redford and Michael J. Pollard as racers), producers were glad to reunite CASH and PERKINS – plus The Tennessee Three – on the attendant soundtrack. Carl duly supplied the instrumental, `706 Union’, a tribute to Sun Studios (and another CASH live staple, the stone country ballad `True Love Is Greater Than Friendship’), and generally continued to flourish under the aegis of his all-conquering partner; it was no coincidence then that THE MAN BEHIND JOHNNY CASH (1972) {*5} album – released only in the Netherlands – added weight to the supposition.
The stuff of classic C&W lyrics, Carl’s rollercoaster life took another bitter twist in 1974 when, after signing a new deal with Mercury Records for MY KIND OF COUNTRY {*5}, he had to cope with both the suicide of his brother Clayton and the death of his father. A few years later, Carl put his musical partnership with CASH on hold and subsequently toured in his own right with his sons Greg and Stan as backing; THE CARL PERKINS SHOW (1976) {*5} was a fine taste of Nashville rock.
Never one to miss a golden opportunity to tip-toe back into the rock and roll limelight, OL’ BLUE SUEDE’S BACK (1978) {*6}, found PERKINS in the British LP charts for the first and last time, as he and a star-studded cast of pop stars from ADAM FAITH to ELTON JOHN revisited the classic era of music… `Blue Suede Shoes’ et al.
Although his platters never reached the heady commercial heights of yore, PERKINS joined up with old “Sun” pals CASH and JERRY LEE LEWIS (later ORBISON too) in April ‘82, to instigate the aptly-monikered `The Survivors’ set. Carl also guested on PAUL McCARTNEY’s `Tug Of War’ album and, in 1985, he appeared in the John Landis film, Into The Night. Later that year, a British TV special, Blue Suede Shoes (what else?!) was recorded with a host of rock celebrities, including GEORGE HARRISON, RINGO STARR, ERIC CLAPTON, DAVE EDMUNDS, among others.
Having spent the remainder of the 80s and most of the 90s taking er… `One Day At A Time’ (albums released included the eponymous CARL PERKINS (1986) {*7}, BORN TO ROCK (1989) {*6}, FRIENDS, FAMILY & LEGENDS (1992) {*5} and CARL PERKINS AND SONS (1993) {*5}), there was one last retrospective trip back to his halcyon R’n’R days in GO CAT GO! (1996) {*5}. Stepping on his ol’ blue suedes this time around were an esteemed set of players, including the three surviving BEATLES, plus JOHN FOGERTY, PAUL SIMON, WILLIE NELSON and TOM PETTY & THE HEARTBREAKERS; archive collaborative cuts of `Blue Suede Shoes’ placed him at home with JOHN LENNON and live with JIMI HENDRIX. A fitting end to a high-end career, Carl was to sadly die after a paralysing stroke on January 19, 1998. But for bad timing and even worse luck, Carl would have made it as a major league star in his own right, although his contribution to popular music had been recognised back in 1987, when he was inducted into the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame.
© MC Strong 1994-2008/GRD-LCS // rev-up MCS Aug2016

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