Carl Perkins was more than a musician. The legendary rockabilly superstar was a trendsetter and influencer. His music went beyond the boundaries of rockabilly and set the stage for rock 'n' roll, picking up converts and devotees from the most hallowed corners of the music world.
Carl Perkins, circa 1955 (Wikimedia Commons/Sun Records)
Perkins would have turned 80 today, and we're celebrating by listening to a few of his best-loved tunes. These songs resonated not just for Perkins and his fans, but for other giants of the music world, who took Perkins's songs and made them their own. It all started with a pair of shoes…
Blue Suede Shoes
Perkins wrote "Blue Suede Shoes" after seeing a dancer get upset with his partner for scuffing his handsome shoes. The catchy song was a huge success for Perkins: it went gold, and it hit No. 1 on the country music chart – as well as No. 2 on the pop chart and No. 3 on the R&B chart, a great crossover feat. Just months later, Elvis Presley’s version dropped. Though it didn't chart as well – it rose to just No. 20 on the pop chart – it's the one we remember, thanks to Presley's massive fame. But Carl Perkins's version is fun and perky, and while he may not have had quite the moves Elvis Presley had, he sure does shake it in this live recording:
The B-side to "Blue Suede Shoes" was "Honey Don't," and the song was hot in its own right – before "Blue Suede Shoes" swept the nation, deejays were playing the classic blues progression of "Honey Don't." But again, another version would capture the hearts of fans. This time, the superstars who covered Perkins's work were four lads named John, Paul, George and Ringo. "Honey Don't" was just one of several Perkins songs performed by The Beatles, and Paul McCartney once tipped his hat to the rockabilly star's influence, saying, "If there were no Carl Perkins, there would be no Beatles." And surely, if there were no Carl Perkins, there would be no "Honey Don't":
Daddy Sang Bass
Yes, the fun Johnny Cash classic was written by Carl Perkins, too – although it was helped along by Cash. Perkins and Cash were friends, and spent a lot of time on the road together. Perkins wrote the song after being inspired, and helped, by Cash's triumph over addiction. Perkins recorded "Daddy Sang Bass" for his own Greatest Hits compilation, but it was Cash's version – released in the same year – that made it to No. 1 on the country chart. Here's Perkins singing it with Linda Gail Lewis.
So many more artists have played Carl Perkins's songs and benefitted from his talent – the "King of Rockabilly" surely deserves a spot in the hearts of music fans everywhere.
Written by Linnea Crowther