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Guide Profile: Carl Perkins


Carl in his early days


Carl Lee Perkins


April 9, 1932 (Tiptonville, TN)


Rock and Roll, Rockabilly, Country


Vocals, Guitar

#1 Hits:

"Blue Suede Shoes" (Country charts)

Top 10 Hits:

"Blue Suede Shoes" (R&B, Pop), "Boppin' The Blues," "Dixie Fried," "I'm Sorry, I'm Not Sorry" (Country)


Col. Tom Parker could make Elvis nervous, and Elvis could make The Beatles nervous, but only one man could do both, and that was Carl Perkins. Like far too many of his rock-pioneer peers, however, his career was often overshadowed by what didn't happen in it, as opposed to the great things that did.

It was Carl, after all, who Sam Phillips of Sun Records banked on as his next big find after Elvis left for RCA; but a near-fatal car crash in 1956 left Carl with head injuries that halted his momentum for years. In the meantime, Elvis himself, a huge fan, covered Carl's rockabilly classic "Blue Suede Shoes," and when it became a hit, Perkins' place as a footnote was assured.

At least, that's how it seemed for a time. These days, historians have put Carl Perkins in his rightful place as an important artist, crucial in the development of rock and roll in general and rockabilly in particular. Although the latter was well-established as a genre by 1955, it was Perkins' "Blue Suede Shoes" - supposedly inspired by a real person Carl saw while on tour - that helped to cement its national popularity. And while most folks only get to see Carl in the shadow of the Beatles and Elvis' success, that only goes to prove how wide and deep his influence was: Elvis is notably nervous on the Sun Sessions tapes, only half-jokingly blaming Carl's presence on his goofs.

And the Beatles were Carl's Number One fans, to a man. Musically, his guitar pickings were a major influence on George, Ringo was a rockabilly fiend, and John and Paul were both big fans of the Sun Sessions sound. The Beatles had covered Perkins songs from the beginning ("Lend Me Your Comb"), and when the Fabs requested his presence at their 1964 recording of "Honey Don't", they wound up jamming all night, setting up a lifelong friendship. But still they remained in awe. "Yes, Mr. Perkins," Ringo once said, in deferance to Carl's direction. "Son, I wish you'd call me Carl," he replied. "Mr. Perkins is my father."

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