>The tall, broad-shouldered Perkins was famed as one of the
proponents of rockabilly music, a cross of rhythm-and-blues and
country music that came out of Sun Records in Memphis in the mid-1950s.
Carl Perkins, the Tennessee sharecropper's son whose first
guitar was made from a cigar box and a broomhandle and whose famous
"Blue Suede Shoes" was written on a potato sack, died
Monday at the age of 65. Perkins died at Jackson-Madison County
General Hospital from complications related to a recent series
of strokes, according to family spokesman Albert Hall.
He also wrote some of the top hit records in rock 'n' roll
and country music. A near-fatal traffic accident in 1956, coupled
with alcoholism and Elvis Presley's rise, kept him from achieving
the kind of stardom some thought was his due.
Perkins wrote and recorded "Blue Suede Shoes" in
1956, and his version sold 2 million copies before Presley's rendition
became a hit. He also wrote the rockabilly standard "Dixie
Fried" and the songs "Honey Don't," "Matchbox"
and "Everybody's Trying to Be My Baby," which were later
covered by the Beatles.
His relationship with the Beatles lasted long after the group's
breakup in 1970. Perkins sang a duet with Paul McCartney on the
country ballad "Get It," a song off McCartney's 1982
album, "Tug of War." On the same record, he played rhythm
guitar on the McCartney-Stevie Wonder hit duet, "Ebony and
Beatles George Harrison and Ringo Starr appeared with him
in a cable TV special in London, "Carl Perkins and Friends:
A Rockabilly Session."
"George Harrison told me 'Man, you wrote your songs,
you sang your songs, you played your guitar,'" Perkins said
once in an interview. "'That's what we wanted to do.'"
Perkins credited the Beatles and the Rolling Stones with taking
rockabilly further than he thought it could go. "They advanced
it so much," he said. "That rockabilly sound wasn't
as simple as I thought it was."
"They put a nice suit on rockabilly," he said in
another interview. "They never really strayed from the simplicity
of it. They just beautified it."
The son of a tenant farmer, Perkins grew up picking cotton,
and was fascinated by the gospel music sung by blacks working
in the cotton fields. He would also go behind the family chicken
house and pretend he was singing on Nashville's Grand Ole Opry.
At 7, he began playing a guitar that his father had made from
a cigar box, broomstick and baling wire.
He wrote "Blue Suede Shoes" after hearing a boy
telling his prom date not to step on his blue suede shoes. Perkins
went back to his home in a housing project and wrote the song
on a brown potato sack.
Shortly after recording the song, Perkins was hurt in a traffic
accident and spent a year recovering. It not only prevented him
from capitalizing on his fame, but also marked the start of a
long struggle with alcoholism.
He said he finally overcame the addiction after throwing his
last bottle of whisky into the Pacific Ocean near Encino, California,
But it was during the hiatus caused by the accident that Presley
recorded "Blue Suede Shoes" and capitalized on the popularity
Perkins had been building.
"I was bucking a good-looking cat called Elvis who had
beautiful hair, wasn't married, and had all kinds of great moves,"
Perkins said years later.
The '80s provided a renaissance of sorts for Perkins. In 1985,
he taped the cable TV special that included famous musicians such
as Beatles George Harrison and Ringo Starr who were influenced
by his pioneering style.
In 1986, he joined Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Roy Orbison
on the album "Class of '55." It was a reprise of an
informal jam session he, Presley, Cash and Lewis had done
in the 1950s that was later released as an album.
Perkins was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in
1987 but said his biggest thrill was getting a gold record
for "Blue Suede Shoes."
"After all those days in the cotton fields, the dreams
came true on a gold record on a piece of wood," he said.
"It's in my den where I can look at it every day. I wear
it out lookin' at it."
Carl Perkins is survived by his wife, Valda, three sons and