Carl Perkins Biography



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.

>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.

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 Ivory."

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, in 1967.

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 a daughter.

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