Today’s Guest: Carl Perkins, Rock ‘n’ Roll Hame of Fame member, “Blue Suede Shoes”
(EDITOR’S NOTE: This interview with legendary rocker Carl Perkins, conducted by Bob Andelman, was originally published in the now-defunct Tampa Tribune on October 10, 1986. We’re republishing the interview to celebrate his birthday, April 9, 1930. — Mr. Media)
Carl Perkins doesn’t exactly drawl out his answer to a question, but like the humble, southern son of a poor sharecropper and genuine man he is, he doesn’t rush it, either.
He’s also the last person in Tennessee to allow a fuss to be made over himself, thinking the attention must be meant for some other feller.
Ask the 54-year-old author of “Blue Suede Shoes” how he is and he’ll answer, “Well, I’m doing pretty good for an antique.”
And how did the antique feel about being named to the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame two weeks ago?
“It was an unexpected honor for me,” Perkins says by telephone from Jackson, Tenn. “There’s some mighty big folks going in this year, a lot of people that I’ve admired for a long time.”
Perkins has been elected to two halls of fame this year—the first was the Grammy Awards’ hall for songs.
CARL PERKINS interview excerpt: “I have four children. They came home from school singing, ‘I wanna hold your hand, yeah-yeah-yeah.’ The night (The Beatles) recorded my songs at Abbey Road Studios, I got back to my hotel and I called home. I said, ‘Four boys who look like girls just recorded three of your daddy’s songs!’ I woke my whole family up.”
“These are things that you dream of and yet you don’t really put ’em up there in top priorities ’cause you feel like it’ll never happen,” he says. “When it does, it’s great it’s wonderful. I never expected some little old rockabilly song like ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ … It’s saying that maybe, in some little way, I did scratch the surface somewhere.”
If Perkins scratched the surface in 1956 with his “Shoes,” you could say he’s digging in with both heels 30 years later. He returned to the charts for the first time in years with a single called “Birth of Rock ‘n’ Roll.” It came from a much publicized album featuring himself alongside a trio of antiques: Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison, a.k.a. the “Class of ’55.”
Before that, however, the year began with the cablecast of his first ever, critically-acclaimed television special, featuring George Harrison, Ringo Starr and Eric Clapton.
At a press conference following the taping of the TV special, a reporter asked Harrison why, after he had refused to participate in Live Aid and other charity events, was he playing with Carl Perkins? “It’ll be a precious memory for me forever on,” Perkins recalls. “Harrison told the man, ‘This man never asked me before.’ He said, ‘I loved him and he asked me.'”
The influence of Elvis Presley, Lewis, Little Richard and Perkins on the early Beatles is legendary, but Perkins was surprised the Beatles even knew who he was the first time he and Chuck Berry toured England in 1964.
Seven years after Perkins and Presley had separately topped the charts with “Blue Suede Shoes,” it was already a golden oldie.
“I met (The Beatles) the last night of the tour,” he says. “John, Paul, George and Ringo had not been to America at that time.
“They asked me to a recording session the next night at Abbey Road,” he continues. “They recorded three of my songs that night!”
Was the country boy from Lake City, Tenn., excited?
“I have four children. They came home from school singing, ‘I wanna hold your hand, yeah-yeah-yeah.’ The night (The Beatles) recorded my songs, I got back to my hotel and I called home. I said, ‘Four boys who look like girls just recorded three of your daddy’s songs!’ I woke my whole family up.”
Perkins has worked with a number of famous quartets, the latest being the Class of’55 recording sessions, which brought him together in a studio with Cash and Lewis for the first time in almost three decades.
The motivation for the “Class of “55” was a celebration of the old Sun Studio in Memphis, where the careers of Perkins, Lewis, Cash and Presley were first shaped. Sun meant as much to music in the late’50s as Motown did in the ’60s.
Perhaps the greatest of all the Sun memories stems from the night Perkins, Lewis, Cash and Presley jammed in 1955. “It was an accident that just happened,” says Perkins. “We cut ‘Matchbox’ (later recorded separately by Lewis and Bob Dylan) and a thing called ‘Your True Love’ that was on the other side. That session was really kicking ’cause of Lewis’ hot piano playing. Everything was just coming along fine.
“John Cash was there, which was not unusual. Back in those days, it was not unusual for the Sun artists to come in, I watch the other guys record. Elvis just walked in, which he did very often back then. The only reason I remember it very well is it blew my session! But there he was, sitting at the piano. We just all started singing, kicking around. Sam Phillips, the guy who owned Sun records, just let the (recording) machine roll. We didn’t know. I swear to you, I did not know.”
Perkins wasn’t crazy about the quality of the tape when the only known recording of the Million Dollar Quartet was released after Presley’s death a few years ago, but he’s glad it does exist.
“For us not to know it was being done, it’s got a little magic buried around it in places. We was having a good time.”
Certainly Perkins has the touch again. He’s in the studio putting together tracks for a new record, produced by Chips Moman, who was responsible for many Presley hits and the “Class of ’55.” A number of familiar songwriters have submitted material to the singer, including John Fogerty, Don Henley and Dylan.
Perkins will be singing at least two new songs in Clearwater. One is an anti-drug and alcohol tune he wrote titled “Just Say No,” The second, written by Bobby Emmons, is a little less serious.
“It is called ‘The Devil and Dick Clark.’ ” He doesn’t bother to suppress his own laughs at the title. “You know, there’s few things that haven’t changed and those two haven’t. It’s a great song.”
Perkins is sharing the bill with Lewis in a rare teaming of “three old rockabillies.” Perkins will open the show.
“I’m glad I don’t have to follow Jerry Lee. It’s all over when he’s done. When he’s right, it might as well be all over. I hope he’s feelin’ good and rockin’ ’cause you can’t touch him l when he is, that’s for sure.”
That doesn’t mean Perkins won’t be competitive.
“I use a lot of liniment after the show. This young band, I gotta steady up and go. They kick it. I just slip off after it’s over, get them old blue suede boots off and put liniment on the old back and rest.
“The fire is still there,” Perkins adds, “or I wouldn’t be out there.”