Friday, 23 January 2009

Carl Perkins - The Jackson Axeman

Born Carl Lee Perkins, 9 April 1932, Tiptonville, Tennessee
Died 19 January 1998, Jackson, Tennessee
Carl Perkins is the epitome of a rockabilly singer, from his singing and guitar playing to his choice of material, all revved up stories of dances,clothes and slitting throats with razors. Born to sharecroppers he spenthis early years picking cotton and playing guitar. With his brothers Jayand Clayton he formed the Perkins Brothers Band and played the tough honky tonk bars of Jackson, developing a sound that mixed hillbilly with flashes of rhythm and blues. It was a new style that no-one had heard before so upon hearing Elvis on the local radio one day, Carl knew that there was someone out there who shared his ears and vision, and more importantly, that there was someone who was willing to record and issue the stuff. That someone was Sam Phillips and his label was Sun Records, sixty miles down the road in Memphis. The brothers drove to Memphis and auditioned for Sam The Man who was impressed with what he heard.
He cut their first single, the hillbilly duo, Movie Magg and Turn Around. It wasn't until Elvis had moved to RCA that Sam really let the Perkins boys put their cat clothes on, but when he did, the sparks flew. Blue Suede Shoes backed with Honey Don't became the first single to top the pop, country and blues charts and was also the first million seller for Sun. They went to New York to promote the song on the Perry Como show but smashed into the back of a poultry truck on the way. Carl fractured his skull and Jay suffered a broken neck, an injury that he never really recovered from, dying a couple of years later. To add insult to injury, as the brothers lay in their hospital beds, Elvis was singingBlue Suede Shoes on the Dorsey Brothers Show.
When Carl returned from his lengthy lay-off he was unable to repeat the success of Shoes despite some classic rockabilly numbers like Boppin' The Blues, Dixie Fried,Your True Love, Put Your Cat Clothes On and Matchbox which featured young wildcat Jerry Lee Lewis on piano. In 1958 Perkins followed Johnny Cash to Columbia but numbers like Pointed Toe Shoes failed to find an audience. A spell at Decca was just as fruitless, but the spirits were raised with a triumphant tour of Britain in 1964.
He became a member of the Johnny Cash entourage where he stayed for a decade. His song-writing remained constant and Johnny Cash (Daddy Sang Bass), Patsy Cline (I Was So Wrong) and the Judds (Let Me Tell You About Love) all benefited from his craft. He was elected into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. He fought a long battle with throat cancer before succumbing to the illness in 1998. I visited his house in 2000 and was really pleased to see that he'd spent so many years in such a lovely area of Tennessee. A true Southern gentleman, and the King of Rockabilly - not a bad combination.
Recommended listening:
The Classic Carl Perkins - Bear Family (5CD)
Back On Top - Bear Family (4CD - late-'60s and early-'70s )
Born To Rock - Liberty

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