Carl Perkins is undoubtedly one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century. Born in 1932, Perkins was one of the earliest rock and roll performers. He began his career as a country singer before moving toward a rockabilly sound and becoming one of the undisputed architects of rock and roll music. He has been referred to as the inventor or King of Rockabilly. Carl Perkins was signed in 1954 to the legendary Memphis based Sun Records. While signed to Sun Records, Carl Perkins was produced by the renowned Sam Phillips. It was Sam Phillips who had also signed Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash to Sun Records.
Carl Perkins has been cited as an influence by such diverse and famous acts as The Beatles, Eric Clapton, T Rex, Jimi Hendrix, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones. Carl Perkins’ band was usually a four piece, with Carl Perkins writing the lyrics, singing and playing guitar. Carl Perkins’ two brothers Jay and Clayton played guitar and bass. This stripped down form of country and blues that influenced rock and roll came to be known as rockabilly. It has since sprouted offshoot genres such as country rock.
Country rock became popular in the late 60’s. Notable country rock artists include Graham Parsons, The Byrds, The Flying Burrito Brothers and The Rolling Stones. In the late 70’s and early 80’s rockabilly spawned the punk rock influenced Psychobilly which paired rockabilly instrumentation with over-the-top vocals, distorted guitar and a punk attitude. Major psychobilly acts include The Cramps and Hank Williams III.
10. Movie Magg
Carl Perkins wrote this song in 1954 and recorded it in 1955 for Sam Phillips of the legendary Sun Records. This was Perkins’ first release with the famous label that also represented Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash. The lyrics are light hearted and describe a man taking his girlfriend out to see a movie. The song is upbeat and features Perkins’ brothers on rhythm guitar and bass. It has a country music style back beat and poppy lyrics mixed with bluesy guitar solos and sped up country guitar typical of rockabilly music.
9. That’s Right
Written by Carl Perkins and fellow country singer turned rock and roll musician Johnny Cash in 1957 and released on Sun Records the same year. This song showcased Perkins’ original, stripped down four man style when compared with contemporaries like Bill Haley and the Comets who employed two guitarists, a slap bassist, pianist and saxophone player. The Carl Perkins band only consisted of Carl on lead guitar and vocals, Jay Perkins on guitar, Clayton Perkins on the bass, and W.S. “Fluke” Holland on drums. Holland would go on to find fame as Johnny Cash’s permanent drummer. While it wasn’t a big hit for Perkins at the time it has since become a classic rockabilly tune.
8. Honey Don’t
The B side to “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Honey Don’t,” became a hit in its own right. The single was many people’s first time hearing rockabilly and it became a standard of the genre. It has been covered by the likes of Johnny Rivers, Joe Walsh, Ronnie Hawkins and The Beatles, who released their own popular version of the song in 1964.
7. Let the Jukebox Keep On Playing
Composed by Perkins in 1955, “Let the Jukebox Keep On Playing,” was a country song. Although Perkins had been moving away from straight country music in favor of his rockabilly sound, much of his style was rooted in country tradition and he continued to perform Let the Jukebox Keep On Playing after his crossover successes with R&B and rock and roll.
The influence of country on rock and roll was long-lasting and it began to be played by later rock bands, creating the genre now known as country rock. Perkins’ influence can be heard on The Byrds’ “Sweetheart of The Rodeo,” The Rolling Stones’ albums Beggar’s Banquet, Some Girls and Sticky Fingers also featured country songs with a rock and roll touch. It can be argued that without Carl Perkins’ country influence on rock and roll those albums might never have been recorded.
6. Your True Love
Written by Carl Perkins and released in 1957, this song is notable for the famous musicians that helped record it. This included fellow Sun artists Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash, all of whom happened to be in the studio that day. Due to the financial success of these artists individually they were referred to as the Million Dollar Quartet. It was the A side to Matchbox, another famous Perkins song.
5. Boppin’ the Blues
Written by Carl Perkins and Howard “Curley” Griffin and released on Sun Records in 1956. It sold well and appeared on both the country western and pop music charts. It has more of an evolved, rock and roll feel to it than Perkins’ other songs and it is an excellent example of how Perkins defied genres and crossed over from country western singer to rock star. It has been covered by the likes of Link Wray, Johnny Rivers and his early rock and roll peer Gene Vincent.
4. Dixie Fried
Also written by Carl Perkins and Howard “Curley” Griffin in 1956. Dixie Fried came out of the same sessions that produced Boppin’ the Blues. Dixie Fried has a definite rock and roll sound to it as Perkins moved further from his country and blues roots and forged faster, more electric guitar heavy music.
3. Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby
This song is based on a 1934 song written by Rex Griffin. Perkins recorded his updated version in 1957. Perkins’ version sounds much more modern and the fast back beat and sparse instrumentation lend the song a rockabilly feel. Perkins’ interest in blues music is clearly audible on the electric guitar solos throughout the track. This song is an excellent example of how Perkins combined different genres to create his music, something which was rare at the time. The song briefly resurfaced on the charts in 1964 when The Beatles released their own cover of it.
Written and recorded by Perkins in 1957. “Matchbox,” borrowed a few lines and phrases from blues artists Ma Rainey and Blind Lemon Jefferson but otherwise the recording is arranged by Perkins and shares no musical similarities to the quoted songs. Like his other hits Matchbox featured bluesy guitar solos, a consistent backbeat and the minimal instrumentation that came to be associated with Perkins and rockabilly music in general, although Matchbox does feature piano played by Jerry Lee Lewis. This song was recorded by the Million Dollar Sun Records quartet of Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis.
1. Blue Suede Shoes
Written, recorded and released in 1955. This is undoubtedly Carl Perkins’ most famous and best selling singles. It was Perkins’ only number one single. “Blue Suede Shoes,” has since become a rock and roll standard and it is world famous. The song made Carl Perkins a household name and was one of the defining songs of the early rock and roll era. With a fast backbeat, blistering guitar solos, the wild energy of the performers, and the famous opening line “Well, it’s one for the money/Two for the show/Three to get ready/Now go, man, go!” Blue Suede shoes gave the world their first glimpse at Carl Perkins’ unique mix of country music, rhythm, and blues, pop, and rock and roll.
Carl Perkins was popular with black as well as white audiences and he was the first white country singer to make it onto the predominantly black R&B charts. Perkins’ contemporary Chuck Berry mentioned “Blue Suede Shoes,” in his own hit “Roll Over Beethoven.” The song itself features a steady backbeat and rough, country and blues-influenced guitar. It is widely considered to be the first rockabilly single ever released and it catapulted Perkins to instant stardom. This song has been covered by artists as diverse as The Beatles, Elvis Presley, Eric Clapton, T. Rex, Black Sabbath, Bruce Springsteen and many other major artists and bands. It continues to be popular to this day.
Updated June 20, 2023
Top 10 Carl Perkins Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023
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