Birth Date: April 9, 1932
Birth Place: Tiptonville, Tennessee, USA
Date of Death: January 18, 1998 / Age: 65
Location of Death: Jackson, Tennessee, USA
Cause of Death: complications from multiple strokes
Biography: Carl Lee Perkins (April 9, 1932 – January 19, 1998) was an American pioneer of rockabilly music, a mix of rhythm and blues and country music that evolved at Sun Records in Memphis in the early 1950s.
Born in Tiptonville, Tennessee, as the son of a poor tenant farmer, Perkins grew up surrounded by southern gospel music sung by blacks working in the cotton fields. By age seven, he was playing a guitar his father made from a cigar box, broomstick and baling wire. At age thirteen, he won a talent contest with a song he wrote called "Movie Magg". Ten years later, the same song convinced Sam Phillips to sign Perkins to his Sun Records label.
In 1956, a desperately poor and struggling Perkins wrote the song "Blue Suede Shoes" on an old potato sack. Produced by Sam Phillips, the record was a massive chart success. In the United States, it went to #1 on Billboard magazine's country music charts, to #4 on the pop music charts, and to #3 on the rhythm & blues charts. In the United Kingdom, it became a Top 10 hit. It was the first record by a Sun label artist to sell a million copies. However, at the peak of the song's national success, Perkins was involved in a near-fatal car accident. Perkins could only watch as his friend, Elvis Presley, had a huge hit with a cover version of "Blue Suede Shoes".
Intentionally or not, the Elvis cover stole Perkins' thunder, and he never had another Top 40 hit, even after his move to Columbia Records in 1958. However, his songs were kept in the public eye by such groups as the Beatles, who covered "Matchbox", "Honey Don't", and "Everybody's Trying To Be My Baby". In 1968, Johnny Cash took the Perkins-written "Daddy Sang Bass" to #1 on the country music charts. Perkins would spend a decade in Cash's touring band.
In 1982, Perkins made a guest appearance on Paul McCartney's chart-topping album Tug Of War, duetting with the former Beatle on the song "Get It".
The rockabilly revival of the 1980s helped bring Perkins back into the limelight. In 1985, Perkins re-recorded "Blue Suede Shoes" with two members of the Stray Cats, as part of the soundtrack for the movie Porky's Revenge. The next year, George Harrison, Eric Clapton, and Ringo Starr appeared with him on a television special taped in London, England, called Carl Perkins and Friends: A Rockabilly Session.
Also in 1986, he returned to the Sun Studios in Memphis, joining Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Roy Orbison on the album Class of '55. The record was a tribute to their early years at Sun and, specifically, the Million Dollar Quartet jam session involving Perkins, Presley, Cash, and Lewis on December 4, 1956.
In 1985, he was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame and in 1987, recognition of Perkins' contribution to music came when he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In addition, "Blue Suede Shoes" was chosen as one of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll, and as a Grammy Hall of Fame Award recipient.
Perkins' last album, Go Cat Go!, was released in 1996, and featured new collaborations with many of the above artists, as well as Paul Simon, John Fogerty, Tom Petty, and Bono.
Carl Perkins died at the age of 65 from throat cancer after suffering several strokes. He is interred in the Ridgecrest Cemetery in Jackson, Tennessee.