Blue Suede Shoes: Remembering Carl Perkins

“Well, it’s one for the money two for the show/ Three to get ready now go, cat, go/ But don’t you step on my blue suede shoes,” sang Elvis. “Well you can do anything but/ Lay off of my blue suede shoes.” Of course, Elvis popularized those lyrics, but it was Carl Perkins – the guy in the photo with Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis, and Johnny Cash – who wrote the song “Blue Suede Shoes.” He was a rockabilly legend. He died on this day back in 1998.

Carl Perkins spent his childhood picking cotton in west Tennessee. With a makeshift guitar made of a broom handle and a cigar box, Perkins was just a kid when he was taught by a fellow fieldhand to play a few chords. “Lean your head down on that guitar. Get down close to it. You can feel it travel down the strangs, come through your head and down to your soul where you live. You can feel it. Let it vib-a-rate,” said “Uncle” John Westbrook, an African American guitarist in his sixties.

Perkins picked up on gospel, bluegrass, and country. His big hit was inspired when his band was playing at a school dance at Union University when he overheard a young man yelling at his date near the front of the stage: “Uh-uh! Don’t step on my suedes!” Perkins was stunned. Here was a guy out on a date with a pretty young woman and all he could think about was his blue suede shoes. Inspiration is flying by all the time. The poets and rockers snatch it when it flutters by.

“When you’re young, it’s hard to have enough money to have the nicest car in the neighborhood. Or the biggest house,” wrote Bob Dylan in The Philosophy of Modern Song. “But you just might be able to have the sharpest shoes. They become a point of pride. And worth taking care of.”

Reflecting on his song a few years before his death, Perkins said, “I knew in my soul there was nothing wrong with kids getting out on a floor, dancing and getting their frustrations out through the beat. I loved it – there ain’t nothing prettier than two teenagers out there jitterbugging. And if they want to jitterbug at my funeral to ‘Blue Suede Shoes,’ I might just raise up and say, ‘Go, cat, go!’”


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