session musicians blue suede shoes

Carl Perkins was actually playing what we now know as Rock & Roll in live performances in the rural honky-tonks of west Tennessee as early as 1953. One of the persons who came to hear him in 1953, at a roadhouse called the El Rancho, was a guy named Elvis Presley.

Recording date of “Blue Suede Shoes”: December 19, 1955, Sun Recording Studio, Memphis, TN

Session Musicians: Carl Perkins, Vocal and lead Guitar (a second hand 1952 Gibson Les Paul solid body electric, purchased on the installment plan, a couple of dollars per week).
Jay Perkins, Rhythm Guitar
Clayton Perkins, Acoustic Bass
W.S. “Fluke” Holland, Drums
Sam Phillips, producer/sound engineer

blue suede shoes

It is a monumental understatement to say that Carl Perkins and his brothers Jay and Clayton were “dirt poor” before “Blue Suede Shoes”.

Carl was born on April 9, 1932 in Lake County, TN near Tiptonville, TN. His parents were sometimes sharecroppers, sometimes merely cotton pickers, field hands. Children in the Mississippi river bottomland of west TN in the depression era 1930s began to pick cotton at age 6. During spring and autumn, children worked after school until dark in the fields. In the summer, they worked from sunrise until dark, 12 to 14 hours per day, fifty cents for a full day. The parents earned $1.00 per day in the 1930s. Around the year 1940, Carl’s father bought a beat up, second hand “Gene Autrey” guitar for $2.00 and gave it to Carl. He learned to play both the black and white gospel and country tunes and blues songs he heard on his father’s battery radio, in church, and in the fields. One of his early teachers was a black man in his sixties who worked in the cotton fields named John Westbrook (“Uncle John”).

In late 1946, the Perkins family moved down into southwest TN near Jackson, TN. By that time, Carl, Jay and Clayton had all learned the rudiments of Guitar on the old second hand instrument. At some point during this time, Clayton began to play the upright acoustic bass, and Jay and Carl had managed to buy better guitars. The brothers played their first “professional” music job (for tips) in late 1946, on a Wednesday night, at a place called the “Cotton Boll” Tavern. Carl was 14 years old. It was at about this time that Carl began to write original songs. In 1947 the brothers began to play regularly on Friday and Saturday nights at the “Sand Ditch” tavern. During the rest of the 1940s and the early 1950s, the brothers played rural west TN roadhouses such as the El Rancho, The Roadside Inn, and The Hilltop, usually for tips and drinks. They also began to appear on early morning radio programs on WTJS in Jackson, TN. By 1955 the brothers played the west TN rural honky-tonks six nights per week. Perkins also worked day jobs, unskilled labor jobs, including picking cotton, six days a week until the year 1956. In December 1955, just a few days before the recording date on December 19, Carl worked a 12 hour day picking cotton for $1.25 per hour, making $15.00 that day. He used that money to buy Christmas for his family.

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Released on January 1, 1956, Blue Suede Shoes was a massive chart success, reaching #1 on the Billboard Country chart, #2 on the Billboard Pop chart, and #3 on the Billboard R&B chart. On April 10, 1956, Sam Phillips presented to Carl, as a birthday present, a new 1956 Cadillac. By May of 1955, Blue Suede Shoes had sold over One Million copies, the first Sun record to do so.
Rock on!

Blue Suede Shoes – Carl Perkins-Sun 234 (1956)

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