1932 - 1998
Carl Perkins was born April 9, 1932 near Tiptonville Tennessee.
Brought up on a plantation farm, his musical influences were blues, gospel, and country he heard on the radio. He knew at a young age that he wanted to sing and perform and make a guitar out of cigar box and broom handle! By the time he was 13 he had won a talent contest and was encouraged to form a band with his two brothers Jay and Clayton combining the musical styles that influenced him - best now described as rockabilly. By day, he worked at a dairy in Jackson; by night, the Perkins Brothers played the little city's honky-tonks. Like blues artists Sonny Boy Williamson and B.B. King before him, Perkins persuaded a local radio station to put him on the air for 15 minutes a day so he could promote his gigs. In '53, at age 21, he married Valda Crider and decided to pursue music full time.
Carl signed to Flip (a subsidiary of Sun Records) and soon became one of Sam Phillips most successful artists. Explaining that he already had Elvis Presley and didn't want another Sun artist competing with his first chart topper, Perkins's initial singles were pure country.
"Elvis had the looks on me. The girls were going for him for more reasons than the music. Elvis was hitting them with sideburns, flashy clothes and no ring on his finger. I had three kids!" Carl Perkins
But when Phillips sold Presley's contract to RCA, it was Perkins's turn to rock... for a while.
Seeking a brighter stardom than Sun could provide, Perkins signed with Columbia in 1958. But Columbia couldn't match the results of Sun's grassroots marketing, and by 1960 Perkins was playing Vegas.
Although he never regained his stardom, the subsequent decades were good to Perkins. He joined Johnny Cash's band, playing on the hit "A Boy Named Sue" and writing Cash's gospel-inspired number-one country smash "Daddy Sang Bass," which Perkins considered his finest song. Cash and Perkins worked together to maintain their sobriety as they toured -- with the help of Cash's mother-in-law, Maybelle Carter, the foremother of country music.
Perkins was a quiet giant, a humble man
who thrived on his music despite many bad turns in the business. He inspired the
Beatles; he wrote hits for Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, the Judds, and others. He
was inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame and given the Academy of
Country Music's lifetime-achievement award.
Complications due to a series of strokes he had suffered killed Perkins as he lay in Jackson-Madison County General Hospital in Jackson, Tennessee, where he'd lived for most of his 65 years.
© 1999 Eddie Bear Productions