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108 EVERGREEN Autumn

108 EVERGREEN Autumn Presented by Evergreen’s very own disc jockey, Bill “The Beat” Baxter As the stories behind the hit records described in this series have shown, the ideas for songs can come to writers and musicians at any time and in any place. When 23-year-old American singer-songwriter Carl Perkins was booked to play at a dance in Jackson, Tennessee, in December 1955, the sort of event he and his two brothers in the band had played at dozens of times before, he couldn’t have imagined that a chance remark he overheard would inspire him to write a song that has become one of the classics of rock and roll. Today, that song — “Blue Suede Shoes” — is as recognisable as a children’s nursery rhyme and, alongside “Roll Over Beethoven”, “Johnny B. Goode”, “All Shook Up” and “Long Tall Sally”, remains one of the all-time greats. u J ke Box ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ Born in Tennessee in 1932, the son of sharecroppers, Carl’s early life was one of grinding poverty, and when not at school he and his brothers Jay and Clayton would spend hours toiling in the fields — 12 to 14 hours a day during the summer. Music, with the pictures it painted of other lives, the emotions it stirred and the way in which it could raise spirits even when everything seemed hopeless, provided a great escape. For Carl, this was gospel music in the church on Sundays, haunting work songs by the pickers in the cotton fields, and the greatest treat of all: songs from the Grand Ole Opry, the legendary country music show from Nashville which the family listened to on the radio on Saturday nights. Keen to emulate the performers he heard, Carl asked his parents

2017 EVERGREEN 109 for a guitar. They were unable to afford such an extravagance, but Mr. Perkins made his son one: from a cigar box and a broomstick! This didn’t deter Carl, and in due course his father did scrape together a couple of dollars to buy a battered old instrument from a neighbour. Carl was soon learning the songs he heard, and by the time he was 14 was writing his own and performing with his brothers in local bars. One of their favourite numbers was Bill Monroe’s “Blue Moon of Kentucky”. As they became well known in the area, a few radio dates aired their music to a wider audience, although all the while Carl was combining evening shows with a series of day jobs. In 1953 Carl married his childhood sweetheart, Valda Crider, who persuaded her husband to become a full-time musician. And when they tuned in one day and heard a new version of the Bill Monroe song performed by an up-and-coming singer called Elvis Presley, she it was who urged Carl to go to Memphis where Presley and his producer, Sam Phillips of Sun Records, were based. After an audition with Phillips, two of Perkins’ songs, “Let Me Take You to the Movie, Magg” and “Turn Around” were released as a single in March 1955. Perkins and his brothers (now with the addition of “Fluke” Holland on drums) embarked on a successful theatre tour with Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash and the One of the godfathers of rock and roll: Carl Perkins.

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