'98's Best: Rockabilly Legend Carl Perkins Dead At 65

He influenced the Beatles, John Fogerty, Chris Isaak and, of course, his buddy Elvis.

[Editor's note: Over the holiday season, SonicNet is looking back at

1998's top stories, chosen by our editors and writers. This story originally ran on Tuesday, Jan. 20.]

Carl Perkins, one of rock 'n' roll's founding fathers and the man who

famously warned the world to lay off of his blue suede shoes, died Monday

in Jackson, Tenn. He was 65.

Mr. Perkins died at Jackson-Madison County Hospital from complications

related to several strokes he had suffered since last November.

Musicians from around the world, including Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis,

have begun offering Mr. Perkins' family condolences; many are expected to

attend his funeral on Friday in Jackson.

"All the old Sun Records people who are still living have contacted us,"

said family spokesman Albert Hall on Tuesday. Hall said he expected

members of the Beatles -- upon whom Mr. Perkins had profound influence --

to be on hand for the musician's viewing or funeral.

Mr. Perkins was part of the stable of rock 'n' roll pioneers, including

Elvis Presley, Lewis, Cash and Roy Orbison, to arise from Memphis, Tenn.'s

Sun Records label in the mid-1950s.

"We have lost absolutely one of the people I say is as responsible as

anybody for rock 'n' roll," Sun Records founder Sam Phillips told the Associated


In 1955, Mr. Perkins recorded his first hit single for Sun, the rockabilly

anthem "Blue Suede Shoes." In its introductory call to arms, "Go, cat,

go!", Mr. Perkins captured the rebel spirit of a cocksure

hillbilly dressed to the nines in his city-slicker shoes. The song also

introduced the world to Mr. Perkins' expert guitar picking, which revealed

more visible ties to country and western music than did the work of other

Sun artists such as Presley or Lewis.

"Perkins' meat was his rockabilly," wrote Jimmy Guterman in the liner notes

to 1994's The Sun Records Collection. "He repeatedly drove full

speed to the edge of the world, leaned over the cliff to enjoy the view for

a brief second, and then, as he knew he must, pulled back and carefully

headed home."

Although "Blue Suede Shoes" eventually sold two million copies and was the

first single to top simultaneously the pop, country and R&B charts, Mr.

Perkins was prevented from fully capitalizing on the song's success when he

was in an automobile accident in March 1956. While Mr. Perkins was laid up

in recovery, Presley recorded his own version of the song and continued his

assent to become the King of Rock and Roll.

Despite his setback, Mr. Perkins, who toured the South in the mid-'50s with Elvis in a Cadillac, went on to record a string of influential

songs for Sun over the following two years. Cuts such as "Honey Don't,"

"Everybody's Trying To Be My Baby" and "Matchbox" shaped the musical

direction of the early Beatles (who recorded their own versions of all

three songs) as much as the work of Little Richard and Chuck Berry.

In the mid-1960s, Mr. Perkins began a decade-long stint as guitarist for

Johnny Cash, who had a hit with the Perkins-penned "Daddy Sang Bass."

"Carl was a very close friend over 40 years," Cash told AP. "His

musical legacy is certain to prevail forever."

During his tenure with Cash's band, Mr. Perkins overcame a 15-year struggle

with alcoholism. He then largely avoided health problems until 1991, when

he was diagnosed with throat cancer. Mr. Perkins beat the illness after a

two-year battle. In June of last year, he underwent surgery to clear a

blocked carotid artery.

In 1996, Mr. Perkins released the album Go, Cat, Go! in conjunction

with an autobiography of the same title. The album included many

re-recordings of Mr. Perkins' songs, with several notable musicians --

Cash, Tom Petty, Bono, Willie Nelson, along with Beatles Paul McCartney,

George Harrison and Ringo Starr -- stepping in to pay tribute to him.

Mr. Perkins was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.

In addition to devoting time to his career as a musician, Mr. Perkins also

supported efforts to relieve the suffering of children. In the early

1980s, a benefit concert he organized helped provide funds to open the Carl

Perkins Center for the Prevention of Child Abuse in Jackson, Tenn.

Mr. Perkins is survived by his wife Valda, daughter Debbie Swift, and sons

Greg, Stan and Steve Perkins.

A public viewing for Mr. Perkins will be held on Wednesday and

Thursday at Smith North Chapel in Jackson. A public funeral is scheduled

for Friday at Womack Chapel at Lambuth University in Jackson.

Color="#720418">[Tues., Jan. 20, 1998, 9 a.m. PST]