Tribute: Rockabilly Pioneer Carl Perkins And Why He’s Important To Rock
Carl Perkins live at the David Letterman show, 1990 - moviemagg / Youtube
American singer-songwriter Carl Perkins was the zero coordinate of rockabilly, its point of origin. Taking country and western musical influences, and merging them with rhythm n’ blues gave birth to the long-standing rockabilly, considered as one of the templates of “classic” rock. Before the King, Elvis, rocked on to a song about shoes, Carl Perkins paved the way for him, being the original composer of “Blue Suede Shoes”. Considered as Perkins’ singular best work, his version either topped the charts or ranked among the best of five tracks.
While Presley’s version was widely known due to his popularity, it’s in Perkins’ authentic performance that the charm of the genre was perfectly captured. More than his songwriting prowess, which reached big players covering his work, Perkins’ guitar skills were unique and tasteful as well. Finger picking, pedal steel guitar imitation, partial string muting, arpeggios, unconventional scale usage, and more were Perkins’ strong points in melody making. His unusual use of clashing tones allowed him to explore progressions and arrangement beyond the standard music scales.
As such, major musicians and guitar virtuosos often dabbled and covered his songs, including Elvis, Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, Eric Clapton, and Johnny Cash, among others. Paul McCartney even went as far as saying that there would be no Beatles had Carl Perkins not existed.