Well, we’re nearly out of blue-ness here at WMMCM and there’s no way we can be serious about blue without those old shoes that keep flying through the room when you least expect them.
Now flying shoes tend to imply either an argument where someone gets popped in the head by said shoe, or some psychedelic 60′s trip kind of thing. This song is neither of those. In fact, this song is one of those songs… The kind of song that starts out great and over the years becomes something even more than a “standard.”
So, without further ah-blue…
In the very earliest days of rock n’ roll it seemed like all of the young men who got the ball rolling knew each other. Well, they did all know each other and would travel together from one show to the next when they were not working away in Sam Phillip’s Memphis Recording Service from which would soon spring Sun Records.
Some of the young guys looking to make some music at Sam Phillip’s place were Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, B.B. King, Junior Parker and Ike Turner. There was one more guy hanging around the studio writing songs and playing guitar like no one else was in those days. That was Carl Perkins.
Perkins’ never had quite the career of some of the other notables who emerged from Memphis Recording Service and Sun Records but more importantly, it was Perkins who was the first to really define what was the sound of rock n’ roll in the mid-fifties. And the song was “Blue Suede Shoes.”
Perkins had an offhand conversation with Johnny Cash while they were rolling back and forth around the southern United States on what became known as the ”Louisiana Hayride.” And in this conversation Cash had told Carl about a young man he had know in his Air Force days that referred to his “Black Low Quarter Oxfords” as blue suede shoes. (I still have a pair myself from way back when. They’re not even remotely blue but the “Black Low Quarter Oxford” part was still there twenty-five years later when I took my own ride in the Air Force.)
Perkins wasn’t really taken with the suggestion of writing a song about shoes. I don’t think I would have given it much more thought myself either. But the fickle foot of fate – in this case – intervened.
A few months later while still on the “Hayride,” Perkins was performing and noticed a young couple dancing when the man told his apparently two left footed partner, “Don’t you step on my blue suede shoes” and the shoes in question had a newly created scuff on them. They were blue. And - they were suede.
From that moment Perkins took the previously discarded suggestion to heart and wrote one of the first rock n’ roll classics.
“Blue Suede Shoes” was a big hit for Carl Perkins in 1956, over time reaching the number one spot on several different formats from R&B to pop all the while fighting off Elvis Presley’s first big hit, “Heartbreak Hotel” for the top of the charts. “Blue Suede Shoes” was considered a country record at the time and was the first time a country record had “crossed over” to what was then the mainstream charts.
Due to a series of unfortunate incidents including a car crash on the way to perform on The Perry Como Show right when Perkins’ original version was at the top of the charts, Perkins was never quite able to capitalize on the short lived fame his first big hit had brought him.
Back in 1956 when Perkins was looking to be the next big thing to come from popular music and fate was fighting against him, another of Sam Phillip’s young stars to be recorded his own version of Perkins’ classic. Elvis Presley.
Presley performed his own harder and wilder version on the young medium of television several times during 1956 including on The Steve Allen Show. Phillips and Presley had agreed to not release – the soon to be “King’s” – version as long as Perkins’ was still riding the charts, but that didn’t preclude television – and the unanticipated phenomenon that Elvis would become. (Elvis maintained – I think honestly – that he recorded “Blue Suede Shoes” to help out his friend Perkins financially as he was recovering from the injuries obtained in the accident on the way to The Perry Como Show.)
Either way, the thunder was stolen and Perkins would never really reach the star status of many of his contemporaries. Perkins was quite a major figure in early rock n’ roll as well as being the founder of rock n’ roll’s less popular but older brother, rockabilly. And Perkins would continue writing, recording and performing right up to the end of his too short life in 1998.
“Blue Suede Shoes” was Elvis’ second major hit eclipsing Perkins’ original. And since those early days of rock n’ roll “Blue Suede Shoes” would go on to be recorded by Buddy Holly, Conway Twitty, Johnny Rivers, Jimi Hendrix, Pat Boone, Merle Haggard, Mary J. Blige, The Beatles and even Black Sabbath.
From the earliest of the 1950′s rock n’ roller’s to the 1960′s pop stars to the 1970′s heavy metal and country stars all the way to one of today’s hip-hop and soul queens…
How many songs have made that journey?