Monday, 6 March 2017

Hey! Haven't I Heard This Before? Blue Suede Shoes

Or ... Grammy Done Shook Her Moneymaker To Thissun!

There are songs a-plenty from my favoured musical era, which every one will know, but the chances are, many people will know the cover version better than the original.

Take the extraordinarily well know Blue Suede Shoes. Who do you know that recorded this? Elvis Presley I'm betting in most cases. Did you know though, that Elvis didn't record it until March of 1956, Carl Perkins released it three months earlier  on January 1st 1956.

Johnny Cash gave the idea to Carl in the autumn of 1955 while they and other Louisiana Hayride acts toured throughout the Southern states of America. He told him the story of a black airman, who he had met when serving in the military in Germany, who had referred to his military regulation airmen's shoes as "blue suede shoes." He suggested to Carl that he write a song about those shoes. Carl replied, "I don't know anything about shoes. How can I write a song about shoes?"

However, when Perkins played a dance on December 4, 1955, he noticed a couple dancing near the stage. Between songs, he heard a stern, forceful voice say, "Uh-uh, don't step on my suedes!" Looking down, Carl noted that the boy was wearing blue suede shoes and one had a scuff mark. "Good gracious, a pretty little thing like that and all he can think about is his blue suede shoes", thought Carl.

That night he began working on a song based on the incident at the dance. His first thought was to frame it with a nursery rhyme and he considered, but quickly discarded "Little Jack Horner..." and "See a spider going up the wall...", before settling on "One for the money..."

Leaving his bed and working with his Les Paul guitar, he started with an A chord.  "Well, it's one for the money... Two for the show... Three to get ready... Now go, man, go!" he broke into a boogie rhythm. He quickly wrote the song down, writing the title out as "Blue Swade"; "S-W-A-D-E – I couldn't even spell it right," he later said*!

According to Carl, "On December 17, 1955, I wrote 'Blue Suede Shoes'. I recorded it on December 19.**"

Sun Records released the second take of the song with Sun producer Sam Phillips, suggesting that the lyric "go cat go" be changed to "go man go", but the suggestion was not taken.

In Jackson, where Perkins lived, and in Memphis, radio stations were playing the flip side of the record, "Honey Don't." However, in Cleveland, Ohio, disc jockey Bill Randle was featuring "Blue Suede Shoes" prominently on his nightly show, and before January was over, the Cleveland distributor of the record asked Phillips for an additional 25,000 copies of the record.

Blue Suede Shoes became the side of choice throughout the South and Southwest. On February 11 it was the number 2 single on Memphis charts; it was number one the next week and remained there for the next three months.

Carl made four appearances on the radio program Big D Jamboree on station KRLD in Dallas, where he played the song every Saturday night and was booked on a string of one-nighters in the Southwest. The Jamboree was broadcast from the Dallas Sportatorium, with about four thousand seats, and it sold out for each of Perkins' performances. Music shops in Dallas ordered a huge number of copies of the record, and at one point it was selling at a rate of 20,000 copies per day.

On March 17, Carl became the first country artist to reach the number three spot on the rhythm & blues charts. That night, he and his band first performed "Blue Suede Shoes" on television, on ABC-TV's Ozark Jubilee.

He was booked to appear on The Perry Como Show on NBC-TV on March 24th, but on March 22nd he and his band were in a serious car crash on the way to New York City, resulting in the death of a truck driver and the hospitalization of both Carl and his brother. While he recuperated from his injuries, "Blue Suede Shoes" rose to number one on most pop, R&B, and country regional charts. "I was a poor farm boy, and with 'Shoes' I felt I had a chance but suddenly there I was in the hospital," he recalled bitterly.

Carl Perkins never attained the stardom of Elvis Presley, who, according to Perkins, "had everything. He had the looks, the moves, the manager, and the talent. And he didn't look like Mr. Ed, like a lot of us did, Elvis was hitting them with sideburns, flashy clothes, and no ring on the finger. I had three kids."

After Presley hit the chart with his version of "Blue Suede Shoes," Perkins became known more for his song writing than for his performing.

Carl's original version:
I prefer this one.

Elvis's cover:

* As a child, I couldn't spell suede either, I used to spell it swede. 

** My birthday!


  1. very interesting i just love elvis but both are good

  2. What an interesting post, Melanie. I knew the song was originally by Carl Perkins, but didn't know the story. I prefer Carl's version anyway, but don't tell Jos, please ... xxx

  3. I knew that Carl wrote it. I can never forget seeing a Rich Hall documentary, and he was looking at a photo from Sun Records: "There's Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Elvis and Carl Perkins. That's like Mohammad, Buddha, Jesus and Carl Perkins." Poor Carl Perkins! Hard to sparkle when you're surrounded by stars.

  4. OOoh, I didn't know that. Mind you, I have never know if Elvis wrote his own songs or not- I don't really know enough about him!!x


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