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Carl Perkins and Friends
Eric Clapton – George Harrison – Ringo Starr – Dave Edmunds
Blue Suede Shoes – A Rockabilly Session
1. Boppin’ The Blues – Carl Perkins
2. Put Your Cat Clothes On – Carl Perkins
3. Honey Don’t – Ringo Starr
4. Matchbox – Carl Perkins, Ringo Starr & Eric Clapton (Perkins)
5. Mean Woman Blues – Carl Perkins & Eric Clapton (Demetrius)
6. Turn Around – Carl Perkins
7. Going To Jackson – Carl Perkins & Roseanne Cash (Rodgers)
8. What Kind Of Girl – Roseanne Cash
9. Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby – George Harrison
10. Your True Love – Carl Perkins, George Harrison & Dave Edmunds
11. The World Is Waiting For the Sunrise – Carl Perkins
That’s Alright Mama – Carl Perkins
George Harrison Guitar Solo
Blue Moon of Kentucky – Carl Perkins
Eric Clapton Guitar Solo
Night Train To Memphis – Carl Perkins
13. Glad All Over – Carl Perkins
George Harrison Guitar Solo
14. Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On – Carl Perkins
Eric Clapton Guitar Solo
15. Gone Gone Gone – Carl Perkins
16. Blue Suede Shoes – Carl Perkins
17. Blue Suede Shoes (Encore) – George Harrison
18. Gone Gone Gone (Encore) – Carl Perkins
Carl Perkins – Vocals, Guitar
George Harrison – Vocals, Guitar
Ringo Starr – Vocals, Drums
Eric Clapton – Vocals, Guitar
Dave Edmunds – Vocals, Guitar
Geraint Watkins – Piano
Mickey Gee – Guitar
David Charles – Drums
John David – Bass
Roseanne Cash – Vocals
Slim Jim Phantom – Drums
Lee Rocker – Double Bass
Earl Slick – Guitar
Greg Perkins - Bass
A frequent visitor to these shores from the time he first toured alongside the Nashville teens and a young Elkie Brooks in 1964, Rockabilly pioneer Carl Perkins was always assured a warm welcome whenever he came to the UK.
One of the original Sun stars, Perkins wrote songs that became Rock ‘n’ Roll standards almost as soon as the ink was dry, earning covers by former label-mate Elvis Presley and later The Beatles – not bad going for a poor ol’ country boy! Regular appearances alongside Johnny Cash at the annual Wembley Country Music shows in the early 70s, coupled with the launch of his Ol’ Blue Suede’s Back album at the height of the 70s Rock ‘n’ Roll revival and sporadic tours in the 1980s and 90s, ensured this modest yet supremely talented gentleman had a special place in the hearts (and record collections) of his many European fans. That’s hardly surprising really, bearing in mind that in 1956 he’d given the world ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ and from that point had been on a mission to rock its collective socks off.
Born too late to have witnessed his first UK appearances, and still too young to tag along to the launch part of his Ol’ Blue Suede’s Back album in 1978, it wasn’t until 1985 that I finally got to see the great Carl Perkins perform live. His Sun recordings had reverberated around the house as I was growing up, thanks to my sister Sue’s Rockabilly leanings and particular soft spot for Pa Gherkins, as he was affectionately referred to chez Szczepanski. So when Sue phoned that Autumn afternoon to tell me Capitol Radio deejay Roger Scott was giving away a limited number of tickets for a “Carl Perkins Television Special” to the first people to turn up at the station dressed in appropriate 50’s Rock ‘n’ Roll attire, I didn’t need much encouragement to put my cat clothes on and high-tail off in the direction of Warren Street in the hope of being one of the lucky few to secure ring-side seats. Having been given the sartorial thumbs up by Mr. Scott and awarded our tickets, so began the scramble to get home, doll up and cajole our brother Al into driving us to the studios where the show was being recorded that night.
“Come on, it’s starting!” came the urgent cry as we bolted into the sitting room brandishing plates of peanut butter on toast and a tray of tea. Exactly thirty years to the day since the release of its namesake, January 1st 1986 saw Channel 4 air "Blue Suede Shoes – A Rockabilly Session", a one-off television special that has since come to be regarded a classic, not least for its stellar line-up. For too long Rock ‘n’ Roll had been confined to the media back burner and aside from a few specialist shows, radio airplay was limited in spite of a thriving underground scene. Contemporary bands such as The Stray Cats had succeeded in breaking into the mainstream in the early 80s, and although their hits had tailed off by 1983, they remained a popular live act. Despite enviable credentials and retro appeal (oft-plundered by fashionistas and advertising agencies alike), R’n’R barely registered on the uber-trendy Richter scale of youth programmes such as The Tube, so the idea of an entire hour’s peak-time viewing dedicated to the genre was nothing short of remarkable, and indicative of the pioneering stance championed by Channel 4 in its early days.
Music publisher Graham Nolder had first conceived the idea of a TV show where Carl Perkins could perform the classic songs alongside an all-star band of friends after the pair had briefly worked together in the early 80s. By 1984 the time was right and, having recently made a reunion album with fellow Sun luminaries Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison, Carl was clearly in nostalgic mood and agreed to take part. In order to persuade some of the scene’s hottest players to come on board (all of whom shared the happy coincidence of being his friends), Carl duly recorded a series of personal video messages along the lines of “Hello, I bet you didn’t expect this. I have been invited to record a TV show of my Rockabilly songs and I’d be really honoured if you could come along to play.” The tapes were mailed out and the responses was overwhelmingly positive. Although the show had originally been mooted shortly after Carl received the Elvis Presley Foundation Memorial Award for his contribution to Memphis art forms in 1984, such was everyone’s schedule that it would be a full 18 months before they could all be available in one place at the same time. That place turned out to be London’s Limehouse Studios, on the site of what is now Canary Wharf.
Pre-Docklands Light Railway, we were glad of a lift across town that October evening to a remote warehouse-like venue that was literally in the middle of nowhere! As we stood outside in the inky black chill for what seemed like ages, the crowd grew steadily and an atmosphere of anticipation began to crackle in the frosty night air. Our tickets didn’t specify who else would be playing so we wiled away the time speculating who Carl’s “friends” might be. Suddenly the wait was over, the doors flew open and we were in.
Seated to the left of the stage we watched the technicians setting up and before long Carl emerged to welcome the audience and inform us that “if we’re lucky, they’re gonna see this all over the world”. We’d already spotted Dave Edmunds adjusting his guitar and knew we were in for a blast when Stray Cats’ bass player Lee Rocker and drummer Slim Jim Phantom also appeared. With Geraint Watkins on piano and Carl’s song Greg on electric bass, the stage was set and the cameras began to roll. Teasing us with the opening lyric to “Blue Suede Shoes”, Carl then ripped into “Boppin’ The Blues”, swiftly followed by another Perkins’ tribute to sartorial preoccupation, ‘Put Your Cat Clothes On’. Apart from the sheer energy that hit us like a tidal wave, what was also immediately evident was the easy rapport between Carl and the other musicians who were clearly relishing performing alongside one of Rock ‘n ‘ Rolls founding fathers.
Band introductions complete, the first surprise of the evening came after Slim Jim slipped away leaving a vacant drum kit…cue Ringo Starr! We couldn’t believe we were sitting feet away from the former Beatle watching him reprise “Honey Don’t” which he’d first recorded for 1964’s Beatles For Sale. Relaxed and in fine fettle, Starr’s trademark drollness came to the fore as he threw Carl a few good-natured – and possibly unrehearsed – verbal curves. Before we’d had time to catch our breath, Carl was welcoming on stage another Rock legend, none other than guitar great Eric Clapton. The pair tore into ‘Matchbox’ and traded licks on an equally exuberant ‘Mean Woman Blues’. What we didn’t realize as we sat transfixed by what was rapidly shaping up to be he gig of the century, was that Clapton had literally stepped off a plane from Japan and headed straight to the studios. If he was jet-lagged his playing certainly didn’t give it away.
After slowly down the pace with a superb rendition of his first Sun release ‘Turn Around’, it was time for the evening’s only female guest to make her entrance. Remarking that he used to rock this young lady in her cradle, Carl welcomed out feisty Country chanteuse Roseanne Cash. Duetting on a down-homey ‘Jackson’ that underscored their affection for one another, Cash then rocked out to great effect on ‘What Kind Of Girl’.
“This is a special of all the greatest things that could ever happen to me. This is my night with my friends.”
Wondering how the evening could possibly be improved upon, the question was answered when Carl introduced his next guest in emotional tones “….somebody said he retired, I said, ‘it ain’t true, he will come out, he’ll shake again’ and he is here is to rock with us and celebrate tonight: George Harrison!” The studio fairly erupted as a dapper-looking George strode up, strapped on his guitar and launched into ‘Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby’, followed by a breathtaking ‘Your True Love’. No-one could have been left in any doubt as to the deep friendship between the two, as evidenced on their duet ‘The World Is Waiting For The Sunrise’. Seated alone with Carl, Harrison watched attentively as his friend nimbly demonstrated Les Paul’s famous echo technique, the love and respect Harrison held for him was there for all to see and humbling to behold.
The scene was then set for an informal jam session and with all the musicians seated in a row ‘like a bunch of 1st graders’ it was time for Carl to lay the role of teacher, as he led the group into a barnstorming Rock ‘n Roll medley. Kicking off with ‘That’s All Right, Mama’ and segueing into ‘Blue Moon of Kentucky’, the feel didn’t let up for a moment as the ‘student’s brought it home gospel-style with a rousing ‘Night Train To Memphis’. Strumming the opening bars and taking the vocal lead, Harrison introduced another feel-good Perkins classic ‘Glad All Over’ whilst Carl confessed he couldn’t remember all the words! Admitting it would be remiss to let an occasion such as this go by without mentioning Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl and co., paid tribute to The Killer with ‘Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On’.
By now many of the audience were taking to the floor to bop and jive as Carl broke into ‘Gone, Gone Gone’ followed by the undoubted climax of the evening ‘Blue Suede Shoes’. Looking back it’s hard to do justice to the electrifying atmosphere of that night such was the magnitude of the event. The sight and sound of Carl on stage surrounded by world-class players and friends alike, performing his best know and perhaps best loved song was as fine an endorsement of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s longevity and relevance as anyone could wish to have.
After a stunning encore, a tearful Carl told the audience “I have sung that song since 1955 when I wrote it exactly 30 years ago this month. I have never in my life enjoyed singing that song like I did tonight with these people, my friends, my Rockabilly buddies and you, the greatest people in the world. God bless you.” In conveying his heartfelt thanks, Carl’s humility and generous spirit shone through. Here was a true originator, an artist how had inspired generation so musicians to greatness and yet he’d never lost sight of the joy of performing in front of a live audience. With Carl, George and Roger Scott all now sadly gone, and more recently, Carl’s son Greg, I shall treasure the memory of that evening forever.
“He’s a wonderful sincere man and I love him dearly.” Roy Orbison, 1985.
Sam Szczepanski, 2005
with thanks to Sue Allwood and Roger Dopson.