In 1955, up and coming musician Johnny Cash pitched a song idea to friend and fellow newcomer, Carl Perkins. Perkins, who had made some what of a name for himself in the country western genre, was due for a hit and aspiring to exude a more rockabilly sound. Cash divulged a tale from his Air Force days, about a comrade named C.V. Write. Write was an energetic man that once told Cash while getting dressed for a three-day pass, that his black shoes were actually blue suede. He would exclaim, ‘Man! Don’t step on my blue suede shoes; I’m goin’ out tonight.’
Unsure of the subject matter and claiming, “I don’t know nothin’ about them shoes,” Perkins did not head straight to the studio with a fresh, inspired tune. Instead, it took a second encounter with fate for Perkins to realize his blue suede fortune. Perkins found himself a short time later performing at a Jackson nightclub where he witnessed a boy near the stage exclaim to his date, “Don’t step on my suedes!” In awe about how passionate the boy was about his suede shoes, Perkins wrote “Blue Suede Shoes” that evening and has since said it felt like, “a song writing itself.”
Clearly a tune destined to be written, Perkins recorded “Blue Suede Shoes” with Sam Phillips at Sun Studio on December 19, 1955 and released the song that following January. With a relatively slow start on the charts, “Blue Suede Shoes” eventually caught momentum and battled Perkins longtime inspiration and newfound friend, Elvis Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel” for the #1 slot.
By March, Carl Perkins’, “Blue Suede Shoes” was gaining national success and proving to be his most popular tune to date. Sadly, his career, which appeared to be at an all time high, came to a blistering halt on March 22, 1956 when in route to New York to appear on the Perry Como Show, his driver fell asleep at the wheel. The incident smashed their vehicle into a truck in front of them, causing death to the driver and sending them into a near by lake, which caused severe injury to Perkins and his brother, who was also a passenger in the car.
The accident and the detrimental injuries set about by it, would eventually lead to the death of Perkins brother and create a career altering moment within Carl Perkins life. Unable to tour and promote the song which had set his career on fire and provided him an opportunity at international fame, it appeared that Perkins shining moment had been swiftly put out.
Presley, now loyal friend of Perkins and understanding musical counterpart, released a cover version of “Blue Suede Shoes” in March of 1956, shortly after the tragic accident. Scotty Moore, Presley’s backing guitarist, was reported speaking of Elvis’ recording, saying, “he did it more as a tribute thing than anything else. He had been talking to the band about it, and then he just decided he wanted to do it.”
This tribute version would serve to do decent on the 1956 charts but never surpassed Perkins initial recoding. It wasn’t until several years after, when Presley continuously played “Blue Suede Shoes” throughout live performances and within one of his movies, did his version begin to take on a life of it’s own and eventually overtake the popularity of Perkins’.
Often in present times regarded as an Elvis Presley song, “Blue Suede Shoes” catapulted Perkins into legendary Rock N’ Roll fame, proving him to be an inspiration for musicians the likes of Elvis, the Beatles, the Stray Cats, and countless others. The camaraderie amongst Rock N’ Rolls greats is what made it possible for “Blue Suede Shoes” to become such a massive success. From the initial idea brought forth by Johnny Cash, the country-rock-swing invented by Carl Perkins, and the everlasting life Elvis Presley pumped within it, “Blue Suede Shoes” is a perfect reflection of the music world throughout the 1950’s.