Carl Perkins – Blue Suede Shoes

Well it’s one for the money, two for the show
Three to get ready, now go cat go

This song could be the definition of rock and roll.  One of the many great Sun records that were released. Carl Perkins is a guitar hero to me with his rockabilly style that he never lost. I see why George Harrison and a generation was such a fan of the man. This song is up there with Johnny B Good as a Rock and Roll standard.

This song was written by Carl and it soon became a rock and roll anthem. This is another song that by law…you have to know if you are in a rock band. It’s probably better known by a singer from Memphis…named Elvis. I always favored this version…it has Carl playing guitar and that is all I need.

Carl recorded this in Memphis in 1955 for Sam Phillips at Sun Records. As he was driving to make his first national appearance to promote it on the Perry Como Show, he got into an accident that seriously injured him and killed his brother.  He later said he was 85 miles away from being the first rockabilly on national television.

Perkins never fully recovered, either emotionally or career-wise. With Perkins unable to touring and promote it, Elvis’ cover version became a massive hit. Presley’s copy was done at RCA studios in Nashville. Perkins did have some hits after this but nothing like Blue Suede Shoes. Interestingly enough…Elvis’s version only made it to #20 in the pop charts.

This single was released in 1956. The B side was Honey Don’t. The single peaked at #2 in the US Charts and #1 in the Country charts.

I always wondered about blue suede shoes and what was so special about them. Blue suede shoes were a luxury item in the South…you would only wear them on a special night out. . You had to be careful with them though, since suede isn’t easy to clean.

Perkins never owned a pair, but Johnny Cash told him a story about someone who did. Cash told Perkins a story from his days serving in the Air Force in Germany. Cash’s sergeant…C.V. White. He would wear his military best when he was allowed off base, and at one point said to Cash, “don’t step on my blue suede shoes.” The shoes were really just Air Force-issued black, but white would say, Tonight they’re blue suede!

The story Perkins told is that later on, he was playing at a high school sorority dance when he came across a guy who wasn’t paying much attention to his date, but kept telling everyone not to stop on his “suedes,” meaning his blues suede shoes. At 3 a.m. that night, Perkins woke up and wrote the lyrics based on what happened that night and the story he heard from Cash. He couldn’t find any paper, so he wrote it on a potato sack.

Perkins based the beginning of this song on a nursery rhyme One For The Money: “One for the money, two for the show, three to get ready and four to go.”

Sam Phillips, the owner of Sun Records, came up with the idea of changing the line “Go, man, go” to “Go, cat, go.” He thought the change would make it seem like less of a country song and more of a rocker…it worked!

From Songfacts

Sam Phillips discovered Elvis Presley but sold his contract to RCA for $35,000. The money helped Phillips finance this and other records by artists like Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison, but Elvis became The King. Elvis recorded this later in 1956. His version hit US #20 and UK #9.

This was the only Top 40 hit for Perkins on the pop charts, but his influence reaches much further. He was extremely influential to other artists, including Elvis, The Beatles, and Johnny Cash. Perkins was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.

The lyrics describe some of the things that Perkins would prefer over getting his shoes scuffed, and the list includes some derelict behavior: stepping on his face, stealing his car, burning down his house and drinking his liquor. Some in the Sinatra-loving older generation were horrified, and used the song to back their case that rock ‘n’ roll was the Devil’s music.

This was the first song to hit the US Pop, Country, and R&B charts at the same time. Released on January 1, 1956, the song made a slow climb up the charts, appearing on all three in May, which is when it reached its peak of #2 on the Pop charts.

In Perkins’ original version of this song, there are two deliberate beats after each of the first two lines: “One for the money… bomp, bomp; two for the show… bomp, bomp.” The Elvis version eliminates the pause between the lines and speeds it up considerably.

Dave Edmunds, who later toured with Perkins, tells a story about recording the song with the rock legend for a segment to air on The South Bank Show, a UK program. According to Edmunds, Perkins played the intro without the beats between lines, insisting that when he recorded it, that was a mistake. Edmunds began pleading with him to do it as he did on that record, but then realized the absurdity of explaining to Carl Perkins how to play “Blue Suede Shoes.”

In later appearances, Perkins did play the song in line with his original recording, often with Edmunds by his side. One of his last appearances was with Edmunds performing the song on The Jay Leno Show in 1997 (Perkins died the next year).

The B-side of the single was “Honey Don’t,” which was covered by The Beatles.

This song was a family affair: Perkins’ brother Jay played rhythm guitar on the track, and his other brother Clayton played bass (W.S. “Fluke” Holland was Perkins’ drummer). Jay died from a brain tumor in 1957, and Clayton took his own life in 1974.

The charting versions of this song in America were by:

Carl Perkins – #2, 1956
Elvis Presley – #20, 1956
Boyd Bennett – #63, 1956
Johnny Rivers – #38, 1973

Pat Boone, Conway Twitty, The Dave Clark Five and Merle Haggard are among the many to record it. A version by Buddy Holly surfaced in 1964 on an album of outtakes called Showcase.

The “better not step on my shoes” trope found its way back to the zeitgeist when Spike Lee included a scene in his 1989 movie Do The Right Thing where a character gets very upset when someone steps on his Air Jordan sneakers.

Perkins, backed by Lee Rocker and Slim Jim Phantom of The Stray Cats, recorded a new version of this song in 1985 for the soundtrack of the movie Porky’s Revenge! The soundtrack was produced by Dave Edmunds, who also got Willie Nelson, Jeff Beck and George Harrison to record songs for it, leading to a gaping disparity in quality between the film and the soundtrack.

Later in the year, Edmunds spearheaded the “Carl Perkins and Friends” concert special, recorded October 21 in London and aired January 1, 1986 on Cinemax. Harrison, Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton and Rosanne Cash were among the “friends.”

The Count performed this song on an episode of Sesame Street. It became a counting exercise (one, two, Blue Suede Shoes).

Blue Suede Shoes

Well it’s one for the money, two for the show
Three to get ready, now go cat go
But don’t you, step on my blue suede shoes
You can do anything but lay off of my blue suede shoes

But you can knock me down, step in my face
Slander my name all over the place
And do anything that you want to do
But uh uh honey lay off of my shoes
And don’t you step on my blue suede shoes
You can do anything but lay off of my blue suede shoes

Oh let’s go cat!

But you can burn my house, steal my car
Drink my liquor from an old fruit jar
Do anything that you want to do
But uh uh honey lay off of them shoes
And don’t you, step on my blue suede shoes
You can do anything but lay off of my blue suede shoes

Rock!

Well it’s one for the money, two for the show
Three to get ready, now go cat go
But don’t you, step on my blue suede shoes
You can do anything but lay off of my blue suede shoes

Well it’s blue, blue, blue suede shoes
Blue, blue, blue suede shoes yeah
Blue, blue, blue suede shoes baby
Blue, blue, blue suede shoes
You can do anything but lay off of my blue suede shoes

Author: Badfinger (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

37 thoughts on “Carl Perkins – Blue Suede Shoes”

  1. Max, such a wonderful bunch of special information about Carl and the song. I appreciate your research on it and was smiling again and again on what I was reading. And that first video, wow! What an assemblage of talent there on the stage. That had to be such a thrill for all of them. Watching it also gave me a flash of insight. I realize that George saved Eric’s soul in his forgiveness, and it is an immortal lesson to all who see it, that any mistake one makes doesn’t have to be a terminal error.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Carl was such a good person. He also raised money for child abuse on a regular basis.
      It’s so much fun to watch those artists get together just for Perkins.
      Yes…I’m glad they got passed it and George had a good sense of humor about it.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I saw Carl Perkins play the Big D Jamboree in the 50s. My father was a member of the revolving house band for the show and Carl appeared many times, as well as Elvis. I was a little kid, so to me, he was just another guest playing rockabilly. My father though he was “one cool cat.”

    Liked by 2 people

    1. One Cool Cat is a great way to describe him. That is cool that your dad was part of that band, Phil. Carl seemed to be a really good guy.

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      1. I assume he was, my father thought so. He also met a very young Elvis when he performed there. I was home that particular night but Dad said the entire Sportitorium was nothing but bobby soxers screaming their heads off, sort of like the Beatles later on. When I did attend, I usually sat off stage left with the other performers and the gals watched after me. I remember the great Wanda Jackson cleaning my ears with a hanky and spit then giving me her Coke ( the drink ). I was so young I had no idea who these people were or how popular, and would find that out later on. A friend of mine Dave Dennard has done exhaustive research on the Big D Jamboree if you want to google it and learn about some early rockabilly history. Carl was definitely the coolest of them all.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I love Wanda Jackson… that is cool.
        I checked out Dave Dennard…you are correct…he is everywhere with info about the Big D Jamboree. I’m going to read some of it tonight and watch some youtube videos. Thanks as always Phil.

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  3. This was fascinating, Max – I suppose because it’s one of the first songs I remember – along with Wooden Heart (I would’ve been all of 5). Two of my older brothers – one wore blue suede shoes, and the other wore a white sports coat and a pink carnation!

    Liked by 3 people

  4. I didn’t know about that car wreck. How devastating. I didn’t realize Carl and Dave Edmunds teamed up on a few things. Also didn’t remember the Porky’s Revenge soundtrack. Now I need to go look up that soundtrack.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I just finished watching the Beatles doc on Disney Plus, and it impressed upon me how much American Rockabilly and Rock and Roll impacted the Beatles in their formative years as a band, due to their often breaking out into classic songs from those music categories on the doc, whenever they were taking a break or just goofing around on their instruments.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh I love that documentary. Yes George… well really all of them were huge fans of rockabilly and rock and roll..
      Those were the songs they played in Hamburg and the Cavern in Liverpool before making it.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Man his guitar is great…much better than given credit…
      CB…if you get free tomorrow…could you stop by? It’s a rockabilly artist that Phil from the Cactus Patch mentioned…interesting guy named Ronnie Dawson…a Texas guy.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ill check out Phil’s place for sure. You get a chance, I seen Carl on an old Canadian comedy show SCTV. They do a skit ‘Fishin Musician’ Carl and his band go fishin with the host. Hilarious. Then he does Matchbox and you get that sound of his.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I found it! I’m watching it now…thanks man.

        Yea Phil mentioned him to me and he was damn good. I’m posting about him tomorrow. Phil knew him.

        Like

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