One of the last living pioneers of rock, Carl Perkins
is best known as the man who wrote "Blue Suede Shoes,"
the song that galvanized a generation of teenagers and
redefined the honky-tonk music of his native South for
the pop mainstream. His life story, though, is much more
than the saga of a megahit.
Born in a three-room shack in rural Tennessee, Carl Perkins
was the son of a sharecropper whose family worked the cotton
fields. The stirring music of his black co-workers struck a
chord in the young Perkins, and while practicing his guitar
to the music of the Grand Ole Opry on the radio, Carl
realized that "country music needed the black man's
rhythms." When he finally formed a band with his brothers,
the music they played was equal parts blues, bluegrass,
and country-and it drew crowds of white workers to the
'tonks where they let loose after a hard day's work.
Eventually, though, Perkins realized he had to light out
for Memphis to make his name. It was there-at Sam Phillips's
Sun Records-that Carl and Elvis Presley became friends, and
they were oined on the road by Johnny Cash for history-making
tours of the South. Perkins's lie then alternated between
musical success and personal misfortune, but lessons
learned in a life lived full measure gave him the strength
to overcome his own trials with alcoholism, cancer, and
family tragedy, and to carry on with songwriting and
performing even in his darkest hours.
Go, Cat, Go! is a heartbreaking and exhilarating testament
to a living legend, a country boy who played a pivotal role
in a musical revolution.
Carl Perkins continues to tour with his sons, and to
raise funds for the Carl Perkins Center for the Prevention
of Child Abuse. He lives with his family in
David McGee is a regular contributor to ROLLING STONE and
a senior editor and columnist for Pro Sound News, and he
served as an assistant curator for the Rock and Roll Hall
and Museum. He lives in New York City.