WEIRDLAND: Buddy Holly and Carl Perkins: the Father of Rock and the King of Rockabilly

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Buddy Holly and Carl Perkins: the Father of Rock and the King of Rockabilly

Coming soon at the Paramount Theatre: •Dance Party: A tribute to Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens featuring Elvis and Marilyn Monroe, with Denny Charnecki and the D.C. Drifters on Jan. 14. The Austin Area Commission for the Arts is proud to present a tribute to the ‘day the music died’ on Saturday, January 14 at the Historic Paramount Theatre.

Denny Charnecki and the D. C. Drifters will present a tribute to the music of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper with special appearances by ‘Elvis’ and ‘Marilyn Monroe.’ Fans of early rockabilly music won’t want to miss it. The high-energy romp led by Denny Charnecki is a great way to introduce kids and grandkids to classic rock of the late 1950s. Tickets are $12 in advance and $15 at the door. Order tickets online at or stop in to the ArtWorks Center at 300 N Main Street to purchase tickets (10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday. Source:

The story of the “Million Dollar Quartet” — the nickname given to the formidable foursome of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins — has been told in both book and musical form. Now the tale is coming to TV via CMT and an eight-episode series that traces the rise of the famed label of the title, its genius producer Sam Phillips and the four disparate, but complementary musicians. “Sun Records,” executive produced by Leslie Greif and Gil Grant, is based on the Tony-winning musical “Million Dollar Quartet” and arrives shortly after the 60th anniversary of the legendary one-off recording session featuring the four men. Source:

The million Dollar Quartet  jam session seems to have happened by pure chance. Carl Perkins, who by this time had already met success with "Blue Suede Shoes", had come into the studios that day, accompanied by his brothers Clayton and Jay and by drummer W.S. Holland, their aim being to record some new material, including a revamped version of "Matchbox". Elvis Presley, a former Sun artist now with RCA Victor, arrived to pay a casual visit accompanied by a girlfriend, Marilyn Evans.

As Elvis played and Carl strummed along on guitar, Sam Phillips came out and said he'd like Elvis to hear what Carl had recorded earlier. Elvis listened to "Matchbox" and declared it a "killer" track; the harmony singing on "Your True Love" impressed him. Sam told engineer Jack Clement to start a tape rolling—“We may never have these people together again." The core and the focus remained Presley, Perkins, and Lewis; Johnny Cash had dropped by before Elvis's appearance and stayed long enough to sing with Carl and Elvis on “Blueberry Hill" and “Isle of Golden Dreams" before the recording began. Cash's presence was brief because he had to leave shortly to go pick up his wife Vivian to do some Christmas shopping. Newcomer Jerry Lee Lewis, born of similar roughneck stock as the others, wanted to prove himself to the veterans. Carl Perkins jumped in with a stunning version of Wynn Stewart's country hit "Keeper of the Key," accompanying himself on acoustic guitar, with Elvis and Jerry Lee harmonizing. Jerry Lee finally took over the piano when Carl and Elvis went into the control room, and proceeded to do a three-minutes-plus version of “Crazy Arms,” the longest song of the day. As Jerry Lee hit his final glissando, Elvis prepared to leave. It was nearly eight o' clock, Carl recalls, and Elvis told him that his female companion was hungry.

Elvis referred to Marilyn Evans as his "house guest," as Carl Perkins recalls: "People like Natalie Wood came home with him as house guests." Perkins' policy was to sign autographs only at the show venue; some girls often found their way to his motel room, but he refused to allow them entrance; he signed autographs outside. “I've never had affairs,” asserts Perkins. Unlike Presley, Perkins had a wife and three children waiting for him at home. Perkins' wife Valda had made it clear that if he cheated on her, she wouldn't be there when he came home, nor would she be talked into coming back. Perkins made it a practice to get back to his room quickly after the show and call home. When Carl would hear Valda's voice, and then hear one of his children squeal into the phone, "Hi, Dad-eeee", he knew he wouldn't stray: “I took my marriage vows very seriously. I knew if I wasn't true to them that Valda wouldn't stay with me a second. Presley? He took advantage of quite a few. I think that's pretty well documented. I've seen him with a lot of beautiful girls. He was pretty hot to trot.”

One of the acts Carl Perkins enjoyed playing was an obscure Buddy Holly song, "I'm Gonna Set My Foot Down" (cut during Holly's ill-fated Owen Bradley sessions in 1956), and he scorched it with a tough sounding arrangement and rowdy vocals. What had been a renegade subculture in the 1950s was moving into the mainstream of American life as its commercial potential became apparent. Magazines were launched featuring rock 'n' roll stars on their covers and featured stories about the artists on the inside. Elvis’s face and name showed up on everything from clothing and perfume to lunchboxes and trading cards, and as a film actor he was proving to be a box office smash.

Only Carl Perkins was absent from the new pantheon. On the road he was continuing to draw sizable, enthusiastic audiences, making his dismal showing on the charts all the more puzzling. A case can be made for the music changing and Carl not accommodating the marketplace, after having purveyed the purest form of rockabilly, having defined its style, he hadn’t thought to evolve it, as Buddy Holly had revolutionized the genre. Dick Clark once said, "Elvis was the King of Rock 'n' Roll, but Buddy Holly was the undisputed father of rock music." And Dick Clark is right. While chart failings dismayed Perkins, his sense of himself as a still-vital artist remained unwavering—"Dixie Fried" and "Matchbox" were as great as rockabilly or rock 'n' roll could get. Perkins believed that sitting on Sam Phillips's shelf in the Sun studio were some tracks, still unheard, hot enough to melt the disc jockeys' needles.

Of the early rock 'n' roll songwriters, Carl Perkins’ songs were the most subjective in narrative line. He was an artist who drew his best material from his own life in the cotton fields, in the tonks, and from having inhabited the lowest strata of the American working class. His memories were of a time and a place quickly receding into history.—"Go, Cat, Go!: The Life and Times of Carl Perkins, the King of Rockabilly" (1996) by Carl Perkins & David McGee

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