Four Fabs Honor One Rockin' Cat

May 8, 2012

Worlds collided in 1965 when the Beatles, on tour in the states, had a meeting with Elvis Presley in LA. But other than memories and conflicting stories about what did and didn’t occur…

John Lennon: “We all plugged in what was ever around and we all played and sang.”

George Harrison: “I never jammed with Elvis at all.”

Paul McCartney: “No.”

…no tangible record of the event exists; no pictures, no film, no tape. The moment which held so much potential was logged as a disappointment in the journals of both camps.

By contrast, in June of 1964, another Sun star met with the Beatles. Carl Perkins was touring England and sat in on a recording session at EMI Studios. (A side note; we know the studio now as Abbey Road, it wasn’t called that until after the Abbey Road album came out.) Perkins was invited to sit in on the group’s recording of one of his songs, “Matchbox.”

The Beatles’ fascination with Memphis music, and Carl Perkins in particular, went all the way back to their beginnings. The Fab Four were still John, Paul, Eric and Colin until George Harrison showed them his guitar prowess by playing “Raunchy,” a late-50’s Memphis hit by Bill Justis.

The set list for the Quarry Men, as they were known in the beginning, is littered with Memphis tunes. “Mean Woman Blues,” “Lend Me Your Comb” and “High School Confidential” were staples, right up there with “All Shook Up,” “Hound Dog,” “Jailhouse Rock” and “Blue Suede Shoes.” John Lennon was quoted in the Beatles Anthology noting, “There have only been two great albums that I listened to all the way through when I was about 16.” One was Elvis Presley’s first album, the other was by Carl Perkins. On a 1960 tour of Scotland, George Harrison adopted the stage name “Carl Harrison” in honor of Perkins.

In the canon of recorded Beatle music 1963 to 1970, they covered a couple of Chuck Berry tunes, a couple of Little Richards’, a handful of one-shot tributes here and there. But only Larry Williams and Carl Perkins can each cite three covers performed by the Beatles.

The afternoon of June 1, 1964, the Beatles convened in Studio Two for their first recording session since finishing A Hard Day’s Night in April. The task at hand was to lay down tracks for the non-soundtrack side of the upcoming album, and cut two more songs for an EP release. The session led off with five takes of Carl’s “Matchbox,” as Perkins listened from the booth. I call it Carl’s, its recorded history goes back to the twenties and Blind Lemon Jefferson, but Perkins had the definitive modern take on it. Ringo took the lead vocal, which had been performed in the past by John Lennon, and prior to that by Pete Best. The rest of the session was rounded out with “I’ll Cry Instead,” “Slow Down,” and late that night, “I’ll Be Back.”

The Beatles would come back to record more Carl Perkins tunes that October, with George singing “Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby,” and Ringo again on “Honey Don’t.” Those tracks were included in the US released Beatles ‘65 album which hit number one in the states in January of 1965.

Carl spent the balance of the sixties, and on into the seventies, touring with Johnny Cash. Johnny had a number one country song with the Perkins penned “Daddy Sang Bass,” and Carl played lead on Johnny’s next number one, “A Boy Named Sue.” Carl frequently appeared as a featured artist on Johnny’s TV show, and in one memorable spot teamed up with Cash, Eric Clapton and Derek and the Dominos to perform “Matchbox.”

The eighties would see a new appreciation for Perkins’ contributions, including collaborations with various Beatles and other British rock notables. Acclaim would come from halls of fame, but most touching were the remembrances from those he influenced. Among the many admirers attending Carl’s funeral would be found his fan from way back, George Harrison. George’s tribute to his friend, a rendition of Perkin’s “True Love,” would ironically be Harrison’s final live performance.