8   Rock Around The World • October 1977


by Stephen Peeples

Instead of roaring around L.A. this month, there’s a little spleen-venting your normally easy-going scribe feels compelled to do about Elvis’ passing and what’s happened since.

Granted (albeit grudgingly) it’s almost inevitable that anyone who becomes a legend in their own time is a prime candidate for posthumus exploitation of every sort. But nothing in recent years-aside from that crazy Asian war and Ford’s presidential pardon-has jacked me out of shape more than the crassly commercial sickness that continues to sweep through the record and publishing industries like some plague carried by parasitic vultures. “Last pictures” of Elvis. Flacks, flunkies, and “fans” relating their “intimate kr)owledge” of the man those same people drove to withdrawal from the rest of the world. They know who they are. They’re sick, sick, SICK, and here’s hoping every flake that has consciously gone out of its way to cap on Elvis’ death for personal gain chokes on the green before they can take it to the bank.

That said, my intention this month is to offer a breather from that kind of jive. There are a few things in the works that are valid parts of the Elvis legend, and therefore shouldn’t be lumped with stuff that exploits his memory.

For example, Alan’s Tribute To flvis really is a tribute, done out of an all-consuming respect for the man he quite credibly emulates onstage. Alan started touring while Elvis was still active and has gotten the thumbs-up from dyed-in-the-wool Elvis fans and jaded critics alike all over the planet. So, it’s not surprising Alan’s in greater demand now than he was before Elvis split. Because he’s one of the few who can credibly trace Elvis’ career, he deserves that attention much more than the vast majority of jerks now embarking on “Tributes to Elvis.” If you’re in Las Vegas, he’s headlining at the Tropicana through the end of October-he was held over for seven weeks, and while there he played the MD Telethon before handing Jerry Lewis a check for S10,000 in Elvis’ memory ( which hardly makes him a parasite). After Vegas, Alan resumes his tour of the States, and we’re expecting to hear details soon on tours of Europe, the Orient and elsewhere.

Not long before Elvis split, Carl Perkins signed a production/label deal with Jet/ UA, and Felton Jarvis (Elvis’ producer) started gearing up for Perkins’ first Jet/UA project, due to begin this month in Nashville. The album’s title will be The History of Rock and Roll, with focus, of course, on Sun Records’ golden days. There are but a handful of artists who could use that title on an album and avoid hopeless audacity, and even without hearing any tracks I daresay Perkins is one of those few.

Carl Perkins wrote “Blue Suede Shoes” and recorded it for Sam Phillips at Sun in Memphis late in ’55 or early ’56, and the tune became the first to nail down number one positions on pop_ country and R&B charts. But Perkins’ fast-rising career was severely nipped by an . inopportune car accident that killed his brother Jay and laid Carl up for nearly a year. Elvis, who’d already had some success with his Sun version of Arthur Crudup’s, “That’s All Right, Mama,” recorded “Blue Suede Shoes” and stood the world on its ear on his first national television broadcast as

Tommy Dorsey wondered what hit him. Perkins had been on the way to a similar broadcast when the accident occurred, and the legend goes that Perkins watched Presley do his tune from his hospital bed.

It’s highly unlikely Elvis did the tune with stealing the spotlight in mind; it’s more likely Elvis did it to generate hospital-bill-paying royalties because they’ve been very close friends over the years. But that not-so-simple twist of fate almost eclipsed Carl Perkins contribution to rock and roll. Between ’56 and ’66 his band toured with Johnny Cash’s revue, and Perkins enjoyed his own successes in a slightly more country vein with tunes like “Matchbox.” But it wasn’t until the Beatles recorded “Matchbox,” Honey, Don’t” and -Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby” very early in ’64-with Perkins in the studio in London at their invitation–that Perkins’ legend again came to the fore.

Which brings us back to the current Perkins project-shortly after a Jet reception thrown for him last month in Century City, Carl gave us the rundown. “I’m gonna

talk about the way we recorded things at Sun-how I came to write ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ and what it felt like the day we recorded it. And I’ll say ‘Well, I’ll just do it again right now!’ We’re going to keep the sound simple-we’re using Ronnie Tubb, Presley’s drummer, and Bobby Moore,” Perkins continued, “things like ‘That’s All Right’ and other things Presley did, and tunes like Jerry Lee Lewis’ `Whole Lotta Shakin’.’ ”

But Perkins, far from being caught up in his own legend, expressed some doubt that he’d be able to pull it off properly. “I think I’ve bitten off an awful lot here, the more I think about it,” he mused. “It kinda keeps me awake at night a little bit. It’s really a challenge when you put a title like The History of Rock and Roll on the outside of a record jacket, and I’ve gotta try to live up to that on the inside.

Almost a year and a half ago, another legend named George Jones was pacing around backstage in his pointed-toe boots,

waiting to perform his singular country-blues for 60,000-plus sun-stroked people at Willie Nelson’s Last Annual Fourth of July Picnic in Gonzales, Texas. I asked him why he was so nervous, and he stopped for a moment to get another eyeful of all those Texas rock and rollers. Finally, he spoke. “Hell, I don’t even know what I’m doin’ here!” Jones snapped. “These people don’t even know who I am-I don’t play the kind of music everyone else here has played. I shouldn’t have even come here in the first place!” They might surprise you. “Well, I hope so,” he retorted, walking toward the mikes out front, “because if they don’t, we’re all in trouble!”

To make a long story short, George Jones stole the Picnic right out from under (a Nashville lady I know would say fumunda) everyone on the bill. The people out in the war zone went berserk, demanding encore after encore by mercilessly pummeling the plywood restraining wall in front of the stage. They knew the Jones legend very well.

The only way I could see Perkins

blowing this project would be poor health, and he’s in good shape-he’s been on the wagon for several years. He’s more than up to the challenge provided he leaves his trepidations outside the studio, and more than likely he won’t fail to add yet another dimension to his legend and rock and roll as a whole.

Meanwhile, Perkins will be back in Memphis Oct. 7 for the next courtroom episode in his suit for royalties against Sam Phillips. “I was under contract with him, of course,” Perkins explained, “and it later turned out that Sam made a deal with Shelby Singleton to repackage and re-release all that material, and Shelby’s never paid me a dime on any of that rereleased stuff, so he’ll come into it, too.

“I don’t want one penny more than is mine,” he continute. “When I took my (original) court deposition in Memphis a few months ago, I looked Sam in the eye and told him if I owed him a dollar after all the accounting, I’d walk a hundred miles to

pay him that dollar. But I want to find out, I wanna know. I have reason to believe-and facts that the lawyers have found-that a lot of money is still owed to me for all the cuts I’ve had on ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ and the things that the Beatles did. All I’ve received over the years was a check for what (Sam) wanted to send me when he wanted to send it, usually around Christmas time, and without any breakdown of what sold how many where. He knew I needed the money, and I was happy to get what I did get, but things have changed now. I just want what’s mine.”

While I’m no attorney, it would seem that Perkins’ suit for an accounting may benefit other Sun artists who, like Perkins, may be due huge amounts of mailbox money.

And while Sam Phillips may be in huge heaps of trouble, the wildly celebrative spirit Sun sessions contributed in perpetuity to rock and roll has never been eclipsed. “I see the old sound comin’ back,” Carl predicted. “It’s raw, it’s simple, but it’s got that definite somethin’ there-like that half-roarin’, rattlin’ ol’ slap bass and all. I think the kids of today are rediscovering all that.” (You’ll have a chance to rediscover Carl Perkins when he heads uptown to the Roxy later this month. )

Perkins may well he right when he speaks of a new burst of popularity for Sun-styled rockabilly. Locally, that’s apparent as one watches the growing audiences of younger people who’ve turned out for Ray Campi and Jimmy Rabbitt and Renegade gigs at the Roxy and the Palomino, and the tumultuous reception given Roy Orbison at the Civic by an unexpectedly young-and fully cognizant-bunch of people. Not to mention young Robert Gordon’s delightfully sinful version

Robert Gordon

of “(My Gal Is) Red Hot (Your Gal Ain’t Doodle-y Squat)” that’s frying turntables and request lines at local stations (Tower Sunset’s Howard the K., resident rockahilly/Sun encyclopedia, says Billy Lee Riley first did the tune for Sun in ’53).

And we can’t forget The Killer’s Palomino demolition this past summer, either (see last month’s L.A. Getaway) or his Roxy set a couple of weeks ago at a taping

Tom Petty with Carl Perkins

Tom Petty & Carl Perkins by Lester Cohen