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Potato Sack Shoes

Potato Sack Shoes

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Songfacts®:

Blue suede shoes were a luxury item in the South, a stylish footwear for a night out. You had to be careful with them, however, because suede isn’t easy to clean.

Perkins never owned a pair, but Johnny Cash told him a story about someone who did. As Cash told it, he and Perkins were performing at a show in Amory, Mississippi along with Elvis Presley. When Presley was on stage, Cash told Perkins a story from his days serving in the Air Force in Germany. Cash’s sergeant, a black guy named C.V. White, would wear his military best when he was allowed off base, and at one point said to Johnny, “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 recorded this in Memphis 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. “I was 85 miles away from being the first rockabilly on national television,” he recalled.

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. >>

Suggestion credit:
Gary – Thetford, England

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.

Perkins based the beginning of this song on a nursery rhyme: “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.

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.”

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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).

  • More songs from Carl Perkins
  • More songs covered by Elvis Presley
  • More songs used on Sesame Street
  • More songs with lyrics based on nursery rhymes or fairy tales
  • More songs with items of clothing in the title
  • More songs from 1956
  • Lyrics to Blue Suede Shoes

Comments: 23

  • Barry from Sauquoit, Ny On April 7th 1956, Alan Freed’s ‘Rock & Roll Dance Party’ had its national television premiere on the CBS-TV network.
    Mr. Freed’s guests on the debut 30 minute episode were Count Basie & his Orchestra, Tony Bennett, and the Chordettes.
    And at the time Tony Bennett’s “Can You Find It In Your Heart” was at #62* on Billboard’s Top 100 chart. And at one position lower at #63 was another Bennett; a covered version of “Blue Suede Shoes” by Boyd Bennett and his Rockets, and that was also its peak position on the chart.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, Ny On May 26th 1956, Carl Perkins performed “Blue Suede Shoes” on the NBC-TV program ‘The Perry Como Show’.
    At the time the song was in its second week at #11 on Billboard’s Top 100 chart; one month earlier on April 9th, 1956 it peaked at #4 on the Top 100…
    At the time of his appearance on the ‘Como’ show Elvis’ covered version of “Blue Suede Shoes” was at #68 and Perry Como was at #2 with “Hot Diggity (Dog Ziggity Boom)” on the Top 100.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, Ny On March 17th 1956, Carl Perkins made his first TV appearance and performed “Blue Suede Shoes” on the ABC-TV program ‘Ozark Jubilee’.
    At the time his “Blue Suede Shoes” was tied at #9 on Billboard’s Top 100 chart, and the song it was tied with, Elvis’ “Heartbreak Hotel”.
    Then on May 3rd, 1956 it peaked at #2 on Billboard’s Most Played in Juke Boxes chart; and record at #1 for those 4 weeks was, you guessed it, “Heartbreak Hotel” by The King.
    R.I.P. Mr. Perkins and to The King .
  • Barry from Sauquoit, Ny On March 11th 1973, Johnny Rivers’ covered version of “Blue Suede Shoes” entered Billboard’s Hot Top 100 chart at position #90; and eight weeks later on May 6th, 1973 it peaked at #38 and spent 10 weeks on the Top 100.
    In 1956 when Carl Perkins’ original version was on the Top 100, two other versions made the chart that same year; Boyd Bennett & his Rockets and Elvis .
    Between 1964 and 1977 Johnny Rivers had twenty-nine Top 100 records; eight made the Top 10 with one reaching #1, “Poor Side of Town” for one week in 1966.
    Mr. Rivers, aka John Henry Ramistella, will celebrate his 73rd birthday in six months on November 7th .
  • Barry from Sauquoit, Ny On February 25th 1956, “Blue Suede Shoes” by Carl Perkins entered Billboard’s Top 100 chart; eventually it peaked at #2 (for 4 weeks) and spent 21 weeks on the Top 100.
    It reached #1 on the Billboard C&W Hits chart and #3 on Billboard’s R&B Singles chart.
    On March 17th, 1956 he performed the song for the 1st time on TV when he appeared the ABC-TV program ‘Ozark Jubilee’. And on very same night Elvis sang the song on the CBS-TV program ‘The Dorsey Brothers Stage Show’.
    R.I.P. Mr. Perkins (1932 – 1998) and to The King (1935 – 1977).
  • Jeff from Panama City , Fl carl was a beloved player among his peers. I didnt get the adoration until I saw in interviews and live shows later on in his career how nice and down to earth he really was. he is truely a legend. george harrison and rick nelson dearly loved him and the rockabilly music he help create.
  • G-g from S/w Montana, Mt =///////===============> – Can’t get too much A’ That. My Older Cousin “Who was about the best Fighter in Our little town, & I used to just about Fist Fight because I always swore Carl – Is – “COOLER” than – You know Who..YUP.!
  • Ken from Louisville, Ky Carl was able to ressurect his career, somewhat after his near-fatal car crash. He had several songs on country music charts in the 1960s and was a regular perfomer on Johnny Cash’s ABC television show. Carl was also a part-time actor and did a duet with Paul McCartney on Paul’s Tug Of War album. George Harrison was also a friend of Carl’s and appeared on Perkins’ cable TV special taped in London. George spoke and sang at Carl’s funeral in Jackson, TN.
  • Joel from Amsterdam, — I do not think that the song is entirely about that. It does mention drinking booze and stealing a car but not by the singer
  • Henry O. Godwinn from Wheeling, Wv Rockabilly at its best
  • Anthony from East Stroudsburg, Pa I worked for a non profit agency in Tennessee that Carl Perkins help found. It was (and still is) a child abuse prevention agency. One day in the early 80’s, Carl saw a picture of a boy in the local paper that had been physically abused. Carl thought the boy reminded him of his own son and was deeply moved. Carl made a decision right there that he would not live in a community where child abuse occured. He did many benefit concerts and worked with local groups and politicians to get the initial funding to get the center started. It is still operational today after 25 years and has helped thousands of families break the cycle of abuse. If Carl had gone on the Pery Como Show and done Blue Suede Shoes and had gotten as big as Elvis, it’s possible that he never would have stayed in his home community and would never have started this center or done many of the other charitable work he did. Unfortunately, I never got to meet him (he died before I began working there), but I did meet some of his family and people he toured and recorded with. They are all great and charitable people. Everything happens for a reason, and Carl’s accident was no exception. George Harrison, Garth Brooks, the Judds and many other musical luminaries attended his funeral in a small town on short notice. It said a lot about the musical influence, and the type of person, he was.
  • Mark from Dublin, Ireland Carl Perkins aas also idolised by Ricky Nelson and George Harrison and rightly so.
  • Mark from Dublin, Ireland Cliff Richard and the shadows did a really cool version of this on cliffs second album in 1959 “cliff sings” featured on the track is hank marvin playing the first fender strat imported from the staes to britain by cliff only a couple of months before recording the album. Also on the album cliff pays another tribute to carl perkins with his and the shadows version of “pointed toe shoes” another perkins classic.
  • Mark from Byrdstown, Tn Perkins was poised to become a rock n roll sensation by appearing on Ed Sullivan but before he could be on the show Perkins had a terrible car crash that almost killed him.Presley went on the show instead and took the spotlight that Perkins should have gotten.Perkins does a great version of this song on Johnny Cash’s “Madison Square Garden” album.
  • Leonor from Tucson, Az Johnny Cash had planted the seed for the song in the fall of 1955, while Perkins, Cash, Elvis Presley, and other Louisiana Hayride acts toured throughout Texas and the South. Cash told Perkins of an airman whom he had know when serving in the military in Germany. He had referred to his military regulation air shoes as “blue suede shoes”. Cash suggested that Carl write a song about the shoes. Carl replied, “I don’t know anything about shoes. How can I write a song about shoes?”

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When Perkins played a dance on December 4, 1955, he noticed a couple dancing near the stage. The girl was gorgeous, he thought, and the boy wore blue suede shoes. As they danced the boy cautioned his date “don’t step on my suedes.” Perkins was bewildered that a guy would value shoes over a beautiful girl.

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