In The Style Of Carl Perkins

By Miguel Ángel Ariza

It was not too many weeks ago, when we were talking about the electric sound of Johnny Cash, that we took a brief look at today’s protagonist, Carl Perkins, an artist who although he accompanied the man in black on many occasions, deserves his own space among our list of legends as one of the pioneers of the style that upturned the XX century and that would guide many of our lives for generations to come: that of Rock and Roll.  

We know that the first 'guitar’ that he had in his hands was a 'Cigar box' that his father made with a cigar box and a broom stick. It was the most that a family that worked the cotton fields could afford in Tennessee. Later he would buy his first real guitar and would start his musical path with his brothers around the local bars.  

But Carl Perkins is known not for his ability to collect cotton nor for his local gigs that he fitted in around his work on the plantation, but for selling millions of copies of one of the most enduring songs in popular American history. Blue Suede Shoes flattened the charts in 1956 and the guitar that we can hear in that recording was none other than a Gibson Les Paul Goldtop with two P-90s from 1954.


With the success of Blue Suede Shoes a short time later he bought himself a Gibson ES-5 with three pickups, which is the guitar that we can see him with in many of the photos that we can find during his time at Sun Records in Memphis. He came to that city after he heard Elvis Presley’s voice and Perkins started to make the music that he had always wanted to make. They soon became friends and played and recorded together producing material like that of the legendary Million Dollar Quartet together with Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis.

In the following decade we can see him many times accompanied by - what was at that time - one of the most expensive guitars on the market, an Epiphone Emperor, with three Mini humbucker pickups. Later we can see him with various guitars made by luthiers, like the one that Bernie Hamburger made for him; the same man who made guitars for one of Carl Perkins biggest fans - we are speaking about no-one less than George Harrison.


At the end of his career we can also see Perkins using various Peavey, models, specifically the T-27 and T-60, as well as the occasional G&L like the Broadcaster.  


In a career that spread over five decades Carl Perkins used many guitars but he never stopped playing that primitive Rock and Roll that a whole generation fell in love with and years later, when his fame was fading, still took Perkins as a key figure in the explosion of Rock and Roll that his good friend Elvis Presley led from the studios of Sun Records in Memphis. And those words still ring out from there: 'Well it's one for the money, two for the show...'