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Blue Suede Shoes

"Blue Suede Shoes" is a rock and roll standard written and first recorded by Carl Perkins in 1955. The 12-bar blues is considered one of the first rockabilly (rock and roll) records and incorporated elements of blues, country and pop music of the time.

Origin

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 a black airman whom he had met 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?

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.

Later that night, while in bed, Perkins began working on a song based on that incident. His first thought was to frame it with a nursery rhyme. He considered, and quickly discarded "Little Jack Horner...", and "See a spider going up the wall...". Then settled on "One for the money..." Leaving his bed and working with his Les Paul guitar, he started with an A chord. After playing five chords while singing "Well, it's one for the money... Two for the show... Three to get ready... Now go, man, go!" and broke into a boogie rhythm. He quickly grabbed a brown paper potato sack and wrote the song down, writing the title out as "Blue Swade, S-W-A-D-E". "I couldn't even spell it right", he has said.

The song was recorded weeks later and producer Sam Phillips suggested that Perkins's line "go boy go" be changed to "go cat go".

Success of Perkins' Sun Records Release

The Sun recording of "Blue Suede Shoes" was released on January 1, 1956. Two copies of the song on 78rpm records arrived broken. Perkins soon discovered that the song was only available in the newer 7" microgrooved 45rpm format. Meanwhile, in both Jackson, where Perkins lived, and in Memphis, radio stations were playing the flip side of the record, "Honey Don't". In Cleveland, Ohio, however, disc jockey Bill Randle was featuring "Blue Suede Shoes" prominently on his nightly show, and before January was over, the Cleveland distributor of the record asked Phillips for an additional 25,00 copies of the record.

"Shoes" became the side of choice throughout the South and Southwest. On February 11 it was the #2 single on Memphis charts, was number one the next week, and remained there for the next 3 months. Perkins made four appearances on the "Big D Jamboree on radio station KRLD in Dallas where he played the song every Saturday night, and was booked on a string of one nighters in the Southwest. The Jamboree emanated from the Dallas Sportatorium with about four thousand seats, and it sold out for each of Carl's performances. Music shops in Dallas ordered a huge number of records.

At one point the record was selling at a rate of 20,000 copies per day, and Perkins and his band were booked to appear on two nationally broadcast television shows: Ozark Jubilee and Perry Como Show. Carl and the rest of the Perkins Brothers Band performed "Blue Suede Shoes" on the Jubilee on Saturday night, February 11, 1956. The show was broadcast by the ABC television network. A Song Hits review of the song, published February 18 states that "Perkins has come up with some wax here that has hit the national retail chart in almost record time. Interestingly enough, the disk has a measure of appeal for pop and r.&b. customers.

Unfortunately for Perkins and his band members, they would have a serious automobile accident on the way to New York City, resulting in the death of a truck driver and the hospitilisation of both Perkins and his brother. While Perkins recuperated from the accident, "Blue Suede Shoes" rose to number one on most pop, R&B, and country regional charts. It also held the number two position on the Billboard Hot 100 and country charts. Elvis Presley's "Heartbreak Hotel" held the number one position on the pop and country charts, while "Shoes" did better than "Heartbreak" on the R&B charts. By mid-April, more than one million copies of "Shoes" had been sold. "Blue Suede Shoes" was the first million selling country song to cross over to both rhythm and blues and pop charts.

Sam Phillips retained the rights to the song, although it was represented by the New York house of Hill and Range as part of the agreement when Phillips sold Elvis Presley's contract. Perkins would not acquire the rights to "Shoes", along with all of his Sun Records songs until 1977.

Presley and Blue Suede Shoes

Both Perkins and Presley started at Sun Records under Phillips, but Presley recorded the song in early 1956 after his Sun contract was purchased by RCA Victor. Presley's version was recorded at the RCA Studios in New York, with Presley on vocals and rhythm guitar, backed up by his regular touring trio of Scotty Moore on lead guitar, Bill Black on bass, and D.J. Fontana on drums. According to Scotty Moore, when the song was recorded, "We just went in there and started playing, just winged it. Just followed however Elvis felt." According to reports confirmed by Sam Phillips, RCA producer Steve Sholes agreed not to release Presley's version of the song as a single while Carl's release was hot.

Elvis performed the song to nation wide television audiences three times in 1956. The first time was on February 11, 1956 on the Dorsey Brother's Stage Show. Elvis performed it again on his third Stage Show appearance on March 17, then again on the Milton Berle Show on April 3. On July 1 Steve Allen introduced Elvis on the Steve Allen show, and Elvis, appearing in formal evening wear, stated "I think that I have on something tonight that's not quite right for evening wear." Allen asked, "What's that, Elvis?" "Blue Suede shoes" was the answer, as Elvis lifted his left foot to show the audience. Elvis mentions Blue Suede shoes a second time on this show. In a song during the "Range Roundup" comedy skit with Steve Allen, Andy Griffith, and Imogene Coca, he delivers the line, "I'm a warnin' you galutes, don't step on my blue suede shoes. These performances and mention of Blue Suede Shoes on nationally broadcast shows were seen by millions of Americans.

Meanwhile, although Presley is supposed to have promised Perkins that he wouldn't cover the song on a single record, "Blue Suede Shoes" was the first song on the first ground breaking album Elvis Presley, which was released in March. RCA released two other records with "Blue Suede Shoes" the same month: one an Extended Play with 4 songs, and a 2x extended play version with 8 songs.

RCA released the Presley version as a single on September 8. This single reached #20, whereas the Perkins version had topped the chart.

In 1960, Presley re-recorded "Blue Suede Shoes" for the soundtrack of the film G.I. Blues. While Elvis' character's group "The Three Blazes" plays a ballad at a Frankfurt night club ("Doin' The Best I Can" by Doc Pomus & Mort Shuman ), a bored GI plays "Blue Suede Shoes" by Elvis Presley on the juke box, remarking that he wants "to hear an original". When another soldier tries to unplug the juke box, the entire place erupts into a fight. This studio re-recording marked one of only a few occasions in Presley's career in which he agreed to re-record a previously issued song.

Other 1956 recordings

"Blue Suede Shoes" was recorded and released many times in 1956. February releases were by Delbert Barker and the Gateway All Stars on the Gateway and Big Hits labels, Thumper Jones (aka George Jones), Hank Smith , and Buzz Williams. RCA Victor released a Pee Wee King version on March 3 of that same year, the same date as a Capital release by Bob Rubian. These releases were followed closely by the March 10 releases of a Boyd Bennett version on King, and the Columbia release of a Sid King version. Decca, too, released a version by Roy Hall, and the Dot label then released a recording by Jim Lowe.

Legacy

"Blue Suede Shoes" is often referenced in other songs including Chuck Berry's "Roll Over Beethoven" with "I'm giving you the warning, don't you step on my blue suede shoes."

"Blue Suede Shoes" was chosen as one of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll. In 1986 Perkins' version was inducted in the Grammy Hall of Fame, and was included by the National Recording Preservation Board in the Library of Congress National Recording Registry in 2006. The board selects songs on an annual basis that are "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant." It is his only song on that list. Presley's recording of the song was also on the list at number 423.

In 1999, National Public Radio included "Blue Suede Shoes" in the "NPR 100," in which NPR's music editors sought to compile the one hundred most important American musical works of the 20th century.

Selected list of recorded versions

The song is a rock and roll standard and has been performed and recorded by many artists, including:

Cultural references

  • Marc Cohn makes a reference to "Blue Suede Shoes" in his song "Walking in Memphis".
  • Langston Hughes created a short story titled, "Thank You, Ma'am", mentioning Blue Suede Shoes.
  • Chuck Berry mentions "Blue Suede Shoes" in his song "Roll Over Beethoven" in the lines: "Early in the mornin'/I'm a'givin you the warnin'/Don't you step on my blue suede shoes." "Roll Over Beethoven" has been covered by many other artists including the Beatles and Electric Light Orchestra.
  • Buddy Holly's recording "Rock Around With Ollie Vee" contains the lyric "Ollie Vee says she's gonna do me right tonight / I'm gonna wear my blue suede shoes tonight."
  • Larry Williams, in the song "Short Fat Fannie", mentions "Blue Suede Shoes".
  • The David Essex song "Rock On" mentions about jumping up and down in her "Blue Suede Shoes".
  • Blue Suede Shoes is also the title of a 1980 documentary film about the British rockabilly scene.
  • The Nintendo DS game Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney makes a reference to the song, in a sequence where the character mistakenly refers to Detective Gumshoe as "Detective Suedeshoes".
  • Brian Setzer also refers to it in The Stray Cats' song Built for Speed.
  • Gene Summers and Shawn Summers refer to "Blue Suede Shoes" in their song "Gonna Drive 'em Up A Wall" with the lyric "gonna slick up my hair wear my blue suede shoes/gonna rock all night to the boppin' blues". ("Reminisce Cafe" CD, 2008)
  • The Motörhead song "Just 'Cos 'You've Got the Power" makes a reference to Blue Suede Shoes
  • In The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, blue suede shoes can be both stolen from some houses and taken off the bodies of some non-player characters that the player kills.
  • The game World of Warcraft has a pair of Blue Suede Shoes dropping from Kaz'rogal, a raid boss in the game's expansion The Burning Crusade.
  • In Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, a cheat code BLUESUEDESHOES can make all pedestrians look live Elvis.

Notes

External links

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