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YouTube Gold: Carl Perkins

One of the great early rockers, he charted a different course than many of his contemporaries

Photo of Carl Perkins
A young Carl Perkins

When people talk about the founding fathers of Rock and Roll, or at least the version that took over in the 1950s, they always refer to Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lewis and Bo Diddley.

Somehow Carl Perkins never gets the attention that he should. That’s too bad because he was immensely influential.

Perkins came up through Sun Records at roughly the same time Elvis Presley did and the two became good friends (he was also great friends with Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison). But Presley had far more stage charisma and became a pop culture phenomenon.

Perkins had a terrible car accident just as Presley took off and his career never quite recovered, or at least not where Sun producer Sam Phillips thought it would be: he let Presley move on to RCA partly because he thought Perkins would be a bigger star.

Perkins was still a significant star though. As much as anyone, he got rockabilly going and was a huge influence on the Beatles. In fact, Paul McCartney said that without Perkins there would have been no Beatles.

Here he is doing his early hit “Honey Don’t.” Presley occasionally played guitar but as often as not it was a prop. Perkins plays and plays very well. He never had Presley’s charisma but he was arguably a superior performer.

He outlived his friend Elvis, who died in 1977, but Perkins died relatively young too, at the age of 65 in 1998.