The Story Behind Elvis Presley’s Song “Blue Suede Shoes” 1

The song “Blue Suede Shoes” is considered as one of the first rockabilly records. It is a rock-and-roll standard written and first recorded by Carl Perkins in 1955. Incorporating elements of blues, country and pop music of the time. Perkins’ original version of the song was on Cashbox Best Selling Singles list for 16 weeks.

It started with Jonny Cash, he was the one responsible for the creation of the song. In the fall of 1955, while Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley and other Louisiana Hayride acts toured throughout the South, Cash told Perkins of a black airman, C.V. White, whom he had met when serving in the military in Germany, who had referred to his military regulations airmen’s shoes as “blue suede shoes.” Cash suggested that Perkins write a song about the shoes. Perkins replied “I don’t know anything about shoes. How can I write a song about shoes?”

Perkins played a dance on December 4, 1955, and while he was playing, he noticed a couple dancing near the stage. Between songs, he heard a stern, forceful voice say, “Uh-uh, don’t step on my suedes!” He looked down and noted that the boy was wearing blue suede shoes and one had a scuff mark. “Good gracious, a pretty little thing like that and all he can think about is his blue suede shoes”, he thought.

That night, Perkins began working on a song about based on the incident that happened. 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 he settled with “One for the money…” Leaving his bed and working with his Les Paul Guitar, he started with 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, cat, go!” He 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 later said. According to Perkins, “On December 17, 1955, I wrote ‘Blue Suede Shoes’. I recorded it on December 19”, for Sun Records, which released the second take of the song. Sun’s producer, Sam Phillips, suggested that the lyric “go cat go” be changed to “go man go”, but the suggestion was not taken.

Perkins’ recording of “Blue Suede Shoes” was released on January 1, 1956, as Sun 234. A Song Hits review of the song, published on February 18, stated 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.”

On March 17, Perkins became the first country artist to reach the number three spot on the rhythm and blues charts. The same night, Perkins and his band first performed “Blue Suede Shoes” on television, on ABC-TV’s Ozark Jubilee (coincidentally, Presley was on Stage Show on CBS-TV that same night, for which he also performed the song).

Perkins was booked to appear on The Perry Como Show on NBC-TV on March 24, but on March 22 he and his band were in a serious automobile crash on the way to New York City, resulting in the death of a truck driver and the hospitalization of both Perkins and his brother. While Perkins recuperated from his injuries, “Blue Suede Shoes” rose to number one on most pop, R&B and country regional charts. “I was a poor farm boy, and with ‘Shoes’ I felt I had a chance but suddenly there I was in the hospital,” Perkins recalled bitterly.

 Perkins never attained the stardom of Presley, who, according to Perkins, “had everything. He had the looks, the moves, the manager, and the talent. And he didn’t look like Mr. Ed, like a lot of us did, Elvis was hitting them with sideburns, flashy clothes, and no ring on the finger. I had three kids.” After Presley hit the chart with his version of “Blue Suede Shoes,” Perkins became known more for his songwriting than for his performing.

By mid-April, more than one million copies of “Shoes” had been sold,[18] earning Perkins a gold record. “Blue Suede Shoes” was the first million-selling country song to cross over to both the rhythm and blues and the pop charts.