Welcome to “Original Rock Legends!” To celebrate Geva’s final show this season, the hit musical Million Dollar Quartet directed by Hunter Foster, I’m taking you through a musical journey, uncovering the history behind the songs featured in Million Dollar Quartet.
This week, we’re exploring the legends behind Carl Perkins’ music:
“I’m sitting here wondering, will a matchbox hold my clothes?/I ain’t got no matches, but I got a long way to go.”
Something about Carl Perkins’ song “Matchbox” seemed to attract stars, even if it still left Perkins in the background of his own career. In fact, it was Perkins’ session to record “Matchbox” that brought all the “boys” of the Million Dollar Quartet together, on that fateful night of December 4, 1956.
According to Perkins’ autobiography, “Matchbox” was inspired by misremembered lyrics from a 1920s tune (made famous by Ma Rainey and Blind Lemon Jefferson), “Lost Wandering Blues.” Perkins brought the scattered lyrics into Sun Records Studio, and he improvised with Jerry Lee Lewis, a session piano player at the time, as they cobbled the song together. Even though that same inspired evening brought the Million Dollar Quartet together, that magic didn’t rub off on the “Matchbox” recording, and the tune didn’t make a significant impact on Billboard’s charts.
In May 1964, Perkins toured Britain with Chuck Berry, and the tour concluded with a party that The Beatles attended. The Fab Four had been long-time fans of Perkins, and used this opportunity to ask for permission to cover some of his music. Perkins saw the financial opportunity here, and agreed to let the Beatles record any song of his. On June 1st, the Beatles headed to the recording studio to lay down “Matchbox.” Perkins stayed in Britain to observe the recording; he did not play on the track along with the Beatles, as rumor would have it, but likely jammed with the band before the recording began. The recording was released on June 19, 1964, on the Beatles’ album Long Tall Sally.
Here’s Carl Perkins singing “Matchbox:” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bdiD_CcEIWc
And, here’s the Beatles’ cover of the song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6_1ao_HzJKw
Thanks for tuning in to “Original Rock Legends!” We’ll be back on Monday with more stories behind the legendary musicians who defined rock ‘n’ roll. This program is sponsored by Geva Theatre Center, where the Million Dollar Quartet comes back to life, LIVE onstage, May 30th through June 25th. Until next time, rock on my friends!