Guitar Aficionado

Carl Perkins' 1955 Gibson Les Paul Standard

In December 1955, 23-year-old Carl Perkins was a recording artist with several respectable but underperforming sides to his name.
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In December 1955, 23-year-old Carl Perkins was a recording artist with several respectable but underperforming sides to his name.

By Josh Max | Photography by Kristina Marie Krug

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In December 1955, 23-year-old Carl Perkins was a recording artist with several respectable but underperforming sides to his name. All this would change with the release of “Blue Suede Shoes,” a tune that Perkins wrote on a potato sack on December 17, 1955, and recorded two days later at Sun Records in Memphis, Tennessee, with the 1955 Gibson Les Paul Standard pictured here.

After three takes, Perkins was still unsatisfied with how he had performed the song’s guitar solo, but producer Sam Phillips wouldn’t let him do another, exclaiming, “Smash, smash, smash—this record’s a smash!” Phillips’ hunch was correct; Carl Perkins saw his first, and last, Number One with “Shoes.” The record sold two million and made him a bona fide rock and roll star.

“Daddy had the guitar painted blue after ‘Shoes’ became a hit,” Carl’s son Stan recalls. “And then he let someone borrow it. It got away from him for 20 years.” Perkins finally found the Les Paul in an Alabama pawnshop in 1979, battered and road worn, but recognizable by the distinctive belt buckle Perkins had attached to its quarter-inch jack. “Dad put that buckle on there because he thought it looked cool,” Stan explains.

Perkins bought the guitar back. Soon after, his youngest son, Greg, painted it black. Perkins—who was inducted into the Rock and Roll, Rockabilly and Nashville Songwriters Halls of Fame and received a Grammy Hall of Fame Award—passed away in 1998, leaving the guitar to his family. It currently resides in the Perkins family vault. —Josh Max

Originally published as "Shoe Business" in Guitar Aficionado, Fall 2010 Issue – Buy Issue

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