Go, Cat, Go!

In his social history of the twentieth century South, STANDING AT THE CROSSROADS, Pete Daniel has linked rock ’n’ roll to stockcar racing and cockfighting as examples of domesticated violence. Carl Perkins, the son of Tennessee sharecroppers, was once so poor he did not have a record player to listen to his first releases. When he belted out his unique blend of blues, bluegrass, and country songs at obscure honky-tonks, where “tush hogs” played blood sports with beer bottles and knives, he was embarking on a path that led to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Along the way was plenty of domesticated violence and family tragedy fueled by fast women, cars, and booze. With Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, and Elvis Presley, Perkins was part of a stable of Memphis-based performers who were transformed into superstars by the individuality of their sound and the ingenuity of Sun Records producer Sam Phillips (who once presented Perkins with a Cadillac for having Sun’s first million-seller, only to deduct its cost from his royalties, an incident that led to their eventual estrangement).

David McGee’s forte is documenting the myriad interracial elements which blended into rock ’n’ roll and discerning fact from myth regarding legendary jam sessions and the origin of songs, licks, and lyrics. He has put together a readable, authoritative social document, complete with an excellent discography, compelling photos, and a useful index. Also included are many expressions of Carl Perkins’ voice, including these lines, recorded in 1985: “I ran wide open for too damn long/If I had’a known I would live this long/I’da took better care of myself.” An informative and highly entertaining work.