Carl Perkins - musician - Jackson, Tennessee
© Jim Herrington
I had originally met Carl when I went to his home in Jackson, TN to photograph him for the cover of his biography. I was living in Nashville at the time and often drove back and forth to Memphis for work and fun, usually stopping for gas halfway in Jackson.
The next time I was driving through town I stopped at a service station, left the gas hose in the car, walked over to the pay phone and gave Carl a ring.
“Carl, it’s Jim… just gassing up in Jackson, on my way to Memphis, thought I’d say hello.”
“Heeeey, cat daddy! You don’t drive through Jackson without coming by the house and seeing me.”
“Carl, I’m just driving through, I don’t want to bother you.”
“Boy, it’s lunchtime, let’s go get some catfish.”
“Be there in 10 minutes.”
I left the gas station and arrived at his house where he immediately played a song on guitar that he’d just written. He told me that he wrote a song every day, good or bad. It was a good one that day. On the wall behind me was the framed piece of a torn brown paper bag upon which he wrote the original lyrics to “Blue Suede Shoes”.
After a while we went out a side door off of the kitchen and down some steps into the dark garage where his giant yellow Cadillac was parked. When he shut the kitchen door behind us I couldn’t see a thing. Feeling my way around the hood of the car I found the passenger door, opened it, and got inside. Carl slid inside the drivers side and shut his door. It was pitch black inside and so quiet I could hear my pulse.
Carl tapped his index finger on my top breast pocket, where I kept my cigs. “Don’t you want to smoke one of those?”
I told him I did, in fact, and I started to roll the window down. He said it was OK, just go ahead and light up.
“You don’t mind, Carl?”
“No, I don’t mind.”
The flame from my lighter briefly illuminated the interior of the Cadillac and I noticed Carl was sitting closer to me than I had imagined.
As it went dark again I inhaled the first puff and I heard Carl’s seat crackle as he shifted his body and leaned in very close to my face and spoke in a low, commanding monotone, “Now blow it into my face.”
I felt the pulse in my ear start beating faster.
As instructed, I turned my head towards his and let loose a long, slow pillar of smoke straight into Carl Perkin’s face, now no more than two inches from mine. In the inky black silence he inhaled deeply, right up to my mouth. Then, while turning the keys in the ignition said, “GOD, I miss those things… now let’s go get some catfish!”
Thus began a friendship that lasted a few short years until he finally succumbed to the throat cancer that was in remission when I’d met him.