Posts Tagged ‘Carl Perkins’

‘Let Me Be Your Little Dog . . .’

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011

A good portion of yesterday evening was spent sifting through a new two-CD package that the mailman dropped off yesterday: The Legendary Story of Sun Records, a collection of sixty tracks from the legendary Memphis-based label created by Sam Phillips.

Among the tunes that popped up was “Matchbox,” a 1957 recording written and performed by Carl Perkins. Here’s a video that honestly confounds me.

The recording used for the video is different and longer than the track included in the CD package I got yesterday (and which I am unable to post in a video). I’m under the impression from the CD notes that the shorter version – it runs 2:10 – is the original. So is the track used in the video a live performance cleaned up immensely well (something I doubt strongly), or is it an alternate studio recording merged moderately well with a lip-synched television visual? Or is it the original? Does anyone out there know?

Anyway, most sources agree that the song was written in the studio during December 1956, when Perkins’ father, Buck, suggested the younger Perkins record “Match Box Blues,” a song written and recorded in 1927 by Texan bluesman Blind Lemon Jefferson. The line around which Perkins’ song coalesced was the now famous “I’m sitting here wonderin’, will a matchbox hold my clothes?”

The line, which starts Jefferson’s 1927 version, had originated before that: Wikipedia notes that Ma Rainey had sung the line in her 1923 recording of “Lost Wandering Blues,” and notes further that both Jefferson and Rainey had likely absorbed the line from earlier usages, as was common in the folk and blues idioms.

However the line may have originated, Perkins used it and the companion line that Jefferson wrote as the starting point to his song:

I’m sittin’ here wonderin’, will a matchbox hold my clothes?
I’m sittin’ here wonderin’, will a matchbox hold my clothes?
I ain’t got no matches and I got a long way to go.

Sun released Perkins’ recording as a single, but the record did not make the Billboard Hot 100. (It’s listed in Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles as a “Classic Non-Hot 100 Song,” with an additional notation that the record has been honored by the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.)

Since then, Perkins’ tune has been recorded multitudes of times. All-Music Guide lists nearly six hundred CDs that include a version of the song. Many of those are Perkins’ versions – based on album titles and running times, there are several alternates and numerous live versions out there as well as the original Sun single release – but many others are covers by artists as diverse as Johnny Rivers, Ronnie Hawkins, the Deighton Family, Jerry Lee Lewis,* Ike Turner, Sleepy LaBeef, Billy Swan, the Paramounts and more.

The cover version I heard first, though, was by the Beatles. Released in England as one of the four tracks on the “Long Tall Sally” EP, “Matchbox” came out in the U.S. as a Capitol single and went to No. 17 during the autumn of 1964. It was also included on the LP Something New, one of the hodgepodge albums Capitol was in the habit of creating for the U.S. market.

But as much as I loved the Beatles’ studio version of the tune during the days when I was exploring the band’s music, I find myself more intrigued these days by the live version the band performed during one of its shows aired over the British Broadcasting Corporation. This version comes from the July 10, 1963, performance and was included on the 1994 release Live at the BBC.

*Lewis was in the studio when Perkins wrote the song and played on the original recording. (Wikipedia says Lewis provided a piano boogie rhythm that spurred Perkins’ writing.) I have a suspicion that he also played on the longer version used to back the Perkins video above.