Remembering Carl Perkins
Like many rock and roll pioneers, Carl was inspired by a variety of music at a young age. He heard gospel music in church on Sundays, and black spirituals while working in the cotton fields every other day (he picked cotton from the age of six, and worked 12-14 hours each day in the summer months). On Saturday nights, he and his dad would tune into the Grand Ole Opry to hear the best country tunes of the day. And soon, Perkins would learn about the blues.
But first, Carl needed a guitar. Because he couldn't afford to buy him one, Carl's father, Buck, made one out of a cigar box and a broomstick. When Carl's musical interests outgrew the ramshackle contraption, Buck paid a couple of dollars for a beat-up Gene Autry model. Soon, the enterprising guitarist was trying to learn to play Roy Acuff and Bill Monroe tunes.
But young Carl didn't just learn from the radio. He befriended a mentor in a fellow field worker named John Westbrook – an African-American man in his 60s. "Uncle John," as Carl began to call him, taught his student how to play blues and gospel music on the guitar. Perkins later recalled John's advice: "Get down close to it. You can feel it travel down the strangs, come through your head and down to your soul where you live. You can feel it. Let it vib-a-rate."
As a young player, Carl showed the beginnings of developing his own style. He took to bending the strings – for no reason other than to avoid injury. Because Carl didn't have money for new guitar strings, when they broke, he would simply re-tie them. The knots would rip up his fingers when he slid them up and down, so bending became a better option. more on this story
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