Born in Tiptonville, Tennessee, the son of a poor tenant farmer, Carl Perkins grew up surrounded by southern gospel music sung by blacks working in the cotton fields. By age seven, he was playing a guitar his father made from a cigar box, broomstick and baling wire.
In 1956, a desperately poor and struggling Carl Perkins wrote the song "Blue Suede Shoes" on an old potato sack. Recorded by Sam Phillips, the record sold several million copies. At the peak of the song's national success he was involved in a near-fatal car accident. While recovering, rising star Elvis Presley released his own version of "Blue Suede Shoes." Presley's success helped keep Carl Perkins from achieving the kind of stardom he appeared to be headed for and he never fully regained his momentum in the world of pop music.
During a long career, Carl Perkins recorded numerous singles and albums plus wrote some of the top hit records in both rock 'n' roll and country music. His songs were covered by the Beatles, he collaborated on vocals with Paul McCartney, and played rhythm guitar on the McCartney-Stevie Wonder hit, "Ebony and Ivory".
During the "rock" revival of the 1980s, George Harrison, Eric Clapton, and Ringo Starr appeared with him in a television special in London, England called Carl Perkins and Friends: A Rockabilly Session.
At the Sun Studios in Memphis in 1986, he joined Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Roy Orbison on the album Class of '55. It was a tribute to their early years at Sun and in part a reprise of an informal jam session he, Presley, Cash, and Lewis had done on December 4, 1956.
In 1987, recognition of Perkins' contribution to music came when he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Carl Perkins is interred in the Ridgecrest Cemetery, Jackson, Tennessee.