'Go, Cat, Go!' The Story of 'Blue Suede Shoes'

Frank Mastropolo

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When the “King of Rockabilly,” Carl Perkins, released “Blue Suede Shoes” in 1956, radio stations played its B-side, “Honey, Don’t.” Within a month, Cleveland DJ Bill Randle put “Blue Suede Shoes” into regular rotation and the song’s popularity spread across the country. Soon Perkins had a million-seller, one of the first records to be a hit on the country, rhythm & blues and pop charts.

Perkins is a rock pioneer who wrote and recorded “Matchbox,” “Boppin’ the Blues” and “Everybody’s Trying to Be My Baby." His compositions have been covered by the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and Johnny Cash.

“Blue Suede Shoes” remains his biggest success. Though famously covered by Elvis Presley in a faster rock style, Perkins’ original, recorded for Sam Phillips on Sun Records, is considered the definitive version.

"Blue Suede Shoes" by Elvis Presley

In his autobiography, Go, Cat, Go!: The Life and Times of Carl Perkins, the King of Rockabilly, Perkins relates that Johnny Cash first suggested that he write a song about blue suede shoes.

"C.V. White was a black airman from Virginia whom Cash met while serving in the U.S. Air Force in Germany. When on liberty from the base they dressed in their best uniforms. Although they were wearing military issue black shoes, C.V. told Cash, 'Well, just don’t step on my blue suede shoes!'

Cash didn’t understand; their shoes were identical—Air Force black. But C.V. insisted, 'No, man. Tonight they're blue suede. Don't step on 'em!'"

The line stuck with Cash. Perkins, who had seen suede shoes in stores around Memphis, still could not conceive of a song about shoes. He told Cash, “I don’t know anything about shoes. How can I write a song about shoes?”

But Cash was prescient and a good judge of lyrical hooks, as Perkins would learn. David Troedson described in Elvis Australia what happened next.

"Carl did a show at Jackson's Union University. Carl and the band began blazing away on some rockabilly and got the room shaking. Carl had finished singing a song and was regrouping for the next number when he heard a harsh-sounding male voice near the front of the stage. The male was angry at his date, who was standing there silent but visibly distraught.

“'Uh-uh,' the boy said in a stern, forceful voice. 'Don't step on my suedes!' When Carl looked down he could see the boy was indeed wearing blue suede shoes, one of which now had a white scuff mark on the toe. Carl could not understand why a guy would value a pair of shoes over the pretty girl he was dancing with.

"When Carl got home he couldn't unwind and laying in bed the images he saw on the dance floor flashed through his head. He recalled Johnny Cash's suggestion that in blue suede shoes lay a story. He began to put the words together."

"Blue Suede Shoes" by Carl Perkins

Perkins recorded “Blue Suede Shoes” at Sun Records in December 1955. On the first take, Perkins started the song with:

Well, it's one for the money,
Two for the show,
Three to get ready,
Now go, boy. go.

Producer Sam Phillips, hoping to make the lyrics more hip, suggested the last line be changed to “Go, cat, go.” Perkins agreed and created what has become one of rock’s most memorable song intros.

Mastropolo is the author of New York Groove: An Inside Look at the Stars, Shows, and Songs That Make NYC Rock and Fillmore East: The Venue That Changed Rock Music Forever.

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Frank Mastropolo is the author of Fillmore East: The Venue That Changed Rock Music Forever, one of Best Classic Bands' Best Music Books of 2021; New York Groove: An Inside Look at the Stars, Shows, and Songs That Make NYC Rock; the What's Your Rock IQ? Trivia Quiz Book series; Ghost Signs: Clues to Downtown New York's Past, winner of the 2021 Independent Publishers Book Award; and Ghost Signs 2: Clues to Uptown New York's Past. Mastropolo is a journalist, photographer, and former ABC News 20/20 producer, winner of the Alfred I. DuPont–Columbia University silver baton. His photography is featured in the Bill Graham Rock & Roll Revolution exhibition.

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