Matchbox (1956)

Carl Perkins

Written by Carl Perkins (with Jerry Lee Lewis)
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Matchbox Perkins and Phillips

Perkins and Sam Phillips outside Sun Records, 1956

Electrifying as The Beatles’ version is (their 1963 performance at the BBC studios is in the Video Library at left) it can’t touch the 1994 live rendition by an aging Carl Perkins, guitar flying-ace Duane Eddie and country-rockers, The Mavericks.

Even the original 1957 single by Perkins, knocked out in the Sun Record Studios with Jerry Lee Lewis on piano, can’t compare. In fact, Lewis ought to have received a writing credit for “Matchbox” since he contributed the keyboard riff that shuffles then cattle-prods the number along so magnificently.

“Matchbox” – one of the loudest echoes

 Perkins has said his father, Buck Perkins, played a song called “Matchbox Blues” from the 1927 by Blind Lemon Jefferson, which, once you hear it, really bears no resemblance to the Rock-N-Roll hit. On December 4, 1956 Carl was fiddling around with the Jefferson work one day in the studio and Lewis, at the time a session player, began jamming the now-famous piano lines and producer-owner of Sun, Sam Phillips, insisted they keep on it.

Perkins has said his father, Buck Perkins, played a song called “Matchbox Blues” from the 1927 by Blind Lemon Jefferson, which, once you hear it, really bears no resemblance to the Rock-N-Roll hit. On December 4, 1956 Carl was fiddling around with the Jefferson work one day in the studio and Lewis, at the time a session player, began jamming the now-famous piano lines and producer-owner of Sun, Sam Phillips, insisted they keep on it.

Matchbox blind lemon

The almighty “Blind” Lemon Jefferson

Perkins has said his father, Buck Perkins, played a song called “Matchbox Blues” from the 1927 by Blind Lemon Jefferson, which, once you hear it, really bears no resemblance to the Rock-N-Roll hit. On December 4, 1956 Carl was fiddling around with the Jefferson work one day in the studio and Lewis, at the time a session player, began jamming the now-famous piano lines and producer-owner of Sun, Sam Phillips, insisted they keep on it.

A Rock-A-Billy melody was laid over the piano and bass bottom, Perkins thought up some “traveling man” lyrics on the spot, and the molotov cocktail was lit.

(Later that same day Sun Studios would witness what since has come to be known as the Million Dollar Quartet session when Perkins, Lewis, Johnny Cash and Elvis all played together.)

Perkins has at times maintained that he never heard Jefferson’s song, while at other times he tells the story about his “daddy” related above. It makes no matter. Jefferson’s tune was not an original. It was a traditional Country-Blues song that had been recorded before and would be recorded after Blind Lemon’s track was set down.

The wildness of the Perkins/Eddy/Mavericks version is infectious as the Plague – a good plague that’s as damned catchy as a song gets.

Perkins’ guitar playing was a cutting and crisp as the day he first stepped into the studio. Raul Malo does a fine job in summoning up a retro vocal and guitar turn and the rest of The Mavericks provides a solid, exciting rhythm section, although you do wish Jerry Lee had been there.

Matchbox duane eddyAs good as Malo is, he isn’t up to the task of going toe to toe with Perkins, and while Perkins is a phenomenal Rock-A-Billy picker and twanger, he isn’t up to the virtuosity of Duane Eddy.

The best way to describe Eddy’s style is as a cross between rough Country, big-city and surf guitar. His great hits, like “Rebel Rouser” and “Stalkin” were so distinctive that he never was exactly copied, although he was a strong influence on The Ventures’ instrumental sound, and on Dick Dale,” King Of The Surf Guitar.” You can hear his sway in other surfer hits like “Wipeout” and “Pipeline,” as well as “The Lonely Surfer.”

Eddy also left his imprint on the playing of Bruce Springsteen and Steve Van Zandt of The E Street Band. The lead bass-guitar sound of The Who’s John Entwistle also bears the Duane Eddy “Titan Of Twang” texturing.

Matchbox Red Hot + CountryThe two legends of Rock-A-Billy guitar teamed with The Mavericks for Red Hot + Country, a concert and album to benefit AIDS research.

“Matchbox” is the sketch of a kind of puckish ne’er-do-well who’s not quite a hobo, but a vagabond who’s down on his luck. (Yes, a thin distinction, but a difference, nevertheless.)

The lyrics tell a crooked story. They’re really more a set of pocket observations in three short verses, one ridiculous, one self-pitying and one bawdy:

Well I’m sitting here wondering, will a matchbox hold my clothes
Yeah I’m sitting here wondering, will a matchbox hold my clothes
I ain’t got no matches, but I got a long way to go

I’m an ol’ poor boy and a long way from home
I’m an ol’ poor boy and a long way from home
Guess I’ll never be happy, eveything I do is wrong, yeah

Well let me be your little dog, ’till your big dog comes
Let me be your little dog, ’till your big dog comes
When the big dog gets here, tell him what this little puppy done

Yeah I’m sitting here wondering, will a matchbox hold my clothes
Yeah I’m sitting here wondering, will a matchbox hold my clothes
I got no matches, got a long way to go
Let ‘er go boy, go-go

No matter which version you like – and “Matchbox” has been covered hundreds of times – they all boil and bubble. But the live track from Perkins, Eddy and The Mavs is one of the Himalayan peaks of Rock.

mangoids
  • “Matchbox” has had a wide-ranging impact on Rock-N-Roll. Take a listen to The Rolling Stones’ “Underassistant West Coast Promo Man” for a slower bluesier take on the riff. (It’s the flip side of the single “Satisfaction.”)
  • Or try Canned Heat’s “Going Up The Country” for a sped-up version of that very same riff.
  • While you’re at it, watch the third video in the Library at left to see Carl Perkins take Eric Clapton to school on the guitar while Johnny Cash sings “Matchbox.” Priceless.

Also by Carl Perkins on SongMango.com:

  • carl Mango perkinsShe Knows How To Rock MePerkins struck one of the matches that touched off the cultural revolution that became Rock-N-Roll.

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