Carl Perkins and Cowboy Hats
I had the good fortune of working with the legendary Carl Perkins. Carl was one of the original Sun Records artists, revered by second generation rockers from Jimi Hendrix to the Beatles; Tom Petty to Eric Clapton. The photo above of Carl and classmates Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis is known as "the million dollar quartet."
We were shooting a TV show in Toronto, Canada. I knew enough of Carl's life story to know it included some very high altitude and low altitude passages. Very high. And very low: near death, career halting, despair inducing lows. I was only around him for a couple days, but this man had one of the most infectious, contagious, enthusiastic spirits I've ever encountered. His impression on me was immediate and lasting.
I was having hits on country radio around this time, but there was a rising tide of what were becoming known as "hat acts" conquering the genre. The stylistic diversity that made country music so exciting during the late 80's/early 90's (Steve Earle, Lyle Lovett, Patty Loveless, Rodney Crowell to name only a few) was ebbing. It was a disorienting time for me. I could see the writing on the wall. I knew I didn't fit in with where country music was going.
The morning after shooting the show, I hung with Carl and a couple of his band mates in the Toronto airport. Again, his positivity and strong sense of humor made a mark on me. We were talking about the current state of the music biz, particularly country music. Carl said, "Boys, these hat acts are eatin' our lunch!" I thought, Wow... Carl Perkins is feeling the same thing I'm feeling? I felt affirmed, along with a wonderful sense of belonging.
But in his next breath, before the spirit of self-pity took us all in a downward spiral, Carl added, "I'm gonna buy me one so big [cowboy hat] I can't fit through the door!" And instantly the mood changed. Our spirits lightened. Carl showed us it was okay to not take ourselves so seriously. We all laughed out loud. He changed our perspective, reframed it. Hope reentered my mind as a possibility.
I've never forgotten that moment. It serves me well to this day.