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Music

The classic Elvis Presley song inspired by Johnny Cash

@josephtaysom

Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash sparked a tight friendship before they became obscenely famous. Back then, they were upstarts with a shared dream to make it big, and Memphis helped the pair to turn their ambition into reality. Cash, it would transpire, was even the inspiration behind one of Elvis’ most beloved tracks.

Their paths first crossed in 1954 after Cash moved to Tennessee with ambitions of studying to become a radio announcer. In a twist of fate, the two budding musicians performed at the same event as part of the Tennessee Two group. Both he and ‘The King’ respectively plucked up the courage to try and secure a record deal with Sun Records, who the pair later put on the map with their success.

In his memoir, Cash recalled first watching Presley at the Eagle’s Nest, and there was only “a dozen or so patrons, fifteen at the most” in attendance. Despite the sparse crowd, he said Elvis “was great” and claimed that “his charisma alone kept everyone’s attention”.

The two musicians soon grew close, and Elvis is also the person responsible for introducing Cash to his wife, June Carter. She recalled how he played her Cash’s early song, ‘Cry, Cry, Cry’, and promised that “the whole world will know Johnny Cash” after the singer admitted she was unfamiliar with his work.

The favour would be re-paid when Elvis had a hit with ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ in 1956, which wouldn’t have come to fruition if it wasn’t for a tale told by Cash to Carl Perkins. He originally had a major hit with the song earlier that year, selling over a million copies, and it then became the opening track on Presley’s eponymous debut.

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“I told Carl about C. V. White and the blue suede shoes,” Cash wrote in his autobiography. “C. V. White was a Black airman from Virginia I’d known in Landsberg — he told us the initials stood for ‘Champagne Velvet,’ but none of us ever knew the truth — and one night he said this one thing that really struck me.

“When we got a three-day pass we’d get out our best uniforms, polish our brass, and spit-shine our shoes. C.V. would come by and say, ‘How do I look, man?’ ‘Like a million dollars,’ I’d tell him, and it was true.”

He continued: “One night he laid the line on me at that point. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘just don’t step on my blue suede shoes!’ ‘They’re not blue suede, C.V. They’re air force black, like everyone else’s.’ ‘No, man. Tonight they’re blue suede. Don’t step on’ em'”.

If it weren’t for that conversation with Cash, Perkins wouldn’t have written the definitive song of his career, and Elvis would also be without one of his most worshipped tracks. Fittingly, years later, it also became a regular fixture in the live sets of ‘The Man In Black’, as the story of ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ went full circle.

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