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"Matchbox" is a rock and roll song written and recorded by Carl Perkins and released in 1957. Blind Lemon Jefferson wrote and recorded a song entitled "Match Box Blues" in 1927, which is musically different but which contains some lyric phrases in common.
|Single by Carl Perkins|
|from the album Dance Album of Carl Perkins|
|A-side||"Your True Love"|
|Format||10-inch & 7-inch 45 rpm records|
|Recorded||December 4, 1956|
|Studio||Memphis Recording Service, Memphis, Tennessee|
|Label||Sun (no. 261)|
"Matchbox" was recorded as a rockabilly song by Carl Perkins in December 1956 and by fellow Sun Records performer, Jerry Lee Lewis - who played piano on the original track - in 1958. The Carl Perkins tune shares some lyrics with 1920s blues songs by Ma Rainey and Blind Lemon Jefferson but the music is totally different. Sam Phillips and Sun Records released the Carl Perkins version as the B-side to "Your True Love". Although only the A-side became a record chart hit in 1957, "Matchbox" is one of Perkins' best-known recordings.
Ma Rainey recorded "Lost Wandering Blues" in Chicago in March 1924. Paramount Records issued it on the standard ten-inch 78 rpm single (no. 12098). Her lyrics include the matchbox as a suitcase reference:
I'm leaving this morning, with my clothes in my hand
I won't stop to wandering, till I find my man
I'm sitting here wondering', will a matchbox hold my clothes
I've got a sun to beat, I'll be farther down the road
Three years later, Blind Lemon Jefferson used it for the title of his recording as "Match Box Blues" on March 14, 1927, for Okeh Records in Atlanta, Georgia. Blues author Paul Oliver stated that both Rainey and Jefferson "may have absorbed [the line] from traditional usage." 
Jefferson recorded the song twice more in April 1927 for Paramount Records. Although they contain some differences, they include
I'm sittin' here wonderin', will a matchbox hold my clothes (2×)
I ain't got no matches but I still got a long way to go.
After recording "Your True Love" at Sun Records studio, Carl Perkins's father Buck suggested that he write a song based on snatches of lyrics that he remembered. Buck knew only a few lines from the 1927 song from the recordings by Jefferson or the Shelton Brothers. As Perkins sang the few words his father had suggested, Jerry Lee Lewis, who was at that time a session piano player at Sun Studios, began a restrained boogie-woogie riff. Carl began picking out a melody on the guitar and improvised lyrics. The Sun recording on December 4, 1956 was produced by Sam Phillips at Sun Studios in Memphis.
Perkins maintained that he had never heard Jefferson's song when he recorded "Matchbox". The songs are musically, thematically, and lyrically totally different. Jefferson's song is about a mean spirited woman; Perkins' is about a lovelorn "poor boy" with limited prospects.
The "Matchbox" recording session is historically significant as a milestone in rock and roll history because later that day, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and Lewis were all in the Sun Studio with Sam Phillips with Carl Perkins and his band. The impromptu group formed at this jam session became known as the Million Dollar Quartet.
Carl Perkins performed the song on ABC-TV's Ozark Jubilee on February 2, 1957. Perkins and his band also performed the song on the syndicated TV show Ranch Party hosted by Tex Ritter in 1957. There was also a promo ad for the release of the Sun single in Billboard magazine.
The song was published and copyrighted in 1957 in the US with words and music by Carl Lee Perkins by Knox Music/Hill and Range Songs of New York.
1956 Sun studio recording personnelEdit
- Carl Perkins – vocals, lead electric guitar
- Jerry Lee Lewis – piano
- Fluke Holland – drums
- Clayton Perkins – bass
- Jay Perkins – acoustic guitar
The Beatles' renditionEdit
US picture sleeve (reverse)
|Single by the Beatles|
|from the EP Long Tall Sally|
|Recorded||June 1, 1964|
|Genre||Rock and roll, rockabilly|
|Length||1:57 (misprinted as 1:37 on both singles and albums)|
|The Beatles US singles chronology|
The Beatles were fans of Perkins and began performing the song circa 1961. Their then-drummer, Pete Best, performed the lead vocals. The only known recording of the song featuring Best singing the song is a live recording. In 1962, John Lennon sang the song during a performance at the Star-Club in Hamburg, Germany; a recording of this exists and was included on Live! at the Star-Club in Hamburg, Germany; 1962.
The next year, the Beatles performed "Matchbox" with Ringo Starr on lead vocals for their BBC radio show, and this version would be included on the Live at the BBC album. Starr also sang lead vocals when it was recorded in 1964. There are suggestions that Perkins may have been present in the studio at that time. As was usually the case, all instruments on the song are played by the Beatles themselves, with the exception of the piano, which was played by producer George Martin. "Matchbox" appeared on the Long Tall Sally EP in the UK. In the US, it appeared on the Capitol Something New album, and was released as a Capitol single on August 24, 1964, which reached number 17 on the Billboard Hot 100. "Matchbox" reached No. 6 on the Canadian CHUM Hit Parade charts in 1964. It was also included on the Past Masters and Mono Masters compilations released in 1988 and 2009, respectively. The song was the first A-side single released with Ringo Starr on lead vocals.
Studio version personnelEdit
- Ringo Starr – double-tracked vocals, drums
- John Lennon – Rickenbacker 325/12 rhythm guitar
- George Harrison – double-tracked lead guitar
- Paul McCartney – bass guitar
- George Martin – piano
It is not known whether or not Lennon played the 12-string Rickenbacker 325 on the track. In Andy Babiuk's The Beatles Gear, Babiuk describes the possibility of the Rickenbacker 325/12. Others say Lennon only used the guitar as a back-up during live performances. The lead guitar solo, however, could be played by Lennon, due to the style and tone, and Harrison could have played his Rickenbacker 360/12. The majority of sources describe the lead guitar as Harrison playing his Gretsch Tennessean twice over. Also, some describe the piano as the work of Paul McCartney, overdubbing it after the basic takes.
Early live performances and BBC versions personnelEdit
- Ringo Starr – lead vocals (on BBC versions only), drums
- John Lennon – lead guitar, lead vocals (on early live performances only)
- George Harrison – rhythm guitar
- Paul McCartney – bass guitar
|US Billboard Hot 100||17|
|US Cash Box Top 100||17|
Carl Perkins' "Matchbox", along with "Blue Suede Shoes", "Honey Don't", and "Gone, Gone, Gone" was performed live on February 19, 1987, at the Palomino Club in North Hollywood, California, by George Harrison, Bob Dylan, John Fogerty, Taj Mahal, and Jesse Ed Davis. This performance was filmed and recorded. The assembled musicians were dubbed "The Silver Wilburys", perhaps a reference to an earlier name for The Beatles, the Silver Beetles.
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"Matchbox" is covered by Robert Britton Lyons portraying Carl Perkins in the Broadway production Million Dollar Quartet and on the original Broadway cast recording. Lee Ferris also covers the song and portrays Carl Perkins in the First National Touring Production of Million Dollar Quartet.
The song is also included in the Paul McCartney live album Tripping the Live Fantastic as a soundcheck tune between concert songs; it has been performed by McCartney in every tour as a soundcheck song. McCartney also released a live soundcheck recording of the song as a bonus Back in the U.S. DVD release in 2002.
In 1985 it was played at the Blue Suede Shoes: A Rockabilly Session made-for-TV concert in London, with Perkins, Starr and Eric Clapton alternating the lead vocal. McCartney also performed the song during his Unplugged concert for MTV in 1991 (although the song does not appear on the album).
Jerry Lee Lewis released his version of the song on his 1958 eponymous Sun LP, SLP 1230, and as a Sun EP, EPA-110. The recording also appears on the 1984 Rhino Records greatest hits compilation Jerry Lee Lewis: 18 Original Sun Greatest Hits. Jerry Lee Lewis also recorded a live version in 1964 on the landmark Live at the Star Club, Hamburg album, regarded critically as one of the greatest live albums ever released.
Ronnie Hawkins recorded the song in 1970 with Duane Allman on slide guitar and released it as a 45 single, "Matchbox" backed with "Little Bird" on Hawk, IT 301, in Canada. The song was originally released on the eponymous 1970 Ronnie Hawkins LP, Cotillion SD 9019. Johnny Rivers recorded the song in 1998.
Derek and the Dominos featuring Eric Clapton performed and recorded the song with Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash on The Johnny Cash Show on ABC-TV on November 5, 1970. The performance by Derek and the Dominos, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash appears on the 40th anniversary edition of the Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, which won the 2011 Grammy Award for Best Surround Sound.
Carl Perkins performed the song live at the 1990 Farm Aid benefit concert.
Ringo Starr performed the song on the 2014 CBS TV special The Night That Changed America: A Grammy Salute to The Beatles.
Ringo Starr and His All-Star Band have performed the song live as the opening track of their concert setlists.
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