water polo men Carl Perkins always wanted to help other people
A mural featuring a depiction of Carl Perkins is painted on a wall of the Rockabilly Hall of Fame in downtown Jackson.(Photo: KENNETH CUMMINGS/The Jackson Sun)Buy PhotoThe Civic Center that bears his name, numerous events throughout the year with the phrase “Blue Suede” in the title and many things connected to the rockabilly music genre are a part of Carl Perkins’ legacy 20 years after his death.
But his humanitarian efforts that continue to this day are what he cared about most.
More: Remembering Carl Perkins 20 years later
“I remember sitting with him at his house one morning and he’d read a story about a child about the age of his son, Stan, who had been killed by his parents,” said Wes Henley, who toured with Perkins all over the world as his guitarist for more than a decade. From left to right, are: Lee Rocker; Eric Clapton; George Harrison; Carl Perkins; Earl Slick, Ringo Starr; Dave Edmunds; and Slim Jim Phantom. Perkins, the rock n’ roll pioneer whose song “Blue Suede Shoes” and lightning quick guitar playing influenced a slew of performers, died Monday, Jan. 19, 1998. He was 65. (AP Photo/Cinemax, File) Anonymous, ASSOCIATED PRESSFrom that statement came the beginning efforts that formed what’s now known as the Exchange Club Carl Perkins Centerfor the Prevention of Child Abuse.
“A few people put their heads together to bring the prevention center to Tennessee, and they wanted to put Carl’s name to it to give it some instant recognition,” Henley said. “At first, he wasn’t crazy about it because he wasn’t sure what good his name on it would do, but once they explained it, that his name would cause people to want to contribute, he was OK with it.”
Buy PhotoWes Henley, of Jackson, poses for a portrait with a photograph of music legend Carl Perkins on Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2017, at Highland House Productions in Jackson. Henley played guitar in Perkins band and owns a photograph of his last ever recording session in October 1997. “[Perkins] was my hero growing up,” Henley said. “He the reason I started playing guitar in the first place. Personally, I remember him as my fishing buddy. Much like a second father to me. We were very close.” (Photo: Morgan Timms / The Jackson Sun)
There are a number of efforts locally that help the club raise funds and awareness for the prevention of child abuse in the area. The Circle of Hope telethon each August is one of the main fundraisers.
“The first year we had it, we had the goal of $6,000,” Henley said. “It wound up raising $36,000, and Carl couldn’t believe it.
“He wouldn’t be able to believe what that telethon does now, raising more than $1 million every year, sometimes close to $2 million. And every dollar raised at that telethon each year goes straight to the programs the club sponsors.”
Buy PhotoMusician Wes Henley, of Jackson, poses for a portrait Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2017, at Highland House Productions in Jackson. Henley was Carl Perkins guitar player in his band. “I remember [Carl] as a very giving, kind, generous individual who probably did more for the families of this area than anybody,” Henley said. “I really think his true legacy is his work with the Carl Perkins Center.” (Photo: Morgan Timms / The Jackson Sun)
Perkins’ son in lawBart Swiftsaid Perkins’ humble beginnings as the child of sharecroppers in Lake County was what caused him to be so giving to people who needed it.
“As much success as he had professionally, and as much money as he made, he told me a number of times that he never wanted to forget what it felt like to be on the bottom in life,” Swift said. “He always said that he never knew, and none of us really every know, when we can be a great help to someone when they’re on the bottom in their life.
“That’s why he was so nice and generous with his time. If talking with someone or patting them on the back and saying hi made them feel like somebody, then he was glad to do it and he thought everybody should be glad to do it, because all of us are at the bottom of life at some point.”
Buy PhotoA framed photograph of music legend Carl Perkins hangs in the hallway of Wes Henley recording studio, Highland House Productions, on Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2017, in Jackson. The image was taken in October 1997, during Perkins last recording session. (Photo: Morgan Timms / The Jackson Sun)
Henley said Perkins cared nothing about how famous he was compared to how helpful he was.
“Think about it this way: When he died, his funeral was in the chapel at Lambuth University,” Henley said. “Think about the people that were there: Garth Brooks, Wynonna Judd, Johnny and June Carter Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, George Harrison from The Beatles was in Jackson, Tennessee, the governor at the time (Don Sundquist) all these people felt the need to honor this man when he died.
“But he’d have no problem stopping and helping a child who tripped and fell or someone crossing the street who had no means or opportunity to help him back. That was the kind of man he was.”
Other local events tied to the Exchange Club include the Blue Suede Dinner and Auction, which will have its 24th annual edition this year, featuring award winning country music singer Neal McCoy on Feb. 24 at the Carl Perkins Civic Center on South Highland Avenue in Jackson. Coats for Kids is a drive for warm coats in November for underprivileged children in West Tennessee. Rusty Mac Adopt A Teen is another annual drive to supply Christmas gifts for teenagers who live in homes that might not be able to give them gifts, named for local radio host Rusty Mac, who had a heart for teenagers. Santa Cause is another effort at Christmastime to give to the Exchange Club in honor of someone else.