Elvis Presley: How Johnny Cash Inspired One of the King’s Classics

by Allison Hambrick

The friendship between Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash was the stuff of legends. The musicians performed together a number of times, though the King and the Man in Black seemed like a mismatch.

In fact, it was Elvis who introduced Cash to his second wife, June Carter Cash. While that is the ultimate favor, Cash repaid him unintentionally in a major way. Though the King popularized the song, “Blue Suede Shoes” was written by Carl Perkins, who also first released the song. Interestingly, Cash revealed the true inspiration for the hit in his book, Cash: The Autobiography.

“I told Carl about C. V. White and the blue suede shoes. 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.

“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.'”

Johnny Cash, Cash: The Autobiography

“Blue Suede Shoes” went on to be one of Elvis’s biggest early hits, so it’s safe to say that Cash more than paid the King back for introducing him to June.

Elvis Talks Movies And Wanting to Return to the Stage

With or without “Blue Suede Shoes,” Elvis was destined for stardom. He loved performing from a young age. However, at the height of his fame, the King transitioned into being a movie star. While this decision mad him even more famous, he yearned for the stage and for more creative freedom.

“We’ve now completed all the deals I made when I came out of the Army in 1960,” Elvis said in a 1969 interview. “And from now on, I’m going to play more serious parts and make fewer films. I wouldn’t be being honest with you if I said I wasn’t ashamed of some of the movies, and the songs I’ve had to sing in them. I would like to say they were good, but I can’t.

“I’ve been extremely unhappy with that side of my career for some time,” the King continued. “But how can you find 12 good songs for every film when you’re making three films a year? I knew a lot of them were bad songs and they used to bother the heck out of me. But I had to do them. They fitted the situation.”

The musician opened up about how the thought of singing again got him “hyped up.”

“I’ve always wanted to perform on the stage again for the last nine years,” Elvis said. “And it’s been building up inside of me since 1965 until the strain became intolerable.”

After he made a return to the stage in a residency slot at The International Hotel in Las Vegas, Elvis explained that he was back where he belonged.

“I don’t think I could have left it much longer,” the musician concluded.

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