Carl Perkins is surely the unsung hero of rock and roll.
He was there at the beginning, making music for Sam Phillips at Sun Records in Memphis, which also discovered the likes of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis. But most casual music fans, if they know him at all, know him simply as the writer of “Blue Suede Shoes” — and even that feat was overshadowed when, after Perkins got in a car crash on the way to a TV appearance that was to be his big break, Elvis’ version of the song caught fire.
Those of discriminating taste have always recognized Perkins’ virtues — like those Fab Four characters, who recorded not one but two Perkins compositions on their “Beatles for Sale” album. And he’s been recognized in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — and the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, and the Memphis Music Hall of Fame. Still, he’s nowhere near the household name he could, or should be.
“His story is so — in a way it’s a little bit sad and unfortunate,” said Sam Sherwood, the Naples native who plays Perkins in the Geva Theatre Center production of “Million Dollar Quartet,” which opens last week at the 75 Woodbury Blvd. venue in Rochester. The show, back at Geva by popular demand, is a fictionalized version of a real gathering on Dec. 4, 1956, an informal jam between Perkins, Presley, Cash and Lewis. The show features many of their big hits, the likes of “Great Balls of Fire,” “Matchbox,” “I Walk the Line” and “Hound Dog.”
“Million Dollar Quartet” was last year’s season closer for Geva — a complete sellout that was extended for an extra week, and whose popularity virtually demanded a return for a limited run. The new run began June 14 and continues through July 8, under the direction of Hunter Foster. The book is by Floyd Mutrux and Colin Escott, based on an original concept by Mutrux — and inspired by the music of Carl, Elvis, Johnny and Jerry Lee. Taylor Gray, James Ludwig, Trent Rowland and Aaron Staebell reprise their roles as Lewis, Phillips, Presley and Fluke, respectively.