Matchbox (song)

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For other uses, see Matchbox (disambiguation).
Single by Carl Perkins
from the album Dance Album of Carl Perkins
A-side "Your True Love"
Released 1957 (1957)
Format Ten-inch and seven-inch 45 rpm records
Recorded Memphis Recording Service, Memphis, Tennessee, December 4, 1956[1]
Genre Rockabilly
Length 2:10
Label Sun (no. 261)
Writer(s) Carl Perkins
Producer(s) Sam Phillips

"Matchbox" is a rockabilly song recorded by Carl Perkins in December 1956. It shares some lyrics with 1920s blues songs by Ma Rainey and Blind Lemon Jefferson. Sam Phillips and Sun Records released the song 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. A variety of musicians have recorded the song, including the Beatles.


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).[2] 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.[3][4] Blues author Paul Oliver stated that both Rainey and Jefferson "may have absorbed [the line] from traditional usage." [5][6]

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.

Subsequently, the song was recorded by several blues and country swing musicians, such as Lead Belly, Big Bill Broonzy, the Shelton Brothers, and Roy Newman and His Boys.

Perkins recording[edit]

1957 U.S. sheet music for "Matchbox"

After "Your True Love", Carl Perkins's father Buck suggested that he record "Match Box Blues". Buck knew only a few lines from the 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.[7] Perkins maintained that he had never heard Jefferson's song when he recorded "Matchbox" on December 4, 1956.

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. Jefferson's song is about a mean spirited woman; Perkins' is about a lovelorn "poor boy" with limited prospects.[7] Later that day, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and Lewis were all in the Sun Studio with Sam Phillips. The impromptu group formed at this jam session became known as the Million Dollar Quartet. Perkins performed the song on ABC-TV's Ozark Jubilee on February 2, 1957.

The Beatles rendition[edit]

Song by the Beatles from the album Long Tall Sally (EP)
Released June 19, 1964
Recorded June 1, 1964 (1964-06-01)
Genre Rock and roll, rockabilly
Length 1:57 (misprinted as 1:37 on both singles and albums)
Label Parlophone
Writer Carl Perkins
Producer George Martin

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. George Harrison plays 12-string rhythm guitar, while Lennon plays the lead guitar riffs and solo. (Starr even says on the Live at the BBC version, "All right, John!") "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.[8] "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.

Studio version personnel[edit]

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've 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 personnel[edit]

Silver Wilburys[edit]

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".[9]


"Matchbox" is covered by Robert Britton Lyons portraying Carl Perkins in the Broadway production Million Dollar Quartet and on the original Broadway cast recording.[10] 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. 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.[11] 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. This version and later live versions by Lewis show a distinct awareness of and respect for the blues origins of the song.

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.[12] The song was originally released on the eponymous 1970 Ronnie Hawkins LP, Cotillion SD 9019. Johnny Rivers recorded the song in 1998.

Bob Dylan has recorded several versions of the song which have not been released officially and has performed the song live in concert.[13][14]

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.[15]

Paul McCartney's publishing company MPL Communications administers the rights to the song, which was originally published by Knox Music, Inc., BMI.