Below is an exchange from the documentary “Good Rockin’ Tonight.” The documentary was a bit of a gimmick – at least Sam Phillips, guru of Sun Records saw it that way, but it’s very entertaining. It’s a celebration of Sam Phillips and Sun Records, and it features interviews with many of the Sun artists (Rufus Thomas, Billy Lee Riley, Scotty Moore, Sonny Burgess), and the “gimmick” part of it features current artists (Robert Plant, Rob Thomas, Paul McCartney, Third Eye Blind) recording songs made famous by the artists at Sun. So Paul McCartney recorded Elvis’ first song “That’s All Right.” Robert Plant recorded “My Bucket’s Got a Hole In It,” and on and on. Ben Folds chose Carl Perkins’ great song “Honey, Don’t.” “Honey Don’t” was written by Carl Perkins, and first recorded by him in 1955 – clip above – and, of course later it was recorded by The Beatles.
In the exchange below, Ben Folds talks to Jack Clement, the Sun Records engineer, about Carl Perkins’ song “Honey, Don’t,” the song Ben Folds had decided to record for the documentary. And why Ben Folds wanted to do it had to do with that one chord change (that comes after each line: “How come you say you will when you won’t” – ka-boom), the chord change that still gives the song an electric pop, a chord change seen as so weird at the time that people were actually afraid of it. What did it mean? Could you just … do that?
Jack Clement, Sun Engineer: I like that song. I was at Sun when ol’ Carl [Perkins] cut that. Sam [Phillips] was running the board. I hadn’t been there all that long. But I was there and I remember that song real well. I always liked that funny chord change in it.
Ben Folds: Yeah.
Jack: What key is that it in?
Ben: It’s in E. It goes from E to a C.
Jack: It goes to C. Right.
[Ben Folds demonstrates the chord change from E to C.]
Jack: That’s an ear-grabber, you know? I do remember everybody was excited about that song and they all liked that change from E to C.
Ben: That’s basically why I wanted to play it. It was kind of unusual for that time, I think. That’s a strange … It’s weird for now. Cool chords.
Robert Sledge, standup bass player: It’s an awesome song.
Ben Folds: Yeah, it’s a great song.
[Robert Sledge demonstrates the chord change in question.]
Robert: In an interview I heard that [Carl’s] guitar player said, ‘Man, you can’t do that. It’s just not right.” And Carl said, “I can do it.” The guitar player said, “It’s just not right. I don’t know if I want to play that.” And he did it anyway and made history. And it just goes to show you you’ve got to take some chances.