Perkins, Laura Lee

A cropped headshot of a white woman with black hair and heavy makeup, wearing dangly earrings


Born: 1939

Died: 2018

Laura Lee Perkins was born Alice Faye Perkins, and she grew up in a coal mining town about fifty miles outside of Charleston, West Virginia. Perkins learned to play the guitar and sing at home, and her family was gifted a piano when she was a child. She never took lessons, but taught herself to play proficiently.

When she graduated from high school in 1957, she decided to move to Cleveland, Ohio, where she had heard there were a lot of factories where she might get a job. She was overwhelmed by the big city and moved to the nearby town of Elyria. She got a job as a waitress, and while out driving with friends she met at the diner where she worked, happened to meet local disc jockey Jeff Baxter. Baxter was playing a lot of rock and roll records at the time on WEOL. When he heard her play the piano, he made some demo tapes and sent them to fellow disc jockey Bill Randle—who was well connected in the industry and known for helping to break new rock and roll artists. Randle helped Perkins to secure an opportunity to record for Imperial records in California, all expenses paid.

Perkins cut several sides there, where she was backed by the same band that accompanied Ricky Nelson (she was thrilled that she also got to meet Nelson). The label did some publicity for her—though they appeared to have listed her under several different stage names—and apparently tried to bill her as the “female Jerry Lee Lewis” because of her skill at the piano. Perkins returned to Cleveland, where she had difficulty promoting her recordings. She recalls that being single and working as a waitress, she couldn’t muster the payola required to break through in some markets. She would play record hops where she would lip sync to her Imperial sides. Some of the other acts at the hops she played included Connie Francis, the Everly Brothers, and Fabian.

Later, she relocated to Detroit, where her aunt took an interest in a career—even marching into radio stations and identifying herself as Perkins’s “press agent.” Perkins played a lot in the Detroit area and also toured with a band called Tony Thomas and the Tartans. She paused her music career when she married at age 23, but never quit entirely: she would still go out singing whenever she got the opportunity, and she wrote advertising jingles in the 1980s. She also made an album later in life entitled I’m Back and Here We Go: Laura Lee Perkins, Rockabilly Legend. She died in 2018.

“Kiss Me Baby” / “I Just Don’t Like This Kind of Livin’.” Imperial X5493 (1958).

“Don’t Wait Up” / “Oh La Baby.” Imperial X5507 (1958).

Craig “Bones” Maki, “Laura Lee Perkins Isn’t Lost!” Blue Suede News 70 (Spring 2005), 19–22.

Interview with the author, 1 November 2011.

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