When Johnny Cash had his own TV show for three years starting in '69 he would turn to the camera and in a low gruff voice intone "Hello, my name is Johnny Cash." The stage lights would reveal a man with a rugged face who'd packed too much living in too few years. Beat up but not broken. Weary but ready to fight.
Arkansas-born Cash did a stint in the Air Force before moving to Memphis. There he got married and began playing local clubs. Seeing Elvis Presley's success on the local Sun Records label Cash, Carl Perkins and guitarist Marshall Grant auditioned for owner Sam Philips as a Gospel trio. But Philips didn't think much of the act and insisted the only way they'd make it was as "Country" singers. "Hey Porter" was Cash's first release. It's probably the best song about traveling South and going home ever written. A perfect blend of Country and the emerging Rockabilly. But the two songs that stand out from his early Rockabilly period were "Folsom Prison Blues" and "I Walk The Line." The former was an intense view of convict life with a click-clack guitar imitating a train rolling down the tracks ("I hear that train a-comin'"). The latter was a brooding song about blind love.
On December 4th, '56, Elvis Presley was home for the holidays and decided to stop by Sun Studios. There he found Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis. The four started singing together - mostly Gospel songs. Somebody had the presence of mind to snap a picture of the four (Lewis, Perkins and Cash standing around Elvis who was seated playing the piano). Before anyone thought to roll the tape, Cash's wife came and dragged him off to do some Christmas shopping. It might not have seemed like much at the time but it was the only occasion these four titans ever performed together. It was dubbed the Million-Dollar Quartet. That was a gross under-valuation.
Alcohol and drug problems sidetracked Cash's career in the late '50s and early '60s. He eventually married June Carter, of Country music's famed Carter family, and that relationship probably saved his life. When Cash re-surfaced, he was a firebrand Country singer and certainly not part of the Nashville music factory. He wrote and recorded a wide variety of songs (about prison, romance, fallen heroes, drifting and working) but always from the common man's point of view.
For Bob Dylan's "Nashville Skyline" album, Cash and Dylan performed a duet on "Girl From The North Country." In the '80's, Cash cut a version of Bruce Springsteen's "Johnny 99." There was a desperation and fierceness not even found in the original.
Cash is the only person elected to the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame, the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Songwriter's Hall of Fame. Not a bad run. But there's more. At age 71, Cash earned a 2003 MTV Video nomination for his cover of Nine Inch Nail's "Hurt." Later that year, Cash, a true legend, died (9/12/03) of complications from diabetes.
1957 Johnny Cash With His Hot and Blue Guitar
1958 Sings The Songs That Made Him Famous
1958 The Fabulous Johnny Cash
1963 Ring Of Fire: The Best of Johnny Cash
1964 Bitter Tears: Ballads of the American Indian
1964 The Original Sun Sound Of Johnny Cash
1964 I Walk the Line
1965 Orange Blossom Special
1970 Hello, I'm Johnny Cash
1970 The World of Johnny Cash
1971 Man in Black
1976 One Piece At A Time
2002 American IV: The Man Comes Around
2006 American V: A Hundred Highways
1968 At Folsom Prison
1969 At San Quentin
1970 The Johnny Cash Show
Though best known as a Country superstar, Johnny Cash was there (along with Presley, Lewis and Perkins) as Sun Records made its mark on Rock 'n' Roll. "Original Golden Hits Volume 1" has the early classics "Folsom Prison Blues" and the moody "I Walk The Line." This compilation also contains two lesser known, but equally brilliant tracks: "Hey Porter" and the euphoric "Get Rhythm." "Golden Hits Volumes 2 & 3" wrap up Cash's Sun career and each has excellent tracks. After that Cash signed with Columbia Records for a long career as a major Country performer. From this period "Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison" is an incredible live album with enough earthy-grit to recommend it.
"Johnny 99" was a commercial failure that led Columbia to drop Cash after a twenty-five year association. However, out there somewhere is Cash's smokin' version of the Springsteen penned title track. It ranks not only as the best Springsteen cover, it's also a potent Rocker that can't stay lost.
American Recordings revived Cash's career with a series of highly praised (rightly so) CDs featuring Cash doing interpretive Folk and Blues. These bare bones productions clearly illustrate Cash's exceptional talents.