Undoubtedly the most famous and influential country singer of all time, Johnny Cash's unmistakeable style embraced rock and roll, rockabilly, blues, folk, and gospel. This memorable collection of songs recorded during his first prodigious burst of creativity laid the foundations of the legend of 'The Man In Black'.
Johnny Cash was working as an appliance salesman when he walked into the Sun studio in Memphis one day in late 1954 and asked Sam Phillips for an audition. A few months earlier, Phillips had released Elvis Presley's first single 'That's All Right Mama'. Popular music was changing fast and the world would never be the same again.
Phillips was initially unimpressed with Cash's old-fashioned gospel-styled songs and, according to legend, told him to 'go home and sin, then come back with a song I can sell.'
Several months later in March 1955, Cash returned with his backing band of guitarist Luther Perkins and bassist Marshall Grant - known as The Tennessee Two - and recorded 'Hey Porter.' By the summer, the song had hit number fourteen on the country and western chart and earnt Cash his first royalty cheque for the princely sum of $2.41.
It was the beginning of an astonishing and prolific spell as a Sun recording artist. Between 1955 and 1958, Cash recorded more than 80 songs for the label which spanned country, blues, folk and balladry, with an irresistible backbeat that came to be dubbed rockabilly. Part of an extraordinarily talented roster of artists on Sun, he also recorded an impromptu jam session with label mates Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Presley, which was later released as The Million Dollar Quartet.
His 1957 debut album, Johnny Cash With His Hot and Blue Guitar, was the first LP to appear on the label. Yet by the release of his second album, 1958's Johnny Cash Sings The Songs That Made Him Famous, he had already left Sun, lured away by a lucrative contract with Columbia.
That wasn't going to stop Phillips, who had smartly stockpiled sufficient material for a further five albums, which he released on Sun over the next few years.
On Columbia, Cash went on to become the most famous and influential country singer of all time. But it was the memorable material he recorded for Sun in Memphis in his first prodigious burst of creativity which lay the foundations of the legend of 'The Man In Black' and forms the subject matter of The Rough Guide To Johnny Cash.
Recorded in a raw and at times frenetic style, the power of Cash's Sun discs lies in their sheer energy and earthiness. His voice is robust and characterful and the playing of the Tennessee Two is crisp and confident. Many of these tracks, such as 'Folsom Prison Blues&;rdquo and &;ldquoI Walk The Line', became signature tunes that defined his long career - songs on which the sun will never set.
Bob Dylan called him 'the north star'. 'You could guide your ship by him, the greatest of the greats, then and now,' he wrote on Cash's death in 2003.
Sixty years after the songs in this collection were recorded, they still ring out potent and true.
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