Like several other (but not all) key Sun artists, Johnny Cash came to the label with his signature sound already intact. Over that boom-chicka beat created by bassist Marshall Grant and guitarist Luther Perkins, Johnny's stark baritone carried the songs; even when he soloed, Perkins 'rudimentary boogie lines did little more than restate the rhythm. It was minimalist music that couldn't have been simpler, and once heard it was impossible to get out of one's mind. Johnny's extraordinary voice was the key, but it didn't hurt that he had such evocative material, from the giddy Southern pride of "Hey, Porter!" to the doominess of "Folsom Prison Blues," from the eloquent hillbilly poetry of "Big River" to the unwavering devotion of "I Walk the Line." With its weird-sounding chords and ever-shifting keys, that song's extension of the Cash sound resonated like nothing before or since. Even as his material became more conspicuously targeted for the teen market, Cash remained his own man; "Ballad of a Teenage Queen" may have been lightweight by his standards, but "Guess Things Happen That Way" has a fatalism and finality that are unnerving. Cash's earliest Sun singles were country music for people with raw nerve endings, very much in the emotional vein of the Carter Family's fabled line, "It takes a worried man/ To sing a worried song."
By John Morthland on 07.29.09 in Icons
Johnny Cash, who would have been 80 on February 26, is still everywhere in American culture. He's on TV commercials and in videos, on radio and in what's left of record stores. From 1955, when he signed with Sun Records,...
By John Morthland on 09.30.14 in Features
The man who invented modern Americana was also its biggest cut-up.
By Andrew Parks on 06.24.14 in News
"It's a frustrating job in many respects," producer Rick Rubin says of his chosen profession in a recent interview with BBC Radio 1 DJ Zane Lowe. "It's like fishing. You can go out fishing, but you can't say, 'I'm going...
By Andrew Parks on 03.25.14 in News
"When these tapes were rediscovered and I heard them again, I was reminded of this man who was my friend," John Carter Cash told the LA Times, after being asked about Johnny Cash’s lost album, Out Among the Stars....