Johnny Cash - The Original Sun Albums 1957-1964 album review

Birth of a legend, in a beautifully packaged eight-disc set

Cover art for Johnny Cash - The Original Sun Albums 1957-1964 album

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In common with Elvis Presley, The Man In Black was signed to Sam Phillips’ groundbreaking Memphis label for a relatively short time. History doesn’t tell us if, like The King, Cash’s contract was sold on for a pittance to help balance the books, but in this instance Phillips was savvy enough to stockpile material before another of his young charges fled the nest.

Cash released a slew of singles while at Sun, including such classics as I Walk The Line and Folsom Prison Blues, and he was the first in the stable to be granted a long player, 1957’s Johnny Cash _With His Hot And Blue Gu_itar. Over the next 12 months he was a frequent visitor to the Union Avenue studio, recording upwards of half a dozen songs per session, before moving to Columbia Records in late ’58. Phillips subsequently mixed and matched the tapes in his vaults to compile the other albums in this box set, some based on specific subject matter (the railroad themed All Aboard The Blue Train).

Unsurprisingly, there’s a rawness, a stripped-back rockabilly vibe that’s closer to fellow Sun luminaries Carl Perkins or Billy Lee Riley than the rugged elder statesman country that distinguished Cash’s 60s recorded output. He has a foot in both camps on Charlie Feathers’s I Forgot To Remember To Forget (also covered by Presley while at Sun), his commanding baritone giving an archetypal tale of heartbreak a sturdy, hymnal quality, but for a pure unadulterated hillbilly howl, look no further than the self-penned Mean Eyed Cat.

Terry Staunton was a senior editor at NME for ten years before joined the founding editorial team of Uncut. Now freelance, specialising in music, film and television, his work has appeared in Classic Rock, The Times, Vox, Jack, Record Collector, Creem, The Village Voice, Hot Press, Sour Mash, Get Rhythm, Uncut DVD, When Saturday Comes, DVD World, Radio Times and on the website Music365.