Tuesday, April 19, 2011
A mere year and seven months after Elvis Presley rocked the world and invented Rock n' Roll, Johnny Cash and his Tennessee Two made the scene, to re-invent Country, Folk, Gospel and Rockabilly. It goes without saying that Cash is one of the most influential recording artist pretty much of all time. I used to joke around with my friends that Johnny Cash actually invented music. I remember having co-workers at Tower that didn't like Cash, so I chastised them by saying they must not like music then, because Johnny invented it!
I'm actually one to talk. I'm a kid who grew up in the 80's and 90's. My first exposure to johnny Cash was actually a toy magazine I used to buy comparing Johnny Cash to a Dengar toy from Star Wars!
The resemblance is truly striking. Weird, right?
For most of my childhood, I knew of Johnny Cash only in this context. Granted I knew he was a country singer (because the magazine said so), but I had in fact, never EVER heard any of music music... until the spring of 2003...
My first thought was "Who is this old man? and why does he think he can just cover Nine Inch Nails like that?" After a few listens I started really liking it, THEN I heard it was Johnny Cash! At this time the only frame of reference I had for the man was still the goofy Star Wars comparison... it was then that I decided to get off my ass and figure this out!
This is where things became discouraging. Finding Johnny Cash albums in the 2000's was pretty hard. Most of what I managed to find were low buget "best of" albums that had been put out by crappy budget labels who had in some way managed to maintain some flimsy rights to distribute his work.
Let me get this bit out of the way. I HATE "best of" albums, HATE them! I hate them because they're a really transparent ploy by the label to hook the fare-weather fans. The people who buy "Best of's" would never buy a real album, because they for the most part, they only care about the hits! Because the hits are what's popular, you're just trying to keep up appearances. I have nothing but disdain for that attitude towards music.
That being said, what I eventually found may as well have been a best of.
If you're a beginner, or even a fare-weather fan, "Johnny Cash With His Hot and Blue Guitar" is a great place to start. I was amazed to see how many of Johnny Cash's most well known and famous tracks actually originated from this record, his very first when he signed up with Sun. At first glance, it seems like just another greatest hits record, what with having "Cry, Cry, Cry", "Country Boy", "I Walk the Line" and "Folsom Prison Blues" all grouped together like that. That is not the case however, his first album really was THAT good. I had actually found this in a box set that has Cash's first seven Sun records in it. Being a new fan, I saw this as the logical place to start. The version that came in the box set even had "Get Rhythm" as a bonus track, along with a few other early demo versions of songs (which I love).
The most poignant memory I have attached to this album is actually my 2005 trip to England and the time I spent with my former fiance. The box set was actually an early Christmas gift for myself, to keep me company on a long flight I was taking to Europe, to spend Christmas with my then-girlfriend and her family. I listened to it tons on the plane ride over, and even more once I arrived. I think the frequency with which I played it sort of grated on my fiance's nerves a bit, as she only listened to the highest quality gothic industrial. However, I think her dad really dug it. Despite being one of the most Scottish guys I ever met, he seemed to have one hell of a soft spot for the American roots music. He really identified with the myhtos of the "Wild West" and was a huge fan of cowboy films. Johnny Cash fit right into that set of interests, and so, he rocked out with me :)
I take some comfort in knowing that while my lady love might have been gnawing at the bit listening to "I Heard That Lonesome Whistle", I was at least scoring bonus points with pops :D
Sadly, as previously indicated, she is an EX-girlfriend, so Johnny may have done more harm than good. Thanks a lot, Johnny! It's okay though, we had a tremendously rough patch, but wound up being pretty good friends anyway. Besides, I need a woman of less discriminatin' tastes in music!
My other strong memories of Johnny Cash involve my time at Tower Records. Remember when I said I often censured my co-workers for not being down with the Cash? Well those co-workers were Tower Records employees, and this was during the height of the "Walk the Line" movie. We got the soundtrack in as a promo, and it was in heavy rotation. Granted they obviously weren't the original versions, but they were passable facsimiles. I was amazed to hear Joaquin Phoenix pull of such a good Johnny Cash impression. The same cannot be said for Reese Witherspoon, however.
Okay singer, but June Carter's forehead was about half this size LAWL!
After work, it was a heart-stopping tradition for the true believers among the night crew to pile into someone's car, and speed away to the nearest Denny's. This tradition on it's own was awesome, but made all the better by the fact that the car ride often contained some form of sing-a-long with whatever was being bumped in the person in question's car stereo. During this time, it was OFTEN Johnny Cash. It was in this way that I memorized most of the words to what later became my favourite songs. "Cocaine Blues" was a frequently played track, mostly because we were a bunch of young punk kids up to no good.
I would like to get more into Cocaine Blues, but that's gonna be in another review, actually, so keep your pants on.
Now, I know I've not been updating as regularly as I'd wanted to originally, so you'll just need to bear with me!
Next reviews will be Buddy Holly and the "Chirping" Crickets, and after that, we take another dive into the macabre with "Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Music to be Murdered By".
See you next time, whenever that might actually be :)