Johnny Cash With His Hot And Blue Guitar was the debut album for both Cash and his record label, the legendary Sun Records in Memphis, Tennessee. Released in October 1957 it contained a mix of covers and original material, including "I Walk the Line" and "Folsom Prison Blues." Talk about starting as you mean to go on. The first track was a cover of Lead Belly's version of "Rock Island Line." It was probably a prison work song and was first recorded by American folklorist John A. Lomax at either Cumins State Prison in Gould, Arkansas (if you believe the exhaustive Penguin Book of American Folk Songs, edited by Lomax's son Alan) or Arkansas State Penitentiary in Little Rock (if you believe the Library of Congress) in the fall of 1934. Lead Belly was travelling with Lomax at the time, after his release from Angola Prison in Lousiana in August 1934. So do you believe the son of the guy who was there or the Library of Congress? That's a tough call for me, actually. Anyway, Leadbelly rearranged the song and recorded it in 1942 and it's his version that Cash covered as his first track on his first album.
I'm not certain what year this performance was but I'm guessing sometime in the 70s based on Roy Clark's pimp hat.
Since this is the first post in this series I'm going to give you guys a bonus song and to neatly bookend it we're going the whole way to the end of Cash's long career. In 2002 he released the album American IV: The Man Comes Around produced by Rick Rubin's American Recordings label. There were ultimately seven records in the series and most of the tracks were covers. Trent Reznor released "Hurt" on the 1994 Nine Inch Nails album The Downward Spiral. It was a huge hit for them (107.7 The End in Seattle used to play it every morning at about 6:15; a beautiful song but a depressing way to start the day). When NIN toured with David Bowie in 1995 Reznor and Bowie performed this song as a duet.
Reznor and Bowie are tough to follow but Cash's video is -- okay, I'm tearing up as I'm writitng this. This was Cash's last video and as swan songs go it's stunning. If you've never seen it please prepare yourself before you click.
Three of the American recordings were released posthumously and we'll be exploring each of them in the next months/years/till I run out of material. In his long career he released over 50 albums so we should be good through...did I say 2023? There abouts. Have a great Wednesday.