Johnny Cash – The Original Sun Albums 1957-1964

Album Review | Sun/Charly | Review by Allan Wilkinson | Stars: 4/5

If you were to visit Sam Phillips’ legendary Sun Studios in Memphis, you would no doubt be entertained by one of the studio’s current tour guides, who would willingly demonstrate to you just how Johnny Cash achieved his famous guitar sound; by placing a dollar bill between the fretboard of the guitar and the strings. This very distinctive sound is now as legendary as the studios themselves and the seven albums that were originally released on the Sun label between 1957 and 1964 have been gathered together in one package for the first time, sounding just as fresh today as they did at the time of their original release. Concealed within a handsome 60-page LP-sized (or slightly under) book, the eight discs include all seven original albums, the complete Sun 45s and a collection of rare recordings, such as the brilliantly shambolic “You’re My Baby (Little Woolly Booger)”, which sees Cash in playful mood. The 83 songs include one or two duplications, such as “I Walk the Line”, which appears on the first LP, Johnny Cash With His Hot and Blue Guitar and also again on The Songs That Made Him Famous, Johnny Cash Sings Hank Williams (curiously enough), and a fourth time on the RARE! collection. If the immediately recognisable voice of the ‘Man in Black’ is the focal point here, then there is also something enduring about the almost naive muted guitar twang of regular guitar player Luther Perkins, which although was overshadowed by more dexterous guitar players to come, still remains the iconic sound of the time. Despite the seemingly prolific output for Sun, recording such classics as “Folsom Prison Blues”, “Cry Cry Cry”, “Hey Porter” and “Rock Island Line”, which opens this set, Cash was only with the label barely a year, leaving for CBS at the end of 1958, yet it’s with these sides that Cash is remembered. Remastered from the original Sun tapes, the box set is therefore an invaluable record of Cash’s formative recording years, which also gives us an insight into the marketing strategy of a small independent label keen on giving Cash fans precisely what they really wanted at the time. Fortunately those fans, along with a new breed of followers, can now hear the entire Sun collection whilst reading the sleeve notes and track listings precisely how they appeared the first time around sixty years ago. File under essential.