When Elvis changed everything in 1954 with his recording of “That’s All Right” he charted a definite path for rockabilly music. Many artists that came after Elvis followed the trail he blazed and while they each brought their own style–call them diversions from the path–they pretty much blazed ahead in the same direction that Elvis pointed them. But not Johnny Cash. The man in black may have started from the same point that Elvis did (they both got their start on Memphis’ Sun Records at essentially the same time), but he didn’t waste any time in proving that he wasn’t going to follow anyone’s path. Instead, Cash blazed a new trail all his own.
Like Elvis, Johnny Cash began recording for Sun Records at the Memphis Recording Service studios (both the studio and Sun Records were owned and run by Sam Phillips) in 1954. Cash originally wanted to record Gospel music, but Phillips recognized that (again like Elvis) he had something special in Johnny Cash and steered him toward Rockabilly.
But Johnny, while he did record some marvelous rockabilly tunes, was always drawn much more powerfully toward country than Elvis was. So, while Elvis set off to invent rock and roll, Johnny headed off to redefine country music.
Johnny’s early Sun recordings are like Elvis’ in that they were sparsely arranged numbers featuring just Cash and his acoustic guitar, a stand-up slap bass played by Marshall Grant, and lead guitar played by Luther Perkins. But there the similarities ended. Johnny’s recordings were far different than Elvis’ and those that followed Elvis. His rockabilly numbers featured the classically understated lead guitar style that the dead-pan Perkins made famous. Perkins (no relation to rockabilly’s Carl Perkins) didn’t strive to bring excitement to the music the way most other rockabilly guitarists did. Instead he supplied a steady alternating bass line that quickly became Cash’s signature sound.
Even in this early rockabilly, Cash never shook the country music that seemed to course through his veins and it quickly became clear that his path was indeed going to be different than that of the rockers. After his first few great recordings (which met with varying degrees of success) Sun Records released what has become his signature song, “I Walk the Line” backed with the snappy “Get Rhythm” in early 1956. “I Walk the Line” sold over two million copies, peaked at #1 on the Billboard charts and stayed on the charts for nearly an entire year–an amazing accomplishment.
The Man in Black continued to record for Sun for a couple more years and his successes continued, but again like Elvis, Cash became too big for the tiny Sun label to hold and he signed with Columbia in 1958. The rest is country music history.
So, while there were a lot of similarities in the early careers of Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash, the differences became apparent very quickly. Elvis was an all-out rocker and has inspired untold thousands of rock musicians. Johnny on the other hand, played it more reserved and cool as he pursued his country and gospel aspirations. It’s not too many people who would have been able to be thrown into the position of being a contemporary of the King of rock and roll and yet resist what must have been an enormous urge to follow in his successful footsteps. But Johnny Cash was just that kind of man. In his understated way, his presence was every bit as powerful as Elvis’ and so it simply had to be that he would forge his own path in the music world. It’s just another chapter in the amazing story that rockabilly wrote.
Buster Fayte is an author and rockabilly musician. He Blogs at “Buster Fayte’s Rockabilly Romp” where he writes about the passion he shares with millions of musicians and fans for rockabilly and oldies music. Buster has written several books including the “Complete Home Music Recording Start Kit”. He writes original songs, sings, and plays both guitar and bass.
Article Source: EzineArticles.com