Happy 60th Anniversary to Johnny Cash’s debut album Johnny Cash with His Hot and Blue Guitar, originally released October 11, 1957.
This year marks the 60th anniversary of Johnny Cash's landmark debut album Johnny Cash with His Hot and Blue Guitar. Released on October 11, 1957, it, like many rock & roll and country albums, showcased country roots. Cash, like Elvis, was steeped in gospel influences, but was told to tone it down on this album because it wasn't commercial. Country music was booming in the 1950s, with Conway Twitty, Hank Williams and Patsy Cline leading the pack with down home rhythms and fix-it-Jesus lyrics.
This debut album went on to spawn four hit singles in " I Walk the Line," "So Doggone Lonesome," "Cry! Cry! Cry!," and "Folsom Prison Blues" and cemented Cash's rightful place in the hallowed halls of not only country music history, but gospel and rock & roll as well. Cash realized he had a flair for crossover hits with "I Walk the Line," which remained number one on the country charts for six weeks before moving over to the pop Top 20.
The first two tracks, "Rock Island Line" and "I Heard That Lonesome Whistle," tell stories of life on the railroad, a common theme in Cash's material. It's a bit of a precursor to his eighth studio album, Ride This Train (1960), which was considered Cash's first concept album and a travelogue. He also did a documentary with the same title, where he took us on a journey through the history of the railroad, focusing on how the railroad helped build America. Railroad life is a vagabond lifestyle but it's also one where men got to see and experience different parts of the country, adding that to their life’s narrative. Just as the landscapes they saw were shaped and molded by environment, so were the men of the railroad.
“Country Boy,” espouses the virtues of growing up in the country. It touches on the simplicity and beauty of coming of age in Smalltown U.S.A. “Cry! Cry! Cry!,” was Cash’s first hit, selling a healthy 100,000 copies in the southern states alone and helping to formally launch his career. He kicked off a co-headlining tour with Elvis as a result of the success of this song and the mysterious troubadour was introduced to the world.
“I Walk the Line” was Cash’s first number one hit on the Billboard charts and hovered there for a solid 43 weeks. “Folsom Prison Blues” is the epitome of his country roots-and-boots spirit, combining the familiar train and prison themes. Country music is all about storytelling and they’re usually not happy stories. It’s like the blues, but with a guitar instead of a harmonica. Whereas most modern mainstream country music is incredibly pop-influenced and polished, Cash’s brand is original and raw and embraces triumph over hardship. His songs offer timeless messages and laser-sharp introspection, tonic for the soul.
This serious, humble performer didn't revolutionize one genre, but proved he could overlap into many. With his molasses-rich baritone voice, somber delivery, trademark black wardrobe and three-man backing, this iconic singer-songwriter covered blues, rockabilly, rock & roll, folk, rockabilly and gospel. The "Man in Black" was relatable because of his hard knock life lyrics and real-life trials and tribulations; his album sales proved that people couldn't get enough of him.
"Folsom Prison Blues” became sort of a theme song for him as he always opened with it when touring. He recorded a live version at the prison and it shot to number on the charts in 1968. This music icon's popularity stemmed not only from his talent but also because he was a mirror reflecting American society: well-meaning, but deeply flawed. On the 60th anniversary of With His Hot and Blue Guitar, we acknowledge the organic artistry of this quintessential everyman’s opus.