From 1954 to 1958, Johnny Cash belonged to the Sun Records roster. During that time, the Arkansas-born singer brought down-home credibility to rockabilly, a blend of rock’s early sound and country music’s roots as “hillbilly music.” Although Cash eventually became the proto-outlaw “Man in Black ,” he spent his formative years as a peer to Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis.
Footage from that time period shows Cash and the Tennessee Two on Tex Ritter’s Ranch Party television show. They power through a rollicking take of “Get Rhythm.” High-octane rock ‘n’ roll drives the story of a shoe-shine boy with a surprisingly positive lease on life. Plus, it captures the raw energy of Cash’s original backing band, guitarist Luther Perkins and bassist Marshall Grant. With the band in full swing, Cash confidently declares it’s “just like on the record!”
Cash achieved country music stardom in the 1960s, primarily behind legendary live albums recorded at Folsom Prison and San Quentin State Prison. The following decade, his gospel music passions took greater priority. Throughout the ’70s, Cash and wife June Carter Cash made regular appearances with the Billy Graham Crusades. The scriptures always had sway over Cash’s lyrics, as evidenced by “Belshazzar” and other tracks from the Sun years. Although the spiritual output during those Sun years might’ve rocked way too hard for Graham’s audience.
Cash’s influences, from the “devil’s music” to the hymnal, shaped the legend behind one of popular music’s defining voices.