In honor of the passing of my stepdad Dennis E. Blurton on July 13th, I hereby review this classic album...
Johnny Cash With His Hot and Blue Guitar was the first LP Sun Records ever put out, and it's a veritable greatest hits collection of the Man in Black at his youngest best. Basically a culling of his first singles and some cuts that hadn't been issued yet, Hot and Blue Guitar is the album to judge all country records by, which means topping this one will be a feat of major proportions. "Cry! Cry! Cry!" was Cash's first 45, followed by "Folsom Prison Blues" and "I Walk the Line," which are three superb slices of mid '50s country, mixing blues, folk and primal rockabilly into a unique music that hadn't been heard before. Also on the record are "(I Heard That) Lonesome Whistle," "Rock Island Line" (a traditional folk song), "So Doggone Lonesome," "Wreck of the Old '97" and a few more, all showcasing Johnny's different sides... his spiritual side ("I Was There When It Happened"), his dark side ("Doin' My Time"), his downhome "ah, shucks" side ("Country Boy").
The subjects Cash takes on on this record were the foundation for all that would follow in his storied career. Though he would later get more and less political, do full albums of gospel or spiritual records, and take cracks at things that were surely suggested by the record label (like his version of Marty Robbins' Gunfighter Ballads) and not altogether successful, we all know that there will never be another Johnny Cash.
With His Hot and Blue Guitar was in my stepdad's meager record collection, and when I was nine or ten he hired me and my stepbrother Dave to transcribe the songs on the album so he could play them on his old Gibson acoustic. Dave and I wrote out the lyrics as best as we could, definitely getting some of the words wrong, but having a great time. When we thought we had each one down, I typed it out on Denny's old typewriter. Eventually he wrote in the chords, or just played along to them, and David and I learned a few ourselves ("Folsom Prison Blues" being our favorite to play). We found the folder of all these songs in our dad's stuff last week, and it brought back lots of great memories. Here's to you, DB, for instilling in me the confidence to learn a song and then sing it in front of my friends and family. I owe you one!
5/5 (Sun; reissued by Varese Sarabande)