The Fabulous Johnny Cash



MSRP: $39.99 USD

Cash’s debut Columbia LP contained some of his strongest tunes post Sun Records, including the hits “Blue River” and “I Still Miss Someone” and the now classic “Don’t Take Your Guns to Town.” The sonics were smoother, more “studio,” but his voice retained the immediacy and richness that gave his earlier recordings their gravitas and soul. Mastered by Kevin Gray, the cutting engineer who knows when to leave a good thing alone, this is early Johnny Cash the way you remember it–without the noisy, thin vinyl.

Side A
1. Run Softly, Blue River
2. Frankie’s Man, Johnny
3. That’s All Over
4. The Troubadour
5. One More Ride
6. That’s Enough

Side B
1. I Still Miss Someone
2. Don’t Take Your Guns To Town
3. I’d Rather Die Young
4. Pickin’ Time
5. Shepard Of My Heart
6. Supper-Time


As in its original 1959 release and expanded 2002 reissue, so in this new 180-gram vinyl edition by Impex Records: The Fabulous Johnny Cash consolidates the strengths that had catapulted the singer to regional stardom as a folk-country artist on Sam Phillips’ Sun label and, with its inclusion of two gospel numbers–Dorothy Love Coates’ upbeat “That’s Enough” and the reverent terstimony of Jenny Lou Carson’s “Shepherd of My Heart”–sends a rebuke to Phillips, who believed gospel would be a commercial non-starter for Cash. Certain that such songs would work for him, Cash proved his point on this, his first Columbia album: it fit right in with his own budding mythology as part of a repertoire that includes his self-penned tall tales (the tragic western sage of “Don’t Take Your Guns to Town”), sentimental ballads about home and family (“Pickin’ Time”), and broken-hearted melodies in which nature mirrors his sorrow (“I Still Miss Someone”). Don Law’s spare, uncluttered production fills up a room on this vinyl reissue, with a striking balance between Cash’s authoritative presence and the nuanced, sensitive instrumental (Tennessee Two and others) and vocal (Jordanaires) support. Fabulous, indeed.


Cash’s first album for Columbia Records, following his career-making work at Sun, showed rapid growth: this was released in 1958, but the added maturity and polish were already evident. Not that Cash had abandoned the lean, mean sound of the Sun material – this LP is simply more sophisticated, despite lacking the same number of Cash standards. Still, we do get the moody “Don’t Take Your Guns to Town,” the snappy “One More Ride” and “Frankie’s Man Johnny.” The sound is terrific so the smiling mug on the front seems out of character. But the suit is black, so this is the pure, undistilled stuff that made him an icon.


Johnny Cash, the American icon, “The Man in Black,” was country-music royalty, right down to his marriage to June Carter, princess of country music’s first family. Yet, he rejected the Nashville establishment; his style, both personal and musical, not aligning with the center of the country-music universe. His songs and sound extdended across many genres; rockabilly, rock ‘n’ roll, blues, folk, and gospel. He achieved a rare musical trifecta: Induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and the Gospel Music Hall of Fame.

The Fabulous Johnny Cash — recorded the same year as Sun Records’ impromptu “Million Dollar Quartet” session, 1956 — was his first album for Columbia Records, the label for which he would record for more than 25 years. It was his best studio album for the label, challenged in overall quality only by his live outings at Folsom and San Quentin prisons, and its success was due to the elements of his musical magnetism — his forceful guitar picking and resonant baritone voice — along with his outside attitude.

In fact, The Fabulous Johnny Cash was as much western as it was country, plowing familiar ground for its time. Backed by chugging guitar and rhythmic drumming, Cash hits all of the important themes: cowboy-ing, hard living, heartache, drinking, making music and the power of God. His voice has an aura of reverb, as was the custom for country music in the 1950’s, enhancing its sense of authority. “Frankie’s Man, Johnny,” Cash’s clever reworking of “Frankie and Johnnie” from a musician’s point of view, is the high point of side one, with the gunslinger saga “Don’t Take Your Guns to Town,” also written by Cash, providing some cinematic drama on side two.

Once again, the Impex crew has not only improved upon an original pressing, they’ve done it in an original way. The sound of this reissue is full and fully integrated, not parsed and scrubbed of its wholeness. Cash’s voice is more booming, seemingly coming from deeper within his chest, the twangy reverb complementary instead of overwhelming, as it is on the thinner, grayer-sounding Columbia LP. Of course, the reissue also has the advantage of the RIAA EQ curve on its side, what most will use for playback, although even with the Columbia curve dialed in, the original LP’s leaner midbass and reduced authority are obvious. the reissue’s RTI pressing is superbly quiet, letting all of the music’s fine detail shine through.

Johnny Cash’s series of stripped-down albums with producer Rick Ruben areoften the way younger listeners first encounter him, his voice far mellower and not as sure. He’s in his prime on The Fabulous Johnny Cash, singing with all the power and grip of a young man, and his choice of material is astutely guided. If you think, as I do, that country music has seriously lost its way, this album will remind you just how it has gone off the track.