Johnny Cash Responded to Major Failure at Sun Records with Two Early Hits, ‘Hey, Porter’ and ‘Cry! Cry! Cry!’

by Joe Rutland
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Johnny Cash wanted to be a country music singer, took a crushing blow from Sun Records’ Sam Phillips, and turned it into two hits.

Cash, forever known as “The Man In Black,” was a young guy looking to make it in music. He moved to Memphis, Tenn, in 1954 with the hopes of breaking on through to musical success.

In order to make ends meet, Johnny Cash would work during the day and play music at night. He was able to join guitarist Luther Perkins and bassist Marshall Grant, known as the Tennessee Two.

Johnny Cash Visits Sun Records, Gets Trashed By Phillips

Johnny Cash mustered up the guts to go and see Sun Records president Sam Phillips. Now Sun Records is where Elvis Presley cut his first records and put the label on the musical map.

As the story goes, Cash went to Phillips and sang a few numbers for him, mostly gospel in tone. Phillips was not impressed. He told Cash to “go home and sin, then come back with a song I can sell,” according to Sun Records’ website.

Cash returned in 1955 with two songs, “Hey, Porter” and “Cry! Cry! Cry!”. He recorded “Hey, Porter,” a song about a train journey home to Tennessee and an excited passenger who keeps asking the porter questions. Cash put down the track on Sept. 1, 1954.

Now “Cry! Cry! Cry!” ended up being the B-side to “Hey, Porter” and that song reportedly sold more than 100,000 copies in the South alone.

Hit Record Allows Cash To Join Louisiana Hayride Tour

That opened a door for Johnny Cash to join the Louisiana Hayride Tour. It ended up being the gate door that he needed to walk through and really give his career a boost.

Cash, though, was just getting started. His next record, “Folsom Prison Blues,” reached Top 5 status on Billboard’s country charts. Johnny Cash followed that one up with “I Walk The Line,” his first No. 1 hit song, also on the country charts.

He enjoyed the success at Sun Records, but the label’s size and seeing Phillips more interested in Jerry Lee Lewis’ career left Cash with a choice. He could stay at Sun or look for a bigger record label.

In 1958, Johnny Cash moved over to Columbia Records for a lucrative deal. On Columbia, he released “Don’t Take Your Guns to Town.” That became a major hit for Cash and he went on from there.

But he turned what could have been a devastating blow to his dreams and didn’t give up. To summarize, Johnny Cash kept fighting for his musical career, choosing success over multiple failures.

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