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How Ry Cooder persuaded Rosanne Cash to bring the songs of her dad, Johnny Cash, to Chicago

By August 12, 2019 Entertainment News


Cooder: When I was a kid in school, 4th grade, there were a lot of transplanted Okies and Arkies working in the air factories in LA, and they listened to a hillbilly station that fascinated me: Merle Travis, Speedy West, Webb Pierce, all these honky tonk tunes. Then when Johnny appeared on the scene, those early Sun Records singles, it was a different sound. It wasn’t a band as such, it was an effect — the tape slap, the echo that (producer) Sam Phillips had going. I found out about all this much later, of course, but at the time it sounded deep and mysterious. It was probably Sam’s idea that the song tempo should coincide with the tape echo, so the whole thing shook. Johnny must have thought he was doing folk music, but Sam put Luther’s guitar way up front with that tick-tock rhythm. Luther would pull back and come ahead and create this rhythmic tension. It’s weak when you do it in stereo, but in mono you get this depth, this height. The song that hit me when I was about 8 years old was “Hey Porter.” Every verse is another few miles down the tracks and he (the narrator) wants to get off the train. He’s so impatient to be home in the South. And the people listening were all these homesick transplanted Southerners working in factories. You want to go home but if you go back, you lose your job and you’ll starve. There’s this urgency. It’s real.


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