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The Complete Sun Recordings 1955-1958, Johnny Cash

Time Life Records (Sun Records), November 8, 2005

Track Listing: Disc 1: 1. Wide Open Road, 2. Hey Porter, 3. Cry, Cry, Cry, 4. My Two Timin’ Woman, 5. Port of Lonely Hearts, 6. I Couldn’t Keep from Crying, 7. Trail to Mexico, 8. Folsom Prison Blues, 9. So Doggone Lonesome, 10. Mean Eyed Cat, 11. Luther Played the Boogie, 12. Get Rhythm, 13. I Walk the Line, 14. Train of Love, 15. There You Go, 16. I Love You Because, 17. Goodbye Little Darlin’, 18. Straight A’s in Love, 19. You’re My Baby (Little Woolly Booger), 20. My Treasure. Disc 2: 1. Next in Line, 2. Don’t Make Me Go, 3. Give My Love to Rose, 4. Home of the Blues, 5. Rock Island Line, 6. Wreck of the Old 97, 7. Country Boy, 8. Doin’ My Time, 9. If the Good Lord’s Willing, 10. I Heard That Lonesome Whistle Blow, 11. I Was There When It Happened, 12. Remember Me (I’m the One Who Loves You), 13. Belshazzar, 14. Big River, 15. Goodnight Irene, 16. Ballad of a Teenage Queen, 17. Come in Stranger, 18. Guess Things Happen that Way, 19. Oh, Lonesome Me, 20. Leave that Junk Alone. Disc 3: 1. You’re the Nearest Thing to Heaven, 2. The Story of a Broken Heart, 3. Sugartime, 4. Born to Lose, 5. Always Alone, 6. You Tell Me, 7. Life Goes On, 8. You Win Again, 9. I Could Never Be Ashamed of You, 10. Hey, Good Lookin’, 11. I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still in Love with You), 12. Cold, Cold Heart, 13. Blue Train, 14. Katy Too, 15. The Ways of a Woman in Love, 16. Fools Hall of Fame, 17. Thanks a Lot, 18. It’s Just About Time, 19. I Forgot to Remember to Forget, 20. I Just Thought You’d Like to Know, 21. Down the Street to 301

There’s nothing that stirs my imagination like the sound of a steam locomotive—that lonesome whistle cutting through the night and that column of black smoke and steam throwing shadows across the land. When I was a boy, the trains ran by my house and they carried with them a promise that somewhere down the track anything would be possible.

-Johnny Cash

There’s a man, although not much more than a boy, rotting inside a prison cell in Texas. He has time to kill—nothing but time—and spends much of it retracing the path that led to this end of the line.

But how can a story start at the end? The real beginning has got to be traced to somewhere else, perchance somewhere along the tracks: boom-chugga-chugga, boom-chugga-chugga.

“I hear the train a comin’
It’s rollin’ ’round the bend
And I ain’t seen the sunshine
Since, I don’t know when
I’m stuck in Folsom Prison
And time keeps draggin’ on
But that train keeps a-rollin’
On down to San Antone”

-from “Folsom Prison Blues”

PUT YOURSELF AT EASE in the comfort and privacy of a Pullman. So said the advertisement that caught the imagination of one Jack Winters. It was all the bait that was needed, stirring emotions that Jack was not even aware existed, setting the course of events into action.

This particular GS-1 4-8-4 Golden State steam locomotive cut west through the U.S. in a mighty splendor. The year was 1940, and the Southern Pacific’s Sunset Route from New Orleans to San Francisco had gone back to all-Pullman status, American luxury in all its splendor. From the breathtaking virgin coastline views to the exclusively air conditioned all-private sleeping cars—no coach here—what could be finer?

“Hey porter, hey porter
Would you tell me the time?
How much longer will it be
’Till we cross that Mason-Dixon line?
At daylight would you tell
That engineer to slow it down?
Or better still, just stop the train
’Cuz I wanna look around”

-fromHey Porter

As the steam engine blew smoke rings around the setting sun, Robert and Daisy Crabtree took their first cuts into perfectly prepared filet mignons, red juices bleeding over gold-rimmed plates that were also adorned with spuds and corn.

At about the exact time that the dining car’s bloody plate was busy signifying real living, there was another pool of red out on a lonely road in Reno that was busy signifying real dying. The man with the guts-a-spillin’ was named Jack—yes, that same Jack of Winters. He was shot three times and left to die on the side of the road with nothing to hang on to but final thoughts of his one and only Ellie Mae. Strange to think that the life of a man could end like this—for no other reason than a sorry trail of chance and some sick and crazy urge a stranger has to watch another man die. Just because. Boom-chugga-chugga, boom-chugga-chugga.

“When I was just a baby
My Mama told me, ‘Son
Always be a good boy
Don’t ever play with guns,’
But I shot a man in Reno
Just to watch him die”

-from “Folsom Prison Blues”

To view the fading light of sunset from a train does something to the body and mind. The tracks of freedom against the backdrop of the day’s end mixes right fine. Or maybe it is just how—no matter where you happen to be when the sky begins to bleed—you can tap the power of the universe with just a single western glance.

Ellie Mae was on her daddy’s porch in Little Rock for this sundown, wondering how many more days and nights she would have to endure without her Jack. But her mama reassured her that good ol’ Jack would be back right soon. Any day now. Any day. Just like he promised. When a good man makes a promise, there is nothing more true this side of a blue moon. Sure, Jack may have had a wandering soul, but his heart never left that porch in Arkansas where Ellie Mae now prayed to the setting sun, listening with all her might for that sound—boom-chugga-chugga, boom-chugga-chugga. That train would be passing through as it always did, only this time it would be carrying Jack back home at last.

“Trainman tell me maybe
Ain’t you got my baby
Every so often everybody’s baby gets the urge to roam
But everybody’s baby but mine’s comin’ home”

-from “Train of Love”

If you come to question what separates a man from his one true love only to end up dying on a road in Reno, then go ahead and ask it. Ask it to the mountains, and ask it to the sea. Ask the heavens why it puts in hearts of many this crazy notion about what it means to be free. But know this: since it is a question to be answered by powers greater than you and I, well, the answers are left to the wind, never spoken, never plain to see. Sometimes, things just are the way they are and that is the only answer that can ever be.

“I got in trouble had to roam
I left my gal an’ left my home
I heard that lonesome whistle blow”

-from “I Heard That Lonesome Whistle Blow”

Billy Bob Mason picked up his suitcase that was carrying nothing more than two changes of clothes and a loaded Colt Model 1903 Pocket Hammerless pistol as he got on the train in San Antone.

“There’s an engine at the station
And the whistle blows my name
It’s callin’ callin’ callin’
Come and get aboard the train”

-fromBlue Train

He will always remember the moment he took those steps up onto the train. It was the moment that everything changed forever.

“I’m gonna climb aboard and ride until I learn to smile
I’ll be knockin’ out the blues while I’m knockin’ out the miles
With my guitar beatin’ rhythm to the click-clack of the wheels
I’m gonna sing the blues ’cause that’s the way that I feel”

-fromBlue Train

Billy got his wish to see a man die up close, witnessing the last threads of life plucked away from dying eyes. Just why Billy fancied himself an outlaw is anybody’s guess, but once the last light dimmed from the poor soul who hadn’t done Billy any harm, things couldn’t help but change and change right quick. Funny thing is, from that dreadful moment on, Billy no longer fancied himself an outlaw at all. Hell, as it goes, he didn’t much fancy himself anything at all. If he was honest, he’d have to tell you that he thought of himself as nothing more than the same stupid kid he always was.

The cement walls were as cold as the hard floors and there was nothing but dead air inside the iron bars. Billy Bob Mason now had all the time in the world to try and trace the path that led him from along those tracks to Reno and on to this Texas end, but somehow time had gone up and died along with the need to know any more reasons why.

If only that damn train would stop passing by. That’s the thought that crossed his mind most often now.

“When I hear that whistle blowin’
I hang my head and cry I bet there’s rich folks eatin’
In a fancy dining car
They’re probably drinkin’ coffee
And smokin’ big cigars
But I know I had it comin’
I know I can’t be free
But those people keep a-movin’
And that’s what tortures me”

-from “Folsom Prison Blues”

If only that damn train would stop passing by, stop passing by.