Cash, Johnny - Big River
Type of Spiritual Experience
A description of the experience
Cash – The autobiography of Johnny Cash
Sam Phillips was a man of genuine vision. He saw the big picture, which was that the white youth of the 1950s would go crazy for music that incorporated the rhythms and style of the 'race' records he produced for artists like Howlin' Wolf, Bobby Bland, B. B. King, Little Milton, James Cotton, Rufus Thomas, Junior Parker, and others (a list of names at least as impressive as those of the young white rockabillies with whom he is more famously associated).
He also had a fine eye for talent and potential in individuals, even if it hadn't been pulled out of them before. In my case he saw something nobody else had seen and I hadn't even realized myself. He didn't run with the pack, either (which almost goes without saying, given the originality of his accomplishments). He wasn't one of those many music businessmen/producers who make their living forcing singers and musicians to sound like whatever is selling. He always encouraged me to do it my way, to use whatever other influences I wanted, but never to copy.
That was a great, rare gift he gave me: belief in myself, right from the start of my recording career. I liked working with him in the studio. He was very smart, with great instincts, and he had real enthusiasm; he was excitable, not at all laid-back. When we'd put something on tape he liked, he'd come bursting out of the control room into the studio, laughing and clapping his hands, yelling and hollering “That was great! That was wonderful!' he'd say. 'That's a rolling stone! '(by which he meant it was a hit).
His enthusiasm was fun. It fired us up. And he really did have a genius for the commercial touch, the right way to twist or turn a song so that it really got across to people.
A case in point was 'Big River,' which I'd written in the back seat of a car in White Plains, New York, as a slow twelve-bar blues song and sung that way on stage a few times before I took it into the studio and sang it for Sam. His reaction was immediate: 'No, no, we'll put a beat to that.'
He had Jack Clement get out his J200 Gibson, tune it open, take a bottleneck, and play that big power chord all the way through, and that was just great. I thought it was fabulous. The groove he'd heard in his head was so much more powerful than mine, and I'll always be glad he felt at liberty to push ahead and make me hear it, too.