Bear Family described the sets - 'Have you ever wondered what it's like at a recording session? Have you ever wished you could have been a fly-on-the-wall when Johnny Cash, The Everly Brothers, or others were recording in the 1950s and 60s. Now Bear Family take you there. Many record companies kept the tapes rolling as the artist tried one version (or 'take') after another. Then after the session, the producer would choose the best 'take', and the remainder would be stored away never again to see the light of day…until Bear Family came along.'
Towards the end of 2006 I was approached by Richard Weize of Bear Family who asked if I would be interested in putting together the set and, of course, I agreed. My first task was to work out which outtakes had already been issued on the Man In Black 1954-1958 and other releases and compile a spreadsheet detailing where these could be found. I then received nine CDs with various outtakes, false starts and studio chat that also contained some material that had been out before. Unfortunately there were many Sun tracks for which no alternates have survived although what was there made interesting listening.
With a release date set for late-February 2007 I was working to a tight deadline and had to supply a final track listing by the beginning of January. I copied all the material onto the computer as it would be easier to stop and start songs or pick out particular passages than would have been possible on a standard CD player. There were several problems I encountered during the initial stages, not least of which was the lack of information regarding the different versions. Sam Phillips was notoriously bad at keeping records and with no written notes or take numbers to go by it was a case of going through each and every track listening for differences. It wasn’t made any easier by the fact that many of the outtakes sounded so similar. It took several weeks before I had a final track listing finalised which was then sent off to have the tracks remastered.
While I was waiting for CD-Rs to approve I started work on the sleevenotes. Rather than write a track-by-track guide I chose to write an overview of Cash’s career at Sun while picking out the various tracks that were noticeably different. By the end of January the notes were written and sent to the designer to put the booklet together. I checked the CD-Rs which had arrived in the meantime and was impressed with the sound quality which I don’t think has ever sounded this good. In due course I received the proofs of the packaging and booklet which just needed to be checked and then my work was all done. All that was left to do was wait for the finished product to fall through the letterbox.
The CDs, which come in a reproduction tape box, are enclosed in their own individual sleeves. There is a total of one hundred and eleven tracks with over fifty previous unreleased, although not all are complete versions. The 100-page booklet that accompanies the set includes several photos from the period and a wealth of unseen photos of Cash with Johnny Horton which may not be from the period but are a nice addition. I am pleased with the way the set turned out and all I hope is everyone enjoys the set as much as I did putting it together!
Liner Notes - Excerpt
Recorded at the same session was Jimmie Rodger's Brakeman's Blues. It is an ideal song well suited to Cash's style but for some reason, following this short false start and incomplete take where it breaks down on the instrumental break, they did not continue to work on the track.
It has often been said that Cash wrote Get Rhythm with Elvis Presley in mind and although Elvis would have made a good job of the song it would have a been a shame if Cash hadn't recorded his own version, as it is one of his greatest performances. It is one of the few songs where Cash starts a song vocally rather than Luther playing a lead-in. We hear four versions with the first two sounding very similar although there are subtle differences, mainly in the backing and there is a slight lyrical change with Cash singing "He stopped just once to wipe the sweat away" instead of "He stopped once to wipe the sweat away." The Tennessee Two are barely audible on the next take with just Cash and his acoustic guitar up front on the recording. This is more than likely a microphone test and was never intended for release. The final take has a very energetic performance from Cash but is let down by Luther's guitar solo on which he appears to hesitate on some notes.
On Train Of Love we find him following the theme first explored on Hey Porter and one that he would cover many times on singles and albums throughout his career. Of the two alternates featured here, the first is similar to the released take but it is the second that stands out. Taken at a slightly faster tempo there are noticeable differences in Luther's playing. He opens and closes the song with a totally different guitar figure and it leaves you wondering whose decision it was to abandon this style for the simpler work that featured on the released version.
With their popularity spreading most of their time was spent out on the road and it was hard to find time to go back to Memphis and record any new material. Between June 1956 and April 1957 they only managed two sessions and these only produced a couple of tracks.
One More Ride, like Brakeman's Blues, is another incomplete take that falls apart. It is a mystery as to why they gave up on what would have been another song suited to Cash's style. It was the only song recorded at this session in October 1956. Fortunately Cash did return to the song during his early sessions for Columbia.