In 1954, when Johnny Cash walked into Sun Studios in Memphis, Tennessee for an audition he was an unknown musician. Just earlier that year, Elvis Presley had cut a record in the same studio and was now becoming a rising regional star. Cash played a few gospel numbers, but Sun Studios owner Sam Philips was unimpressed by his gospel sound. A few weeks later Cash returned to the studio with an original song “Hey Porter,” that was a little more raw and showcased Cash’s more frenetic style. That song along with “Cry, Cry, Cry” were recorded and met with some success by country listeners. Over the next couple of years Johnny Cash continued recording and touring as a Sun Studio artist. He even took part in the legendary December 4, 1956 impromptu jam session with Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins known as the Million Dollar Quartet.
By 1957, Johnny Cash broke onto the country and pop charts with his hits “Folsom Prison Blues” and “I Walk the Line.” Feeling constrained by his contract with Sun Records, Cash left the label to sign with Columbia Records in 1958. It was with Columbia Records that Johnny Cash wrote one of his biggest hits, “Don’t Take Your Guns To Town.”
“Don’t Take Your Guns To Town” is a song about a young cowboy who ignores the advice of his mother and is subsequently killed in a gunfight at a saloon. Released in December 1958, it jumped to number one on the country charts were it remained for 6 weeks. Following the success of this song, Ed Sullivan invited the rising country western star to appear on his popular variety show.
On the February 8, 1958, John Cash closed out The Ed Sullivan Show with his hit “Don’t Take Your Guns To Town.” The performance was set against a western town with two kids dressed as cowboys and a horse partaking in the act. A young Johnny Cash, remarkably not in his usual black suit, sings the sorrowful number in his deep, distinctive baritone voice. Although he only made one appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, it was a memorable one that really showcased a classic Johnny Cash.
Over the next four decades Johnny Cash would continue to pioneer rockabilly music going onto become one of the country’s most influential musicians and an American icon. His life story was recently retold in the 2005 Academy Award-winning biopic Walk the Line.