johnny cash and elvis presley

The Man And The Mistakes That ‘Invented Rock 'n’ Roll’

Sam Phillips, founder of the label Sun Records, didn’t care much about making flawless recordings. Instead, the man who discovered Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Howlin’ Wolf, Charlie Rich, Roy Orbison and a host of others rejected perfection in favor of spontaneity and individuality.

“Sam would say, 'I hate that word, perfection. It should be banned from the English language,’” music writer Peter Guralnick tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross. “He didn’t care about the mistakes; he cared about the feel.”

In his new book, Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock 'n’ Roll, Guralnick chronicles Phillips’ work at Sun and his lasting impact on the music industry.

Photo: Courtesy of Tom Salva/Little Brown & Co

Not everyone can claim to have been introduced to their significant other by Elvis, but that’s who led June Carter to Johnny Cash. Elvis and June (with The Carter Family) were on tour, and one day Elvis was trying to tune his guitar while singing, “A-ummm.” When June asked what he was doing, Elvis said, “I’m trying to sing like Johnny Cash.” When June confessed that she didn’t know who that was, Elvis replied, “Oh you’ll know Cash. The whole world will know Johnny Cash. He’s a friend of mine.” For the rest of the tour, Elvis would play Johnny Cash songs on jukeboxes throughout their travels.

Later, after that tour, Carter was backstage at the Grand Ole Opry, tuning her guitar and singing “A-ummm” like Elvis imitating his friend Johnny. When she looked up she saw Cash himself standing there. She wrote of that moment: “Johnny Cash took me by the hand and said, ‘I’ve always wanted to meet you.’ The strangest feeling came over me. I was afraid to look him in the eyes. It was one of the things I did best. I never stammered and still found myself not able to say much of anything.” Thirteen years later, they’d marry.

—  That is literally the cutest freaking thing I have ever read.

Jason Fine, editor for Rolling Stone, during an interview for Walk The Line: Extended Edition, talks about the morning he spent with John and June, while writing A Day in The Life of Johnny Cash,’ December 12, 2002. [x]

     “ We were walking through the house, and there was these old trunks. June told me in the ‘70s maybe ‘80s, Johnny was going through the trunks, and found all these love letters, that Elvis had written June back in the ‘50s. And these love letters made him really angry. So he took all the love letters, from Elvis, and he went out on his canoe in the middle of the lake. 

     And he ripped them up and threw them in the lake. She’s telling me this, and he’s just sort of looking and nodding, and then she looks at him and says. ‘Johnny those letters would be worth a lot of money now.’