Greetings from Asheville, where good music is always on the turntable. It used to be a popular misconception that the Beatles made the first concept album. In all actuality, concept albums, where all songs are related in some way, were being made before anyone even knew of the Fab Four. A perfect example is Johnny Cash’s Blood, Sweat, And Tears. Released in February 1963, it’s an album full of songs covering life experiences. There were no country album charts, yet, but the album did reach 80 on Billboard’s Top 200.
Cash goes in several directions, including railroading, prisoners, and coal mining. In fact, railroading is covered three times. It starts with “The Legend Of John Henry’s Hammer”, an 8+ minute song (something relatively unheard of in 1963). The song is more of a story telling set to music, as it covers the life of the famous “Steel Drivin’ Man”. Later in the album, Cash tells the story of another rail legend, “Casey Jones”. It is the same song that had been a minor hit for Eddy Arnold in the late 1950’s, but with somewhat different lyrics.
The third song of the railroading theme is the legendary Jimmie Rodgers, “Waiting For A Train”. Interestingly, Cash opted for a bit softer sound on this track, particularly when compared to the rest of the album. I would have liked to have heard a little more of that “Johnny Cash grit” in this track.
“Tell Him I’m Gone” is a lively tune that tells of a man who’s had enough of his hard labor job and is ready to walk away. It’s a song that most of us can relate to, if we’ve ever had a job we didn’t care for, or were sick of.
Johnny Cash tells the story of a prisoner hanging, in “Another Man Done Gone”. It is a morbid, yet haunting tale, performed acapella, in a spiritual style with the Carter Family.
The prisoner theme returns with “Chain Gang.” Not the Sam Cooke song, but rather the song made popular a few years earlier by Freddie Hart. Cash’s effort is okay, but I think the Hart version is better.
“Busted” became a 1963 hit for Johnny Cash, from the pen of the legendary Harlan Howard. It’s arguably Cash’s best effort on the album, as he tells the story of a farmer who’s about to lose everything.
From there, he switches to coal mining, tackling Merle Travis’ “Nine Pound Hammer”. Johnny makes it his song, with this incredible version.
Johnny Cash wraps up this album with a great tune that no one knows, “Roughneck”. Written by Sheb Wooley, it’s vintage Cash. It’s a perfect way to wrap up this album.
As for availability, it’s not hard to locate. While there are several used vinyl copies on the market, it is still available on CD, as well as an Mp3 download.
Overall, Johnny Cash’s “Blood, Sweat, And Tears” is a very good album. It is one of Johnny Cash’s better albums, one that is worth purchasing, whether it’s a used vinyl copy, CD, or Mp3. It will be one that you will listen to, many times.
Saving vinyl, one record at a time.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mike the Country Musicologist is a lifelong music and radio fanatic, model railroader, lover of vintage agriculture, and big sports fan, including the Colts, Reds, Hurricanes, Pacers, Purdue & Butler Universities. He has collected records since childhood, focusing on classic country and top 40 oldies music. He convinced Vincennes University to give him an Associate’s Degree in broadcasting. He’s worked for several stations in Indiana and North Carolina. Be sure to follow him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.