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1968 -
The Sun Shines Again

Even by Memphis' standard, 1968 was one hell of a year

by Shaun Mather

Racial tension was high and the standard of living between the rich and poor was ever increasing. With the year only a few months old, the Sanitation Workers Strike commenced when 1,300 members of the sanitation, sewer and road workers union downed tools, unhappy with their working conditions. Things came to the boil with the death of two colleagues who were trapped and drowned in a sewer. After a few weeks the united movement was becoming splintered with young militant groups and it was therefore decided to invite Dr. Martin Luther King to speak to the members. Following this meeting on March 28th, a further one was called for the 3rd of April. Memphis made news around the world the following day, when Dr. King was shot dead on the second floor balcony of the Lorraine Motel on Mulberry Street, just a couple of blocks from Beale Street where black musicians had helped set the world on fire a decade before.

The city was a mess, with tension bubbling on every road surface in town. It was out of this dangerous, uncertain time that many of the former Sun Recording artists enjoyed an Indian summer of sorts. After barnstorming, first the south, then the States and then the world in the fifties, many of the Sam Phillips stable had spent the sixties puzzled by the new sounds, unsure of their own place in the entertainment world.

Sam himself had lost interest in the business and was astutely making his money investing in minerals, radio stations and the Holiday Inn which had been founded in Memphis by his friend Kemmons Wilson. The last single on the Sun label was an uninspiring song by Loads Of Mischief, cashing in on the local Stax sound. By July of the following year the label had been sold to Shelby Singleton and it looked like the last chapter had been written on the legendary Sun label.

Sun's place in the history books was already assured thanks largely to it being the first home of Elvis Presley. The sixties had been a difficult time for the King. Following his release from the Army he'd spent a couple of years camped at No. 1 on the pop charts, but had gradually fallen from his throne thanks in no small part to the British invasion. What was more alarming though was not his ability to stay with the competition but his apparent lack of pride in what he was churning out. Artistically he was becoming a joke, producing three abysmal films a year with appalling soundtracks and hopeless scripts, which even a no-talent like the Colonel, could have written. What had originally bought Elvis to the forefront were his dynamic stage shows, which had caused both the young and old to squirm in their seats, but for very different reasons. However, since '57 he had only done two shows, both in '61, one in his hometown Memphis, the other in Honolulu, Hawaii.

What Elvis was thinking as he recovered from the 1967 New Years Eve party at the Thunderbird Lounge watching Billy Lee Riley among others, is hard to tell, but a hope for better times and an upturn in his career must have figured somewhere. As he drifted from the Jungle Room into the Den and joined the Memphis Mafia who were nursing their sore heads, high school pal George Klein was on a local radio station spinning a funky cover off the old Jimmy Reed hit Big Boss Man, with the singer sounding like he had a bit of fire in his belly and a lot of soul in his tonsils. That's pretty good thought the King, who is this guy. "It's you boss" shouts Lamar Fike, "it's yer new 'un." Shit yeah, I can do it when I try, thought the former Hillbilly Cat, and as he sent loyal lapdog, Charlie Hodge for a cigar, he vowed to show them all, one more time just what this boy could do. 1968 was to be a watershed year for Memphis' favourite son and it would bring him back to prominence again, with some of the most heartfelt, challenging, meaningful songs he'd ever tackled.

Within the first two months RCA had released two high class singles, both Jerry Reed songs, both of which could have been written especially for him and both of which were markedly better than most things he'd released in the last five years, Guitar Man and US Male which disappointedly only reached 43 and 28 respectively. Chart action has never had any bearing on quality and it was certainly the case here, but hardcore fans sensed that the hip was about to swivel again. February also saw the release of Lisa Marie from Priscilla and the proud father was over the moon. Perhaps this was gonna be a special year. Time for another cigar he thought, so Charlie went running again and did the honours.

March was more of a mixed month with the good and the bad cancelling each other out. The class gospel single You'll Never Walk Alone and We Call On Him was nominated for a Grammy for Best Sacred Performance but he was also filming Live A Little, Love A Little for MGM. Sharing the bill with his own Great Dane Albert (brother of Snoopy), the cigar was falling ever so slightly from his perched, snarled lip. When May saw the release of Your Time Hasn't Come Yet Baby b/w Let Yourself Go (both from the Speedway soundtrack) it was time for Red West to start looking for the ash tray, the cigar was starting to taste a bit foul.

The king of the jungle was still strutting unperturbed around Graceland though, he knew he'd soon be roaring again. Plans had been made for a TV special and all through the long hot summer he'd got a nervous sensation, he was excited about working with the young and hip Steve Binder and Bones Howe, they shared his vision of recreating himself and all three stood against the Colonel who saw the special as a chance to sing some nice Christmas songs, sort of a Yule tide version of one of his films. I wonder what would have happened to Elvis if Binder had become his manager! Just back from a vacation in Hawaii, Elvis embarked for Los Angeles in early June looking tanned and slim. Taping of the show took place throughout the month and by the end of it Binder and Elvis were smoking bigguns that would have choked the Colonel (now there's a thought!). The highlight of the special is the sit-down segment where Elvis is joined by Scotty Moore and DJ Fontana for an acoustic jam. The King is well and truly back on his throne. His performance was dynamic, the pride that his return no doubt held is overshadowed by the sheer joy of playing like he hadn't done for years. This wasn't trying to nail the fifteenth take of Do The Clam, this was the innocent Mississippi teenager jamming away, singing the blues, releasing ten years of frustration, reborn and kicking ass. This in itself would have been enough, but the Special wasn't just about re-treading and reclaiming old ground. This was about going somewhere else and taking himself to another level. At the insistence of Binder, vocal arranger Earl Brown had written a message song, If I Can Dream that was to be used at the end of the show. With the nation's horror at the Martin Luther King killing and the recent assassination of Robert Kennedy, the time was right for Elvis to tackle this powerful vehicle and he took it on headlong. The Special closes with our preacher dressed resplendently in a white suit, throwing his arms back and forth, feeling and portraying the songs message, this was his greatest sermon and by the songs end with both arms outstretched, it was a shattered King who took his "I'm back" bow.

If I Can Dream was released on November 5th and reached the dizzy heights of number 12, his best showing for years and the Special aired nationwide on 3rd December to critical acclaim. New Years Eve was again spent at the Thunderbird Lounge watching Billy Lee Riley. I don't know what he was thinking this year either, but I bet it was with a bit more reassurance and bit less desperation. As he headed back to Graceland, he was thinking about consolidating his new status, because the next time he headed back up Highway 51 into town it was to see Chips Moman at the American Studio to cut Kentucky Rain, Suspicious Minds, Don't Cry Daddy and In The Ghetto. He was back and he was smokin' - Havana's that is!

While the world rejoiced the rediscovery of the King, just outside of town, the Killer was chomping on his own cigar, drinking whiskey, raising hell, oblivious and uninterested in the commotion from the Kings quarters. He had his own problems to deal with, he'd had them for years. Ever since he'd married his little cousin, the world had turned it's back on the Killer and he'd just kept going, criss-crossing the nation playing shitty night clubs in the cold winter nights and outdoor afternoon fairs and such in the stifling, hot summer afternoons. A lesser man would have joined a lumberyard or something years ago, Jerry Lee didn't do that though, he'd kept playing the seedy dives around town coz he was a religious man and he knew that if God gave him this talent he had damn sure better use it and not just put it away 'til things got better.

The sixties had seen him try his hand at Smash records but covers of old songs wasn't what the public wanted and neither it seemed did Jerry Lee. With his five-year term coming to an end, Smash were not inclined to retain their unpolished diamond and another period of turmoil looked to be on the cards. Shelby Singleton, who had tried everything to get a hit with Jerry Lee, had left the company, his place being taken by Jerry Kennedy. Early efforts between them had been encouraging at best, but as '68 was dawning they at least had a plan. Stories vary depending on whether you listen to Kennedy or Eddie Kilroy. What isn't in doubt is that before the year was five days old Jerry Lee had breezed into the Columbia Studio in Nashville at midday and left before supper having cut three stone cold country songs, the best of which was to open up a whole new avenue. Another Place Another Time from the pen of Jerry Chesnut was a strong country ballad that in Jerry's hands became a honky tonk anthem. Jerry Lee's excellence as a country singer shouldn't have surprised anyone, even as early as '58 he'd proved it with a phenomenal version of You Win Again which even made Hank's original defunct. Shipped in March it took the country airwaves by storm and the public went back to a game it used to play, buying Jerry Lee records. It shot into the country top five, peaking at 4, during which time the Killer had been back in the studio on April 16th for an all night double session where he cruised through eight more songs, enough for an album and a potential follow-up single. What a follow-up it was, What's Made Milwaukee Famous by Glenn Sutton was a song for the drinking man from the drinking man. Country music big-wigs (that doesn't mean Hank Snow!!) liked to promote the image of their stars as pure, clean cut folk but since the days of Hank Williams and Lefty Frizzell, this wasn't always the case and Jerry Lee was another exception to the rule. Nevertheless they embraced him as the Prodigal Son and if it meant renewed airplay, the Killer was happy to don a pair of cowboy boots. Milwaukee rose two places higher than its predecessor, one off the top spot.

Far from sitting back soaking up the accolades and playing the Opry, Jerry Lee was doing what he does best - the unexpected. Jack Good the eccentric Englishman behind the Oh Boy! and Shindig television shows had transformed Shakespeare's Othello into a musical, calling it Catch My Soul. He headhunted Jerry Lee for the role of Iago and Jerry Lee committed himself contractually and wholeheartedly to the project, and throughout it's three month run Jerry Lee stole the show. Jerry's management and label needed him out on the club circuit pushing the singles but the Killer was doing his thing for $900 a week and loving it. The Colonel wouldn't have liked it, but the Killer didn't have a Colonel, he always did things his way.

With the album Another Place Another Time selling well throughout the summer, they again descended on Nashville. Jerry came into the studio from the stifling August sun and proceeded to lay down a pair of cool honky tonk tracks. A glorious cover of the Floyd Tilman cheating song Slippin' Around which unsurprisingly fit the Killer like a glove and a new a-side, again from Sutton, She Still Comes Around (To Love What's Left Of Me). As was becoming the norm, the blue collar workers fell for the Killer's emotive story of bad love and by the fall had helped push it to the runner-up spot in the Billboard country charts.

The month before his 33rd birthday, Jerry Lee secured an improved contract from Smash in terms of both royalties and artistically where he was now able to choose one side of every single plus three songs for each album, of which there were to be three a year. Looking rosy indeed, on his own terms too, the way it always would be. Think about it Elvis!

A couple more sessions in October and November were enough to supply a new album and single. To Make Love Sweeter For You from the November 12th session was chosen as the next single. A co-write between Kennedy and Sutton it was perhaps a bit more saccharine than the others but still a long way from Jim Reeves. The year, Jerry's best for more than a decade, was finishing with the single heading to the number one spot. As he sang in his fabulous rolling version of Merle Haggards' Today I Started Loving You Again, "and I'm right back where I've always been". Like Elvis, Memphis on New Years Day 1969 was a happier place to be for the Killer than a year previously, and as he nursed another massive hangover at home, he puffed on his favourite pipe, raised a shot-glass of bourbon and drank a toast to Glenn Sutton. Across state in Nashville, Kennedy was sticking his chest out and raised his long cool beer to his lips, happy in the knowledge that he was working with country music's greatest singer - bar none!

Just what was going through the mind of Charlie Rich as '68 commenced is anyone's guess, no one ever really knew what Charlie Rich was thinking. While Margaret Ann fed the kids, Charlie looked out at the Hernando Desoto Bridge into Memphis, wandering if it was too cold to go fishing. One thing he wouldn't have worried about was regaining his place as the top - he'd never been there. Apart from two mediocre hits in '60 (Lonely Weekends) and '65 (Mohair Sam), the soulful genius of Charlie Rich had fallen largely on deaf ears. Mixed with his various record companies failure to pigeon hole him and therefore channel their promotion in the right areas and Charlie's own lack of drive and ambition, his future seemed to be mapped out for him, a comfortable living and a mention in the odd history book. However, in marked contrast to her silver-haired daddy, wife Margaret Ann, herself a talented songwriter, continued to push him, knowing that given the right breaks he could deliver the goods. Artistically he'd already proved himself time and again with his career dotted with classics like No Headstone On My Grave, Sittin' And Thinkin' and Who Will The Next Fool Be.

Margaret knew things would be better, her optimism no doubt fuelled by the deal with Epic records who had signed him in December, themselves expecting big things from the collaboration between Charlie and red-hot producer Billy Sherrill. Frowned upon by the purists for drowning out the likes of George Jones with a sea of orchestration, you couldn't help but admire his success rate. Whatever his shortcomings as a preserver of the authentic honky tonk sound, Charlie admired him for his equally eclectic style. This was important, for as easy-going as Charlie was, he was stubborn and could be irritable when it came to cutting records if he didn't feel the soul in the song.

Once the mutual admiration had been expressed and the backs had been slapped they got down to the business of cutting an album. The first one for Epic, Set Me Free, was cut and released in '68 and set the standard for future albums over the next ten years. With only two self written songs, the cream of the Nashville songwriters were used for a mixed bag of country, jazz and pop stylings. There was a laid back feeling to the whole sound and when Sherrill added some killer songs to the mix a couple of years later, Charlie Rich was reaching the heights Margaret Ann knew he was capable of. For now, the Rich's knew they were on the right road, Epic seemed to grasp what they had on their books. A publicity handout they issued in '68 ensured that radio stations knew it too; " Charlie Rich hasn't spent any time puzzling over a label to hang on his own music. His theory is just to play and sing. Watching Charlie as he sits loose and low over the keyboard leaning into the slim microphone hooked over the piano top and glinting under the piercing spotlights that put beads of sweat on his brow just below the thick locks of silver-grey hair, watching Charlie sing and play like that tells the whole world that there is nothing quite as important at that moment as his music."

As the tail lights of Elvis' entourage left in a procession of shiny new Cadillac's, Billy Lee Riley was sat on steps at the back of the Thunderbird Lounge, watching his band put the speakers in the van and wondering why that wasn't him in the front one, heading to his mansion behind the big music gates. They'd both been at Sun before it rose, they both loved the blues, both could holler like the best black rhythm 'n' blues singers and both were red hot on stage with their wild acts. Billy was a versatile musician with a penchant for writing witty, topical songs and therein lay his problem. He was too handy to let go, Sam had needed him around Union Avenue, not on the road with the King or the Killer. Understandably, Billy's head would fill with resentment and he'd start to run riot until Sam would turn up, open a bottle of bourbon, put his arm around Billy Lee and tell him he was the best damn music man he'd ever worked with, just wait until the right song comes along, then we'll slay 'em and you'll have more damn Caddies than Ford can make.

After one too many stories, Billy Lee left Memphis and went to California, spending the sixties much the same as the fifties. There were albums on Mercury and GNP, but the charts never got dented.

The show Elvis witnessed that night would have been a fine mixture of rock'n'roll, soul and sixties r'n'b, just like the one he'd hear on his record player when he played his complimentary copy of Billy Lee Riley - Twist And Shout on the Mojo label. Recorded a year earlier on December 28th in an Atlanta club, it featured covers like Barefootin' and In The Midnight Hour, but as with all Billy's stuff, the quality outweighed the success. It seemed that in '68 the only one interested in Billy Lee Riley was Elvis for his New Year's entertainment - thirty years on he's finally getting the recognition he deserves, too late for the mansion, but better late than never.

Carl Perkins nursed many a hangover in the sixties, but not for long. Only long enough to get another bottle and start the new day off as he'd finished the last. Working with the Johnny Cash Show hadn't helped, but by '68 he was working hard to put his life together. After ten years without chart action he was now enjoying a spell of country action with Country Boy's Dream and Shine, Shine, Shine on the Dollie label. Before the year was out he cut was to be his first Top 20 hit since '58, Restless on Columbia. It hit on the country charts but Carl had got the reputation as the King Of Rockabilly and his country rock Restless did nothing to dent his image.

When Conway Twitty woke up to greet '68, he looked out at the Oklahoma City skyline and knew that the time had come to call another place home. Three years earlier he'd made a major decision to leave the lucrative pop market behind and become a fully-fledged bone-fide country singer, and moved out with the Okies. His management had thrown a wobbly and coupled with his move from MGM to Decca after five pretty successful years, it was a gamble that Conway took because in his heart he knew he wanted to go country. Okalahoma City had proved a good base for the live shows and four reasonable sized hits had followed in '66 and '67, but Conway knew that to hit mega stardom he needed to move the family back east to Music City. Amid major bust ups with manager Don Seat, Conway put his faith in the capable hands of producer Owen Bradley and together they aimed fair and square at the more mature women, the one's who were real suckers for his growl, his lop sided grin and wink topped of with sensual lyrics that a grown woman understood. On top of that he possessed one hell of a voice.

He must have made a good neighbour because no sooner had he returned to Tennessee than his next single The Image Of Me shot to number 5 in the country charts, followed later in the year with Next In Line going all the way to the top, a position he would occupy a staggering forty times in the next two decades. As '68 was drawing it's last breath, Conway Twitty's next single Darling You Know I Wouldn't Lie featuring his trademark playfulness and smouldering soulful sincerity was storming into the top five. Late one night on his way from another sell-out concert, just outside Nashville in the town of Hendersonville, Conway grinned, he had another idea, a theme park would be nice, he thought.

What Charlie Feathers thought when Twittyland developed is open for conjecture but it was with outright horror that he greeted Conway's new permed hair cut. The damn nancy boy is selling out, thought Charlie on the porch of his east Memphis shot gun shack. A purist until the day he died, Charlie Feathers spent his life cutting rockabilly records at any two-bit Memphis studio that had the time for him. A fine country singer himself, he lacked all the finer details that Conway Twitty employed. No image, no sophistication, and certainly no game-plan he became an underground, bona-fide hero over in Europe, recording for a myriad of labels in a basic rockabilly trio style - just about invented the style he reckoned.

Son and lead guitarist Bubba came out the screen door and told his daddy there was a foreign feller on the phone for him, a record enthusiast all the way from Wales. After agreeing the terms (the Welshman to pay) Breathless Dan Coffey left the green, green grass of home and headed to the Select-O-Hit Studios in Memphis. As Coffey and studio owner Tom Phillips (brother of Sam) looked on, Charlie and Bubba together with Marcus Van Story on bass laid down some of the rockinest music of the decade. Sounding like mid 50s cuts, Tear It Up and Stutterin' Cindy are wild-assed rockabilly with Van Story playing the bass like no-one had since the hula hoop was all the rage.

In contrast to his contemporaries, the early sixties had been the most successful period for Roy Orbison. Topping the charts around the world with his souring vocals and great pop songs, it was only now, that his career had started to nose dive. Without a sizeable hit for a couple of years and the death of his wife still looming large on his mind, it was for better times that the Big O wished as 1968 dawned. If he'd had the inclination, he could have gone to only cinema in town playing his first and mercifully only film, The Fastest Guitar Alive, but he didn't bother - he knew the script! The soundtrack was okay but no one was buying it and Roy didn't give a damn anyway, he was trying to put his life back together.

Things turned even worse before the year had ended when two of his young sons were burned to death in a house fire. Friends gave him comfort but the quiet Texan was in a slump that would last another twenty years.

On a similarly downward spiral was former rockabilly singer Warren Smith, whose attempt at a country career had come to a halt, long before it had really started. There was a July session for Mercury, but the remainder of the year saw a sad, frustrated Smith, drifting in and out of courtrooms for drug and drink offences, before finally reaching rock bottom and landing an 18-month spell in a Huntsville, Alabama prison.

Dewey Phillips looked a sad and pitiful figure as slumped in a worn sofa at his mother's house in a run-down part of Memphis. He remembered the good ole days when he was king of the airwaves, the white disk jockey who taught the white kids to bop to the blues. If he could remember those times and the influential role he played, how come no one else could. For years now he'd jockeyed all over the mid-South, anywhere that would have him. His current gig was just outside town, in Millington, but it wasn't what he deserved. He was also suffering from chronic back pains following a couple of car wrecks, and the only ailment that really worked was alcohol, and he was sure taking some of that. So much in fact that before the year was out, Dewey was dead - broke and broken at 42. A suitable replacement would never be found.

Another larger than life players from the early days of Memphis rock'n'roll, legendary guitar picker Luther Perkins from Johnny Cashs' Tennessee Two, burnt in a house fire which started after he fell asleep on the sofa with a cigarette in his hand.

The coloured artists that had first made their name in Memphis had seen the whites rape and pillage their rhythmic sounds in the fifties and reap most of the rewards. Now, as the sixties closed down, they were seeing the more affluent whites embracing them and calling them to the cafes and supper clubs to do their thing.

The soulful bluesman, Little Milton was now firmly ensconced in Chicago, but always drew enthusiastic crowds when he came back down south to Memphis, where he'd started his career on the Sun and Meteor labels. Three years earlier he'd cracked the big time with We're Gonna Make It on Chess and in '68 he was making hay with the highly acclaimed Checker LP Sings Big Blues. As well as standards like Sweet Sixteen, Stormy Monday and his own Reconsider Baby, it featured his classic reading of Feel So Bad. The soul of the south loomed large in his emotive voice, a sort of coloured Charlie Rich, and by the following decade he would be back in town on the Stax label.

If you cut Rufus Thomas in half he'd have Memphis written through him like a stick of Blackpool rock. Why leave the city that he was so fiercely proud of, it hadn't really provided riches in monitory terms, but soul wise he was a wealthy man. He'd watched in horror as the white man had taken all the plaudits for the new music and still, unjustly, blamed Sam Phillips for turning his back on the blues. After a quiet five year period, '68 saw Thomas return to the recording studios for a series of novelty dance tracks like Funky Mississippi and by the following year he was back in the charts with the single and album Funky Chicken on Stax. The sixties were funky and Rufus was the funkiest of 'em all the mother funkers.

James Cotton held the distinction of being one of the few artists Sam Phillips had actually approached, normally they came looking for him. Sam had heard the youngster on West Memphis' KWEM airwaves, and together they'd cut the brilliant Cotton Crop Blues. A move north and a slot in the Muddy Waters band had done nothing to diminish his considerable talents. The mid sixties had seen Cotton branch out with releases on Vanguard, Prestige, Loma and Verve. 1968 was a blur for Cotton, who played across the globe promoting his latest Verve album, Pure Cotton, a hard-hitting Chicago blues affair with sterling support from Luther Tucker on guitar and session man, Francis Clay on drums.

Although more of a session man than an on-stage performer in his own right, the career of Big Walter Shakey Horton, closely followed the pattern of James Cotton's career. During his Sun days he'd cut one of the greatest ever harp instrumentals, the wonderful Easy, with guitarist Jimmy DeBerry, and throughout the sixties his phone rang off the hook, with requests for his expertise from everyone from Jimmy Rogers to Big Mama Thornton.

Even some of the older Memphis stalwarts like Sleepy John Estates and Furry Lewis were appearing before larger crowds than at any other stages of their long careers.

The cool, southern vocals of Frank Frost briefly brought Sam Phillips back to the blues in 1962 when he cut a full-length album Hey Boss Man! It proved to meteorologists that Frost could survive in Sun, as long as the chemicals were right. Four years later Frost cut an album for Jewel with none other than Scotty Moore twiddling the knobs. By '68 Frost was quiet again, playing small Delta juke joints, waiting for another return to the limelight in the mid-70's.

BB King was the big cheese of the blues and the dawn of a New Year was greeted on the road. Three hundred mornings a year were greeted in a motel room, travelling was what he did, the stage was his living room. As he lay in another hotel room in the coloured quarter of town, the local radio station told him the time, the weather and the latest news, and then played a storming blues from his Blues Is King album on the giant MCA label. Life was sweet and as his latest bed-buddy went for a shower, he turned over and went back to sleep. When he re-awoke nothing had changed. Nothing ever changed in his life except the location. As '68 rolled in, Blues Is King and R&B Soul were still doing good business in the shops. Change - man that's something a woman goes through, he thought as he called room service for two coffees. BB kept rolling like a big wheel - he still does.

Six hundred miles away, a cold northerly wind blew straight off Lake Michigan, biting at the throats of anyone walking Chicago's south side streets. It didn't worry Howlin' Wolf though, he was knocking back his bourbon bottle like a baby takes his milk. The Wolf was in good spirits these days, and when he felt like this the weather was irrelevant. A real storm was what he blew on stage, dropping his massive frame to his knees as he howled and growled the blues whilst Hubert Sumlin played some of the nastiest licks to come out of a guitar. He was coming to the end of his long, often troubled collaboration with producer/writer/bass player, Willie Dixon, and was once again playing his music the way he wanted to. He had brought back the harmonica to his sound, and he'd rediscovered the legendary snarl to his voice.

He was starting to sound like he did when Sam Phillips had first recorded him. In November He'd gone back even further than his Sun days when he cut a lusty selection of stark acoustic blues, harking back to the days he'd spent learning his trade in Mississippi and Arkansas. The sparseness of the sound gave his voice a menacing amount of gravel and an overwhelming feeling of presence. The Wolf was on the prowl, and the dark was no longer the place to be.

There was a big smirk on the face of Ike Turner as he lay draped over his leopard skin sofa, with wife Tina sat obediently at his feet. After cutting his teeth in the music business in 1950's Memphis, he was now enjoying a decade of hits, on the pop and r'n'b charts, with his Ike and Tina Revue. He was also staying in a different type of hotel compared to the Jackie Brenston days, and Tina's raunchy stage manner did more for him than Jackie ever did! He soaked up the good times, because he remembered how the bad times were, and he probably knew that they'd be back.

As he watched Elvis' comeback, and saw Jerry Lee rise to the top of the country charts, Johnny Cash sat smugly at home in Hendersonville, TN. As good as the year was to most of his mates, it was even better for the self styled Man In Black. In a career that would climb many peaks and fall to as many lows, 1968 was his Everest.

He'd spent his time smashing the footlights on the Opry stage, wrecking hotel rooms and even crawled into a cave to die - he'd done all that. Now he was able to see a light at the end of a long tunnel of self-destruction, and a lot of this new belief and strength came from the new gal in his life, June Carter. They couple had wed early in the year, cementing a love affair could perhaps be the most monumental in rock history. As things flourished off stage, so his career blossomed. Whether he was putting on his top hat and tails to host his weekly Wednesday night Johnny Cash Show, the top TV show in the country at the time, or playing to 2,000 inmates at the Folsom Prison, Cash was in complete control. With the first clear head he'd had in ten years, Johnny was able to enjoy the success, it was what he wanted, and best of all, it was what he deserved. Grammy's and CMA awards followed, but the real award he was now soaking up, was the sense of living that he now enjoyed. No one was ever gonna take that from him. The Mean Eyed Cat was now Walking The Line. He'd seen both sides of the fence, and now, as he looked out at his fishing boat rocking gently against the banks of Old Hickory Lake, he knew which side he preferred.

He walked down to the banks of the Lake, sat down, raised a glass of iced tea and saluted his Memphis brothers - past and present, and said a little prayer for the future.

Shaun Mather November 2001

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