Johnny Cash

Big River

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Song Review by

As sly and prolific a wordsmith as Johnny Cash proved himself during his fruitful 1955-1958 stay at Sam Phillips' Memphis-based Sun records, he outdid himself with "Big River," a tongue-twisting travelogue wrapped around a desperate search for an elusive love interest. Yet the backing -- dominated by Sun A&R man Jack Clement's prominent acoustic guitar lick that was reminiscent of the ones powering the Everly Brothers' "Bye Bye Love" and "Wake Up Little Susie" and Tennessee Two guitarist Luther Perkins' trademark low-end-of-the-neck picking -- is anything but mournful. "Big River," waxed October 11, 1957, at Sun's studios on 706 Union, bounces along with the same steady gait as the mighty Mississippi River central to Cash's extraordinarily clever tale (easily on a par with Chuck Berry's legendary lyrical gift). Hidden away on the B-side of the Cash smash "Ballad of a Teenage Queen" (an annoyingly cute Clement concoction), "Big River" was nevertheless a major country hit in its own right.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Sings the Songs That Made Him Famous 1958 Org Music / Wienerworld 2:35
I Walk the Line 1964 Friday Music
Story Songs of the Trains and Rivers 1969 Bellaphon Records
Original Golden Hits, Vol. 2 1970 Bellaphon Records
No Image 1970
No Image 1971 Columbia
Sunday Morning Coming Down 1972 DCC Compact Classics 2:23
No Image 1976 Columbia
No Image 1979 Columbia / Sony Music Entertainment 2:19
No Image 197?
No Image 1986 Charly Records
No Image 1987 Intertape
Country Music Originals, Vol. 4 1988
Various Artists
Sun Record Company
The Man in Black: 1954-1958 1990 Bear Family Records 3:46
The Sun Years [Rhino] 1990 Rhino 2:28
Collection [Castle] 1992 Castle Music Ltd.
The Essential Johnny Cash 1955-1983 1992 Sony Music Distribution 2:30
Hits [1993] 1993 Sony Music Distribution 2:19
Super Hits 1994 Sony Music Distribution / Sbme Special Mkts. / Song BMG Music Entertainment 2:31
Deep in the Heart of Country 1994
Various Artists
Drive Archive 2:30
Rockabilly Portrait 1995
Various Artists
Sun Record Company 2:28
Kings of Country [Crescendo] 1995
Various Artists
GNP / Crescendo 2:32
The Man in Black: 1963-1969 1996 Bear Family Records 2:21
Complete Sun Singles, Vol. 3 1996
Various Artists
Bear Family Records 2:33
In the Country of Country, People And Places In American Music 1997
Various Artists
Compass / Compas Records 2:32
The Hits [1997] 1997 Polygram 0:00
Legends of Country [Madacy] 1997
Various Artists
Madacy Distribution / Madacy 2:34
I Walk the Line: The Very Best of Johnny Cash 1999 Collectables 2:30
No Image 1999 Columbia / Legacy 2:30
Great 1999 Festival Records 2:33
The Essential Sun Collection 1999 Recall (UK) 2:32
The Complete Original Sun Singles 1999 Varese 2:33
Showtime/Original Golden Hits, Vol. 3 1999 Collectables 2:34
No Image 1999
Various Artists
Time / Life Music 2:32
Greatest Hits of Johnny Cash 2000 Platinum Disc 2:35
Best of Johnny Cash [Castle] 2000 Castle Music Ltd. 2:29
Johnny Cash [Valmark] 2000 Valmark 2:06
The Legend at His Best: Ultimate Box Set & Autobiography 2000 Collectables 2:31
The Sun Years, Vol. 1 2000 Original Sun Recordings (Italy) 2:34
The EP Collection 2000 See For Miles Records 2:32
Louisiana Hayride: Classic Rockabilly Radio 2000
Various Artists
Music Mill 1:36
Very Best of Johnny Cash, Vol. 2 2000 Collectables 2:31
The Sun Records Story 2001
Various Artists
Sun Record Company 2:31
The Very Best of the Sun Years 2001 Metro 2:32
Greatest Hits: Best of the Best Gold 2001 Trilogie 2:36
His Sun Years 2001 Snapper 2:31
The Legends Collection, Vol. 1 2001 Dressed To Kill 2:32
The Essential Johnny Cash 2002 Legacy / Columbia 2:31
The Legend of Johnny Cash: The First Original Hits 2002 K-Tel Distribution 2:32
At Folsom Prison/At San Quentin/America 2002 Legacy / Columbia 1:56
A Heart of a Legend 2002 Madacy Distribution / Madacy 2:32
Classic American Voices 2003 Direct Source 2:34
I Walk the Line and Other Hits 2003 Flashback Records / Rhino Flashback 2:35
The Original Sun Sound of Johnny Cash [Bonus Tracks] 2003 Varèse Sarabande / Varese 3:16
The Sun Records Years 2003 Fruit Tree 2:31
The 20 Most Requested 2003 Festival Mushroom 2:32
Platinum & Gold Collection 2004 BMG Heritage 2:32
Johnny Cash Collection [Sun] 2004 Record Sales / Sun Record Company 2:31
Cash Sings Cash 2004 Varèse Vintage / Varèse Sarabande 2:32
Country Legend [Madacy] 2004 Madacy Distribution / Madacy 2:32
The Core of Rockabilly 2004
Various Artists
Red X 2:28
Hayride Anthology 2004 Cleopatra 2:42
Original Outlaw 2004 Prism Leisure 2:32
54 Great Performances 2004 Platinum Entertainment 2:32
Lonesome in Black: The Legendary Sun Recordings 2004 Metro Doubles 2:32
No Image 2004 Laserlight 2:25
A Pair of Brothers 2004 K-Tel Distribution 2:33
20 Greatest Hits [Platinum] 2004 Platinum Disc 2:12
Singing at His Best 2004 Passport Audio
Country Legend, Vol. 1 2004 Madacy 2:32
Bigger Than Life Collection 2005 Madacy Distribution / Madacy 2:32
Sun Records Collection [Pazzazz] 2005
Various Artists
Pazzazz 2:30
The Man, His World, His Music [DVD] [2005] 2005 Sanctuary
The Original Sun Albums: Complete Collection 2005 Varèse Sarabande 3:16
Train of Love 2005 Go. 2:31
The Man in Black [American Legends] 2005 American Legends / Allegro Corporation 2:01
Country Legend [Disky #1] 2005 Disky 2:31
The Legend [Columbia] 2005 Legacy / Columbia 2:32
Best of Sun Records, Vol. 1 2005
Various Artists
Pazzazz 2:30
36 Classic Tracks 2005 Solid Gold Collection / Union Square Music 2:32
The Complete Sun Recordings 1955-1958 2005 Time / Life Music 2:32
Ring of Fire: The Legend of Johnny Cash 2005 Universal Distribution 2:31
I Walk the Line: 25 Greatest Hits 2005 Country Stars 2:29
Collection [Madacy Box Revised] 2005 Madacy 2:32
Traveling Cash: An Imaginary Journey 2006 Bear Family Records 2:32
I Walk the Line [Collectables] 2006 Collectables 2:33
The Essential Sun Records Collection 2006
Various Artists
Pazzazz 2:30
No Image 2006 Snapper 2:30
10 Top 10's 2006 Compendia Music Group 2:32
Wanted Man: The Johnny Cash Collection 2008 Camden International / sbc 2:32
Johnny Cash's America 2008 Legacy / Columbia 2:32
Original Greatest Hits 2008 Time / Life Music
Johnny Cash Remixed 2009 Music World Entertainment / Compadre Records / Music World Music 3:07
Original Sun Singles '55-'58 2009 Sundazed 2:32
The Music of Johnny Cash 2009 Columbia / Legacy / Sony Music Distribution 2:32
I Walk the Line [Membran Music] 2009 Membran 2:32
Bootleg, Vol. 2: From Memphis to Hollywood 2011 Columbia / Legacy / Legacy Recordings 3:45
100 Hits Legends: Johnny Cash 2011 100 Hits 2:30
I Walk the Line [Metro] 2011 Metro / Metro Select 2:32
The Roots of U2 2012
Various Artists
Complete Blues / Complete Roots / Snapper / Snapper UK 2:29
I Walk The Line - 101 Classic Tracks 2012 AP
No Image 2012 Labelle
My Kind of Music: The Kings of Country 2012 USM Media 2:32
The Complete Columbia Album Collection 2012 Columbia / Legacy / Sony Legacy 3:07
Bob Dylan & the Band's Basement Tapes Influences: Original Versions of the Big Pink Recordings 2013
Various Artists
Chrome Dreams 2:32
The Box Set Series 2014 Columbia / Legacy 2:32
The Complete Sun Releases and Columbia Singles: 1955-62 2015 Acrobat Music 2:32
Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock 'n' Roll 2015
Various Artists
Yep Roc 2:31
Original Sun Albums: 1957-1964 2017 Charly Records 2:33
A Lone Star State of Mind 2018 All Access 2:33
No Image
Various Artists
Puzzled Records
Bob Dylan Cover To Cover: The Originals, Vol. 2
Various Artists
Music Melon 2:32
Country Greats [Columbia River Box #2]
Various Artists
Columbia River Entertainment Group
No Image
Various Artists
Sony Music 2:32
No Image
Various Artists
10Ten Media
Hits [Silver Star] Silver Star Records 2:30
No Image Sun Record Company
No Image Sun Record Company
The Fabulous Johnny Cash [EGB] EGB 2:32
The Greatest Country Hits of 1958
Various Artists
Acrobat Music 2:31
The Greatest Hits of the Early Years Gralin Music
The U2 Jukebox: The Songs that Inspired the Band
U2
Chrome Dreams / United States of Distribution 2:31