Had Johnny Cash lived past the age of 71, he would’ve turned 83 today.
Cash was one of the original outlaws, a man who spent the first decade of his career shaping the sound of popular country music before choosing to switch gears — record sales be damned — and operate outside of the machine he’d unwittingly helped to create. He was larger than life, towering over a half-century’s worth of wannabe Men in Black in both stature (six-foot-two without cowboy boots on) and influence.
When he appeared on Tex Ritter’s Ranch Party TV show in 1957, Cash had only been releasing music for two years. Those 24 months had been filled with hit singles though, with “Walk the Line,” “Folsom Prison Blues” and “Cry! Cry! Cry!” all allowing the songwriter to permanently camp out in the upper reaches of the Billboard charts. Cash was young and green, but he was meteoric, too.
Case in point: this Ranch Party performance of “Get Rhythm,” which marks one of his first TV appearances. Backed by the Tennessee Two and sporting a pomaded pompadour whose shine could’ve rivaled that of a well-oiled cast-iron skillet, Cash sings the song with a mischievous grin, maybe a bit amused by his two-year transformation from appliance salesman to rockabilly TV star. (Watch the performance above.)