The first time I came across what's come to be known as "remixing" was back in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The Clash's album Black Market Clash featured what were called "Dubbed" versions of a couple songs. Dubbing, like today's remixes, involved taking the tracks originally laid down for a song in the studio and restructuring them to create different versions of the same song. In those primitive times that mainly seemed to involve manipulating the vocal tracks and laying down extra bass and rhythm tracks to accentuate the already heavy beats of reggae music.
To be honest most dubbed, remixed, and extended remixes of songs have left me cold in the past as there hasn't seemed to have been any real artistry involved in the process. Nobody has written any new music or created any new lyrics, they've simply taken something that somebody else wrote and played around with it. At least that's been the impression I've had until I heard Johnny Cash Remixed. Originally released in the United States at the beginning of 2009, it's now being released as a special CD/DVD combo on the Ear Music label in England on June 15, '09. As the title suggests the collection features remixes of some of Cash's best known tunes.
Now there are those who are going to consider it sacrilege to play around with Johnny Cash's music, and the producer of this little venture, Cash's son John Carter Cash, understands this. The DVD included in this package is a documentary about the making of the CD and on it Cash jr. says that his father was all about doing things his own way and pushing the envelope when it came to music, so this project was an attempt to honour that spirit. Judging by some of the interviews with the people who did some of the remixes on the disc, they all had a difficult time in overcoming their respect for the material in order to tamper with it all. They not only realized how important the original music was to a lot of people, but they themselves had nothing but respect for Johnny Cash.
As I mentioned earlier re-mixes are normally made by working with the individual tracks from the original recording. However in this case all the material that was being remixed had been recorded without the benefit of multiple tracks like you would have in a modern studio. When Cash cut these songs for Sun Records in the 1950s everything was recorded "live" in the studio with the whole band being recorded simultaneously. So the challenge for the guys doing the remixes was they couldn't break the songs down into their parts, but were forced to come up with ways of working with the entire song.