I just got back from a trip to Nashville and Memphis. The musical legacy of there two cities is so immense that it’s just ridiculous. One of the high points of my trip was the Johnny Cash Museum. I’m a big Johnny Cash fan already but the museum made me even more aware of how truly awesome this man was. One of the many cool things Cash did was “The Johnny Cash Show. It ran on ABC from June 7, 1969 to March 31, 1971 and was taped in front of a live audience at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashvile. Besides featuring members of his regular touring show (which included the legendary Carter Family and the amazing Carl Perkins), he also would showcase fellow country music greats like Merle Haggard, George Jones, Waylon Jennings, Tammy Wynette and Bill Monroe. He would also have performers not associated with country music, both classic and contemporary. These included people like Bob Dylan, Louis Armstrong, Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Linda Ronstandt, and in what I believe to be their only videoed performance, Derek & The Dominoes. Whew!!
Given that the U.S was in the middle of a “generation gap” culture war, Johnny Cash’s decision to feature artists such as these is a great testament to the man’s courage. It also demonstrated that Johnny had a trait that I believe to common to great artists: he was open to new sounds, new sights and new ideas and didn’t care where they came from, as long as it was good.
Dylan appeared on the first episode of the Johnny Cash show. Dylan was being treated like the new messiah at this time so this was a big thing. His appearance coincided with the release of Nashville Skyline so in context it make perfect sense. Those fans who were expecting an apocalyptic revelation a la “Desolation Row” were no doubt disappointed but the years gone by has only shown how timeless these performances are.
Bob Dylan – I Threw It All Away
Bob Dylan & Johnny Cash – Girl Of the North Country
For a study in contrasts, here is Johnny’s duet with Joni Mitchell on the same song, Girl Of The North Country.
Joni Mitchell & Johnny Cash – Girl Of the North Country
When Neil Young appeared on the Johnny Cash show, he was preceded by a clip of Johnny talking to students of Vanderbilt University about a variety of topics, including drugs. This serves as a fitting preamble to Neil Young’s performance of Needle And The Damage Done. That and the next tune, Journey Through The Past, were newly written by Neil. It was while in Nashville for the taping of this show that Neil decided to record his next album there. That record was Harvest, one of Neil’s true masterpieces.
Neil Young – Needle & The Damage Done/Journey Through The Past
As I said previously, I believe this to be the only performance by Derek & The Dominoes on video. They do the old Chuck Willis ballad, “It’s Too Late” (which they did on Layla) followed by a kick ass version of the Carl Perkins tune “Matchbox’ with the man himself, Carl Perkins. Perkins and Clapton each take a chorus and they both solo together on a third. Carl is throwing down some rockabilly flash while Clapton sounds like he’s channeling some serious Chuck Berry moves. Classic.
Derek & The Dominoes – It’s Too Late/Matchbox w/ Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash
What can you say about the genius that is Ray Charles. Here he is doing his own version of Johnny Cash’s Ring Of Fire. To say that he totally remakes it into his own is a understatement. Here, he rearranges the original chords of the verse to a bluesy two chord vamp before going into the chorus. Dig how he ends the song literally on a whisper.
Ray Charles – Ring Of Fire
Finally, Johnny Cash and the great Louis Armstrong recreating Jimmy Rogers’ Blue Yodel #9, which Armstrong played on originally. Jimmy Rogers (one of country music’s first superstars), Johnny Cash and Louis Armstrong. So much history and greatness intersecting here. This performance occurred on October 28th, 1970, less than a year before Armstrong passed away. Cash was said to be especially proud of bringing Louis Armstrong to the stage of the Ryman Auditorium, where Armstrong was previously barred from playing due to Jim Crow segregation laws. A country music star like Cash didn’t have to do things like that but he did. Actions like that underscore what we can hear in the man’s music: his innate decency. A model for us all.
Louis Armstrong & Johnny Cash – Blue Yodel #9