With God and the man in black on their side
JOHNNY Cash was at the peak of his career following the release of Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison in 1968 and Johnny Cash Live at San Quentin a year later. San Quentin was launched during the same week as The Johnny Cash Show, his weekly syndicated television variety program, which established Cash’s national and international reputation and introduced many American households to the likes of Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Eric Clapton and Bob Dylan. If greatness were measured in frilled shirts, this superb two- disc box set would have it in spades. The show, which Cash introduced with a simple ‘‘ Hello, I’m Johnny Cash’’, ran on the US ABC network for 58 episodes from 1969 to 1971. It brought country music to a new, national audience and gave country music fans a taste of almost every other form of music. It was a family show, wholesome and founded on the way many in the US liked to think of themselves, as good Christians. But between the gospel songs, the evangelical songs and the stories narrated by Cash of US history, you had him singing ‘‘ wishing, Lord, that I was stoned’’ on Kris Kristofferson’s Sunday Morning Coming Down and Young singing The Needle and the Damage Done. Cash was a Christian, but that didn’t mean the darker places didn’t exist: he had seen a few of them himself. It’s a testament to his standing and popularity that he was able to get away with it at the time. Cash invited Pete Seeger on to the show when the latter’s leftist views had him branded a pinko and a traitor, and his performances of Cripple Creek and Worried Man Blues are both here. The real highlight would have to be the openers, featuring a young Dylan performing I Threw It All Away and the duet with Cash on Girl from the North Country. Although there is much to enjoy in the four hours of music, the Dylan and Cash performance is a standout.