With God and the man in black on their side

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Music -

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.

Tom Jel­lett

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