Sunday, 26 September 2010

Sunday Morning Coffee with Johnny Cash

Hello and welcome to this week’s special show which features one of the most influential figures in popular music in my lifetime. 

Quite a few shows have been of artists I’ve found only recently but today is very different.  I was introduced to Johnny by my brother in the mid- to late sixties and although I drifted away a re-listening was all I needed to be back in love with his music again.

I haven’t made any attempt to cover his career rather I’ve chosen songs I have loved for years with a few more recent additions.

If you don’t know the routine by now then, get a big coffee, a comfy seat but make sure you have room to stand, sing and dance.

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Ready?  Then here we go and we start in his normal way.

Folsom Prison Blues

Wow!  Now I’m in the mood.

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The show run time is about normal at 45 mins but I’ve crammed in 14 videos so there’s lots of magical music to come and we move on with another great.  Och, they’re all great!

I Walk the Line

I’m opting out of commenting.  You don’t need me.

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Johnny was born in 1932 in Arkansas and left us in 2003.  In fact, Johnny wasn’t christened ‘Johnny’ but ‘J. R.’ because his parents could agree on the initials but not the names.  The air force wouldn’t accept initials as names and so he took ‘Johnny R Cash’ as his legal name.

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I dare you to sit still now.

Orange Blossom Special                       (1969 San Quentin prison)

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JR’s early life was difficult: when he was three his family moved to farm 20 acres for cotton.

"The entire family, my parents, two brothers and two sisters spent the first night in the truck under a tarpaulin" Cash once said about his family's move to Dyess. "The last thing I remember before going to sleep was my mother beating time on the old Sears-Roebuck guitar, singing 'What Would You Give In Exchange For Your Soul."

“It wasn't always an easy life, Cash would later recall. At the age of 10 he was hauling water for a road gang and at 12 years old he was moving large sacks of cotton.

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Let’s not hang about and we continue with Johnny singing one of Kris Kristofferson’s many great songs.

Sunday Morning Coming Down

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I didn’t know that Cash was a Christian.  Wikipedia states,

‘Cash, a devout but troubled Christian,has been characterized "as a lens through which to view American contradictions and challenges."  A Biblical scholar, he penned a Christian novel entitled Man In White, and he made a spoken word recording of the entire New King James Version of the New Testament.  Even so, Cash declared that he was "the biggest sinner of them all", and viewed himself overall as a complicated and contradictory man.’

Dave Urbanski writes,

“Years after his return to the land of the living [after his recovery from drug addiction], Cash once got a visit from U2 members Bono and Adam Clayton who were driving across the U.S., taking in the local colors. The three of them sat around a table before their meal, and Cash floored the two Irishmen with an incredible prayer of thanksgiving to God. Then, without skipping a beat, he raised his head and quipped, "Sure miss the drugs, though."

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This song I hadn’t heard before. An incredibly, moving song by the Nine Inch Nails which Johnny recorded not long before he died.

Hurt

I hurt myself today
to see if I still feel
I focus on the pain
the only thing that's real
the needle tears a hole
the old familiar sting
try to kill it all away
but I remember everything
what have I become?
my sweetest friend
everyone I know
goes away in the end
and you could have it all
my empire of dirt

I will let you down
I will make you hurt

I wear this crown of thorns
upon my liar's chair
full of broken thoughts
I cannot repair
beneath the stains of time
the feelings disappear
you are someone else
I am still right here

what have I become?
my sweetest friend
everyone I know
goes away in the end
and you could have it all
my empire of dirt

I will let you down
I will make you hurt

if I could start again
a million miles away
I would keep myself
I would find a way

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Johnny married twice, firstly to Vivian Liberto in 1954 with whom he had 4 daughters including Roseanne who is now an established star.  His drug / alcohol abuse and his affairs brought Liberto to divorce him in 1966.

Cash and June Carter married in 1968 and they sang together for 35 years until June’s death.

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The sixth track is a 1969 recording from San Quentin prison.

A Boy Named Sue                             (1969 San Quentin prison)

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Wikipedia describes Cash’s life spiralling downwards,

“As his career was taking off in the early 1960s, Cash started drinking heavily and became addicted to amphetamines and barbiturates. For a brief time, he shared an apartment in Nashville with Waylon Jennings, who was heavily addicted to amphetamines. Cash used the uppers to stay awake during tours. Friends joked about his "nervousness" and erratic behavior, many ignoring the warning signs of his worsening drug addiction. In a behind-the-scenes look at The Johnny Cash Show, Cash claims to have "tried every drug there was to try."

……

In June 1965, his truck caught fire due to an overheated wheel bearing, triggering a forest fire that burned several hundred acres in Los Padres National Forest in California.  When the judge asked Cash why he did it, Cash said, "I didn't do it, my truck did, and it's dead, so you can't question it." The fire destroyed 508 acres, burning the foliage off three mountains and killing 49 of the refuge's 53 endangered condors. Cash was unrepentant: "I don't care about your damn yellow buzzards." The federal government sued him and was awarded $125,172 ($863,091 in current dollar terms). Cash eventually settled the case and paid $82,001. He said he was the only person ever sued by the government for starting a forest fire.”

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We reach the halfway point with an explanation.

The Man in Black

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There’s lots of music and greatness to come but we’ll have short break now so that you can stretch your legs – if you’re as old as I – and get a coffee top-up.

When you’re ready again we’ll restart.

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Despite his wild ways Cash never served a jail sentence although he did spend a single night in jail after each of several arrests.

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San Quentin

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No break here: straight on with another great.

Cocaine Blues

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Here is some useless information from to Wikipedia,

“Cash was of Scottish royal descent, however learned this only upon researching his ancestry.  After the opportunity of meeting with former Falkland, Fife laird, Major Michael Crichton-Stuart, he traced the Cash family tree to 11th-century Fife, Scotland.  Scotland's Cash Loch bears the name of his family. He had believed in his younger days that he was mainly Irish and partially Native American, including Cherokee and Choctaw. Though Cash learned he was not of Native American descent, his empathy and compassion for Native Americans was unabated.”

I’ve managed to find Cash Loch on a map and it is a tiny loch  - about 150 yards long by 40 yards wide at its widest. 

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Leonard Cohen makes his presence felt now as Cash sings one of his songs.

Like a Bird on a Wire

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Again we move straight on with a duet with Satchmo.

Blue Yodel No. 9 with Louis Armstrong

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There are only three songs to go: two of them are long-time classics but the other is an intensely moving prayer to God.  

First up is one of his classics.

Ring of Fire

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June Carter died in May 2003 and a few months later – September 12 -  Johnny died from complications from diabetes.

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I hadn’t heard this next song before this week but I found it incredible.  He sounds like a man, he may have been a man, with little time to live for whom the prayer means everything.

Help me, Lord

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At his last ever public concert Johnny said this about his late wife, June Carter.

The spirit of June Carter overshadows me tonight with the love she had for me and the love I have for her. We connect somewhere between here and heaven. She came down for a short visit, I guess, from heaven to visit with me tonight to give me courage and inspiration like she always has.”

With this in mind this show finishes with June and Johnny together again.  Johnny introduces the song with

“I always sing this song for June Carter.”

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Jackson                                                       with June Carter

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Thank you for sharing this show with me. 

In life he may have been a contradiction but in music Johnny Cash was only a great star.

Thank you, Johnny, for leaving such a rich legacy.

You will be remembered!

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Remember to pop over next week.  I’ll be here waiting for you.

5 comments:

  1. Monumental!
    ....both the man and this week's show
    your best so far
    :)
    there is a story that Merle Haggard was in the audience at San Quentin and seeing Cash inspired him to be a singer when he got out. Probably apocryphal but a good story.

    You have a duet with Louis Armstrong so allow me to add another great duet from his TV show-
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5UMGgXN2b70

    one of the 100 songs on 'The List' that he gave to Roseanne Cash.

    Thanks again Calum
    :)

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  2. That was quite a thing he had with June Carter. Glad to see you put in Ring of Fire.

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  3. JD

    Thanks for the praise: my headphones have just broken as my head grew quickly!

    Thanks too for the great Dylan duet.

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  4. James

    How could I not put in "Ring of Fire"?

    Re June Carter: some find love which lasts a lifetime but for others only a few seconds!

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  5. Very interesting. Well presented, as always.Thank you!

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