The Best of The Johnny Cash TV Show: 1969-1971
First Appeared in The Music Box, December 2007, Volume 14, #12
Written by Douglas Heselgrave
Tue, December 4, 2007, 06:45 AM CST
Since the Man in Black’s death in 2003, a deluge of CDs, DVDs, books, and other Johnny Cash-oriented memorabilia has hit the marketplace. It seems as if every other month since the singer’s passing, there has been a new, major, commemorative edition or retrospective offered to fans. For those people on a limited budget, the array of choices can be baffling and off-putting, and it often is difficult to assess which of these memorial editions are of the best value. Of all of the products that currently are being touted, The Best of The Johnny Cash TV Show: 1969–1971, a newly released two-DVD collection of highlights from Cash’s primetime television program, is by far the most interesting item that is worthy of attention.
For those music fans who are old enough to remember a time before MTV, The Johnny Cash Show was the thing to watch. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, it was the best place to hear upcoming singer/songwriters performing their own music, and over the course of its three-year run, Cash played host to Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, James Taylor, Derek and the Dominos, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and countless other artists who were in the midst of producing an array of legendary works. He treated these young artists with respect, and he gave them a platform from which to share their music with an audience that otherwise would never have had exposure to their songs and ideas.
In addition to bridging the generation gap with his program, Cash also fearlessly crossed the racial divide. Fighting censors all the way, he hosted a number of great African-American artists, thus giving them a chance to bring their music into the living rooms of middle America. Viewed almost 40 years later, the performances of Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles are not only musically brilliant, but they also represent a changing point in American popular culture. Hearing Charles and Cash sitting at a piano to recast I Walk the Line as a blues-y moan is just one of many revelations contained on The Best of The Johnny Cash TV Show: 1969–1971. Charles’ subsequent solo rendition of Ring of Fire represents a highpoint in contemporary music that few artists will ever surpass.
The appearance of Louis Armstrong on Cash’s program — which was shot just a few short months before the trumpeter’s death — has to be seen and heard to be appreciated fully. Armstrong is shy and unassuming, and his speaking voice is little more than a rasp. Yet, he epitomized cool in a way that few men — this side of Miles Davis — ever have been able to muster. His duet with Cash on Jimmie Rodgers’ Blue Yodel is a perfect lesson in musical simplicity. Blowing with the economy and assurance of a man who lived and breathed music for nearly 70 years, Armstrong turns this performance into a master class in emotion and nuance. Though the recording is not yet 40 years old, the world and its music have changed so much that the song reverberates with such power and significance that it seems much more ancient than it is. Cash and Armstrong were consummate artists, and when viewed decades later, their collaboration is as deep and powerful as a newly discovered psalm or Dead Sea Scroll. Beautiful and perfect beyond description, this clip alone is worth the price of admission.
Cash apparently found the recording schedule for The Johnny Cash Show to be very stressful, and he reportedly was often tired and disoriented during shooting. Yet, for a man who hated the process, Cash presented a warm and affable persona to his viewers. He genuinely seemed to enjoy the chance to hear and showcase the music of the performers he admired. In addition to the young rock stars and African-American musicians who appeared on his show, Cash also used every opportunity to promote the greatest artists that country music had to offer. Consequently, The Best of The Johnny Cash TV Show: 1969–1971 also contains an abundance of wonderful performances by Waylon Jennings, George Jones, Kris Kristofferson, and many others. In addition, Cash, himself, gave definitive readings of many of his hits during the program’s run.
For certain, it is hard to pick favorites from amongst the wealth of offerings that are spread across The Best of The Johnny Cash TV Show: 1969–1971’s two DVDs. Aside from the previously mentioned segments by Armstrong and Charles, the opportunities it provides to hear a lanky, long-haired Neil Young sing his then-new composition The Needle and the Damage Done as well as Cash and Mitchell as they deliver Long Black Veil as a duet deserve special mention. In the end, each viewer will discover his or her own highlights. The collection itself is beautifully packaged with a very clear DVD transfer that renders a high-quality picture and crystal-clear sound. The accompanying narration from Kristofferson, Cash’s family, and surviving members of the show’s staff provides continuity between the selections as well as a lot of insight into the program’s production.
Of all of the Johnny Cash memorabilia that presently is available, The Best of The Johnny Cash TV Show: 1969–1971 is the most indispensable. Whether one is a fan of Cash or just wants to take a glorious trip down memory lane, the vintage footage that this set contains offers a little something for everyone. Despite the hype that has surrounded Cash in recent years, The Best of The Johnny Cash TV Show: 1969–1971 reminds viewers of the essential humanity and egalitarianism that made the Man in Black so worthy of attention in the first place. It is a worthwhile purchase and a fine addition to any video library.
The Best of The Johnny Cash TV Show: 1969-1971
is available from Barnes & Noble. To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2007 The Music Box