It’s a doubleheader tonight!
Johnny Cash released a record in 1983 which was in the shops for the same amount of time as the proverbial snowflake in Hell. The critics ignored it. Of course the radio stations, especially those specialising in country music, did the same. They were into blow-dried glossy candy music not real songs sung by a man of experience and depth.
Cash had had a rough decade. His glory days as the Man in Black and sanctified sinner of American music were well behind him. In the 1970’s times changed. Cool people turned away from country music. Even Clapton went middle of the road and soft. Raw country music had no market. Alt country, Americana and roots music were not even a twinkle in anyone’s eye.
In 1982 another guy named Bruce Springsteen made a dark ominous record called Nebraska. A deliberate attempt, it seemed at the time, to become as obscure and marginal as his hero Johnny Cash. No E Street Band, no drums, no sax no nothing. Just Bruce with fragile voice and acoustic guitar. The record became an instant classic hailed as a master stroke for its searing, paranoid, violent and yet somehow redemptive vision. When you’re hot you’re hot.
And when you’re not you’re not. Just ask Johnny Cash.
Cash had always championed young songwriters. Neil Young, Bob Dylan, and Joni Mitchell had all been invited to share the stage with Johnny on his hugely popular weekly television show in the late 1960s/early 1970s. While his country music peers were bemoaning the long-haired hippies Cash was publicly defending them and promoting their music.
So it should have come as no surprise that he covered two of Springsteen’s Nebraska songs on Johnny 99, his ill-fated 1983 record. He always had great taste. But even that didn’t get Cash visibility or respect in those bleak days of deep Reaganism. The record disappeared without a trace.
A few years later Cash joined forces with a few other country music rejects (Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson) to form a supergroup that played the sort of insipid musak Nashville and Madison Avenue demanded. After limping along that path for a few years he seemed to genuinely retire. Cash was no more.
Of course, he then hooked up with Rick Rubin to make a record in1994 that cracked out of nowhere like lightning on a summer’s day. The rest (5 American Recordings) is history. Cash was back, still singing the songs of young songwriters.
Johnny 99 is a truly wonderful record. The song selection is diverse and his singing is sure, solid and as powerful as his early work. Stand out tracks, beside the two Springsteen covers are Joshua Gone Barbados and the duet with his beloved June, Brand New Dance.
For your listening pleasure I post Johnny 99 and Nebraska. Two fine American recordings.
01 Highway Patrolman
02 That's The Truth
03 God Bless Robert E. Lee
04 New Cut Road
05 Johnny 99
06 Ballad Of The Ark
07 Joshua Gone Barbados
08 Girl From The Canyon
09 Brand New Dance (Album Version)
10 I'm Ragged But I'm Right (Album Version)
02 Atlantic City
03 Mansion On The Hill
04 Johnny 99
05 Highway Patrolman
06 State Trooper
07 Used Cars
08 Open All Night
09 My Father's House
10 Reason To Believe