I was happy to be a guest on Alan Shulman’s High and Low Podcast. We had a great conversation about the music of Johnny Cash and talked about what I feel drove him creatively. We also got in to Johnny’s prison shows, the differences between and Folsom and San Quentin, as well as what compelled him to perform in prisons throughout his career.
Today is Hank Williams birthday and to honor that, here is a clip of Johnny Cash, joined by Hank Williams, Jr. on the 1980 television special Hank Williams: A Man and His Music.
Hank was certainly one of Johnny’s big influences and, as he was to many country musicians, a hero. Throughout Cash’s career there were many fans and people in the press that drew parallels between the two. On the plus side was the charisma that both possessed. Both had the ability to connect with their audience like few others.
In the early and mid-1960s the comparison often wasn’t as favorable. Cash’s addictions were reminding too many people of the “bad side” of Hank and many didn’t think he’d survive the decade. We all know it, thankfully, turned out differently.
Next week we’ll take a look at the friendship of Hank Williams, Jr and Johnny Cash.
Johnny Cash FAQ: All That’s Left to Know About the Man in Black is available this week and the first review showed up, too!
You can read it here: Clue Review
If you would like to read an excerpt of my new book, Johnny Cash FAQ: All That’s Left to Know About the Man in Black, head over to the excellent Engine 145! This is one of my favorite music related sites and I was honored to be asked for an excerpt to post.
Making my way down the aisles of Derby City Comic Con, I saw fans dressed as their favorite characters and artists with their sketches and books for sale—many of both categories include the Caped Crusader in one form or another. Batman came into the world in 1939, seven years after Johnny Cash, and is still going strong today. He’s been featured in comic books, prose novels, movie serials, a television series, and several successful and high-profile movies. For several years after his inception he was portrayed as a gritty, vengeance-driven hero that worked outside, or sometimes against, the law. The character slowly morphed into something different adding in science fiction aspects and storylines. After that the camp of the 1960s television show crept into the comics before writers and artists took him down another path turning him into the World’s Greatest Detective and placing him in more street level situations. A successful movie franchise started in 1989, but died out after the fourth film, but Batman Begins rebooted the Batman movie franchise in 2005 meeting with critical acclaim and commercial success while 2008’s The Dark Knight grew the franchise on both counts. The movies featured an angst filled Bruce Wayne learning to become the Dark Knight and it was apparently what fans of the character were hungry for. In November 2008, riding the wave of success generated by the movie, a new animated series called Batman: The Brave and The Bold debuted pairing Batman with other superheroes and presenting a more kid-friendly version of the hero.
Now, what’s all this got to do with Johnny Cash? Well, two things. First they both have gone through several eras of identity, each different than the last, and some seemingly contradictory to a past or future identity. Fans of both Batman and Cash love to cherry pick their favorite aspects of both and decry–or completely ignore–the aspects they don’t love. Midway through the first season of Batman: The Brave and The Bold Bat-Mite appears. Introduced to the comic world in 1959, Bat-Mite is from the 5th dimension and has inter-dimensional reality-warping powers. He is also Batman’s biggest fan. In this episode he appears and continues to pit Batman against ever growing threats to illustrate why Batman is the world’s greatest hero. First he morphs Batman into a new costume and in doing so runs through several of the characters comic book incarnations from his early suits to his Frank Miller Dark Knight Returns gritty look. He then pits Batman against one of his rogues gallery, which turns out to be the Z-list villain Calendar Man, who Batman quickly defeats. Bat-Mite then morphs Calendar Man into an over-muscled villain with a multitude of holiday inspired goons at his disposal. The episode is an attempt to showcase how more than one aspect of the character can coexist without negating the history of Batman. At one point in the episode Batman and Bat-Mite are on the stage of a comic convention, joined by the creators of the show, looking out over a sea of fans dressed like Batman and Joker. One fan steps to the microphone and says that he always felt Batman was best served as a gritty crimefighter and that the lighter version has no place in the characters mythos. After the creators quickly confer they hand a piece of paper to Bat-Mite who reads: “Batman’s rich history allows him to be interpreted in a multitude of ways. To be sure, this is a lighter incarnation, but is certainly no less valid and true to the character’s roots as the tortured avenger, crying out for mommy and daddy.”
The same goes for Johnny Cash. Many love the dark elder statesman of the American Recordings era and want to completely forget about the playful jester who recorded Everybody Loves A Nut. Or their vision of Cash stalking the stage of Folsom Prison can’t be reconciled with Cash strolling the stage of a Billy Graham Crusade. But in both cases, as Bat-Mite said, are “certainly no less valid and true to the character’s roots.”
But that’s the great thing about Johnny Cash. With such a long career that produced over eighty albums there is truly something for everyone.
The second thing they have in common, they’ve both starred in sequential art.
As I was putting together the Johnny Cash FAQ, I had originally written a chapter about Cash’s comic appearances. As I got further along in the book I decided to focus on the music, so this chapter didn’t really fit in with the rest of the book. But I thought it was fun enough to save rather than just scrap. So now I offer it to you for signing up for my mailing list. I promise your address stays with me and I’m not going to bug you all of the time. (If you really want the chapter but don’t have any desire to be on the mailing list, email me and I’ll get it to you.)
(Thanks to Susan C. Foster for inviting me in to this Blog Tour.)
Fandango, ZZ Top’s 1975 hit record, has always been one of my favorites. The first three cuts are live, showing the band in their prime. The third live track, the nearly ten minute medley called “Backdoor Medley,” includes a bit of spoken dialogue that I later learned came from the John Lee Hooker song, “Boogie Chillen.” It’s a back and forth between a mother and father regarding their son’s need to be out rocking and carousing. Though it surely doesn’t alie any of the mother’s fears, the father’s answer is: “Let that boy boogie woogie. It’s in him, and it’s got to come out.”
That’s how I feel about writing. It’s in me, and it’s got to come out.
It seems like I’ve been writing ever since I could read. I always played with action figures as a kid, creating backstories and adventures that continued in a serialized way for weeks. I still have at home a book I wrote as a little kid, complete with illustrations I created on my Disney lightbox (which I also still have!). In Cub Scouts I won an award for the best fish story at the annual Fishing Derby (an award I still have! No, I don’t throw anything away, so?).
As the years went by, writing was always some part of come thing else I was doing. It was never the focus of my energy until the mid-2000s when I began to do reviews for a site called Americana Roots. Reviews grew to features and I began to branch out to other publications, gathering clips to grow my portfolio.
Then my son was born and I stopped writing to use that time to spend with him. A couple of years later my daughter was born. As they grew, the urge to write slowly crept back in to my mind. So I restarted my site, Music Tomes. One thing led to another, thanks largely to the site, and I got my first two book contracts.
I have to write, whether anyone reads it or not. It’s not about showing off trivial knowledge or anything like that. I do hope I can help those that read my work to learn something about the subject that they didn’t know, of course, but largely, I just have to write!
Now, let me introduce a couple of other bloggers you might want to peruse:
Lee Gaitan has worn many hats in her 25 years as a professional communicator, from public relations writer and television host to stand-up comedienne and educator. She is the author of two books, Falling Flesh Just Ahead and the recently released My Pineappples Went to Houston—Finding the Humor in My Dashed Hopes, Broken Dreams and Plans Gone Outrageously Awry. Lee lives with her husband and dog in suburban Atlanta where she divides her time among speaking, writing, teaching and keeping tabs on her tri-continental family.
To read more wit and wisdom from Lee Gaitan or to book her as a speaker, please visit www.leegaitan.com.
Brittany Banister is a teacher blogger specializing in K-3 ed tech and project based learning. You can check out blog at iheartkindergarten.blogspot.com/
When Marty Stuart met Johnny Cash for the first time, he said he thought he heard thunder. Cash asked him, “Where you been?” “Getting ready,” Stuart replied and it was the beginning of a friendship that would last the rest of Cash’s life.
On the season six ender of The Marty Stuart Show this past weekend, Stuart reflected on what Cash meant to him and his music in a special hour-long episode of the show.
Stuart had gotten his start playing mandolin at age 13 for another hero of his, bluegrass pioneer Lester Flatt. When Flatt died in May 1979, Stuart was a bit adrift, though the band, The Nashville Grass, continued under the leadership of Curly Seckler. Soon the band was back in the studio to cut a new album and they invited Cash in to guest on two songs (“What’s Good For You (Should Be Alright For Me)” and “Mother Maybelle”). But without Flatt, the band didn’t stay together long and Stuart was looking for another gig.
In 1980 Marshall Grant was fired from the band, but drummer WS “Fluke” Holland and guitarist Bob Wootton of the Tennessee Three remained. Cash wanted to change his sound slightly, so he expanded the band from three to eight, adding a piano and a couple of other guitarists, dubbing them the Great Eighties Eight. One of those guitarists was Stuart, though he also played fiddle and mandolin as well.
After two years in the band, Stuart had his sights set on being his own artist. Signing a deal with Sugar Hill Records, he went about recording his first album, Busy Bee Cafe. While his bluegrass background was evident, the Cash influence was also there. “Hey Porter,” one of Cash’s earliest songs was included, as was the Bob Nolan penned “One More Ride,” both of which Cash guested on. Combining the power of both heroes, Stuart recorded Lester Flatt’s “Get In Line, Brother” with Cash also on vocals. Though a fine effort, the album never gained traction and Stuart continued in the Great Eighties Eight.
A year later, Stuart fell in love with Cash’s daughter Cindy, who was touring with the show. The two were married in 1983. In 1986 Stuart got a record deal with Columbia that produced two albums of rockabilly-edged country. Marty Stuart reached #34 on the Country Albums chart. The second album, Let There Be Country, wouldn’t be released until 1992, several years after his Columbia contract had ended.
As the 1980s ended things were bittersweet for Stuart as his marriage to Cindy ended in 1988, but he got a new deal with MCA. Hillbilly Rock made it to #19 on the Country Albums chart in 1989 and the first single, the Cash tune “Cry, Cry, Cry” made it to #32. The albums third single, “Hillbilly Rock,” made it to #8 and set Stuart on a successful tear up the charts for the next several years.
The friendship of Cash and Stuart grew stronger through those years, though they didn’t see each other as often. But in 1997, after he married Connie Smith, Stuart bought a house near Cash, who was just coming off the road for good after fighting some health problems.
This episode of The Marty Stuart Show was a truly special one. It features Stuart, one on one, expounding upon all of the events I’ve just mentioned, and several more. His love and admiration for Cash is clearly evident. It is not only a great look into their friendship, but a great overview of Stuart’s career.
It wouldn’t be The Marty Stuart Show without the music, performed by Stuart and the Fabulous Superlatives. In this episode, aside from a few clips of Stuart playing with Cash, we get renditions of “Hey Porter,” “Country Boy,” “Luther Played The Boogie,” and “Give My Love To Rose.”Stuart ends the show with his tribute to Cash, “Dark Bird,” which he performed alone on the stage.
In all a great episode that is a treat for fans of both Cash and Stuart.
My newest book is coming soon! You can see the cover at the right. I’m very excited to see
the release of the book in September and it was a lot of fun to work on.
I’ve always been a Cash fan, so this was a great excuse (as if I needed one) to do a deep dive into his catalog. I listened to a lot of stuff I hadn’t heard for a while, and to some stuff I had never listened to, all of which was a great experience.
I’ll be posting more about the book as we get closer to the book’s launch, so stay tuned!
Rhapsody in Black is the newest book from author and musician John Kruth. He has previously written biographies of singer-songwriter Townes Van Zandt and Jazz Legend Roland Kirk. He recently took a few minutes to talk about the process of writing with me.