G Pig Gives Ten GOLD Reasons Why JOHNNY CASH Always Matters

Pig on Cash

Ten Reasons Why JOHNNY CASH Always Matters


Without a red hot and blue band to back it all the way up, even a Man in Black’s powers weaken considerably. That’s why, before first setting out to conquer the world as we knew it, Johnny Cash planted firmly behind him that Tennessee Three so widely known and regarded as Marshall Grant (bass), W.S. “Fluke” Holland (drums), and guitarist-extraordinaire Luther Monroe Perkins (no relation to Carl though).

  1. “BIG RIVER”

His brief backstage appearance crooning “I Still Miss Someone” in good pal Bob Dylan’s Eat The Document severely notwithstanding, perhaps Johnny’s mean, lean vintage performance persona is best exemplified courtesy of that late-Fifties Army recruiting propaganda-fest Country Style USA. The rending therein of “Big River” in particular is absolutely astounding to see and hear even now, as Cash attacks the song – especially its signature G-chord flourishes – with a fervor even Don Everly at his amphetamine crankiest would be heart-pressed to match.


While you’re at the video port, grab that freshly-restored issue of Robert Elfstrom’s Johnny Cash: The Man, His World, His Music. In the great Arriflex-on-the-wall tradition of that other perfectly timeless 1969 documentary Gimme Shelter, the camera tails Johnny as he sadistically fondles a crow in his backyard, rummages through the broken remains of his childhood home, ruminates at the site of the Wounded Knee massacre, waxes extremely philosophic on his tour bus and, you bet, rips it up in front of a typically receptive captive audience.


Even more riveting than above-mentioned pal Bob’s appearance on ABC-TV’S Johnny Cash Show was 1971’s special Johnny Cash On Campus episode, wherein The Man hauled crew, cameras, the student body of Vanderbilt University and even Neil Young just for good measure directly into the Ryman Auditorium for an evening which climaxed with the first-ever public performance of his brand new signature tune, “Man In Black.” “I wear it for the thousands who have died, believing that the Lord was on their side; I wear it for another hundred thousand who have died, believing that we all were on their side,” Johnny defiantly sang. “Introducing another new single Johnny Cash won’t be able to perform at the White House,” the Columbia Records press release proudly announced the following week.


But Man in Black does not live by social comment alone. Indeed, it was quite common for Johnny to invite his televised guests back to the homestead for a post-taping song swap. One momentous evening when the guitar was duly passed ’round and everyone present was told to try out a new one, Graham Nash offered “Marrakesh Express,” Kris Kristofferson premiered “Me And Bobby McGee,” then the Zimmer Man applied his brand new boudoir voice to a plaintive “Lay Lady Lay.” As if this wasn’t all one night’s entertainment enough though, the inimitable Shel Silverstein then decided to test-drive a strange new number he hadn’t even considered shopping across Music City just yet. Johnny wanted to hear it though…..


“That’s the most cleverly written song I’ve ever heard,” The Man responded, and luckily June Carter thought enough to stuff Shel’s cheat sheet into her husband’s bag before they departed for the next day’s recording session over at San Quentin State Prison. “I didn’t even know the lyrics,” Johnny recalled of making his quickest, biggest hit. “I had to put the words on a music stand in front of me. I told ’em I want to sing a song called ‘A Boy Named Sue.’ Well they laughed, you know, and I said, ‘No, it’s not what you think. Let me sing it to you.’ I read the lyrics off the paper in front of me, and that was the record.” And late that summer, only the Rolling Stones and their honky tonk women could keep Sue off the very top of your local CHUM Chart.


But this DBAWIS at least, my own fave rave from among Johnny’s voluminous 500-album, 1700-song-and-counting catalog was cut the night of September 10, 1969 at Columbia Music Row Studios, Nashville. By now Carl Perkins (no relation) had just replaced the late great Luther on guitar, yet his patented blue suede notes perfectly matched Johnny, line by lascivious line, in positively sneering Billy Edd Wheeler’s ode to the fairer of sex: “What she does simply walkin’ down the sidewalks of that city makes me think about a stray cat gettin’ fed,” our hero snarled, “and I got tiny white blisters in my throat from tryin’ to ease my nervous tension takin’ all them pat and pills. She got a body, oh yeah!” Why Johnny, you dirty old egg-sucking dog you!!


Still, behind every great man – those in black included – stands a woman who, as the formerly Fab John once observed, makes “the other half of the sky.” For John R. Cash, that woman was, and could have only truly been, Valerie June Carter. He first spotted her when, as a high school senior, his class took a trip to see the Carter Family play the Grand Ole Opry. “You and I are going to get married someday” were among his first-ever words to the already-married young woman. “Really?” she replied. “Well, good. I can’t wait.” And a decade later they were, yes, married in a fever, and remained so until she passed, four months ahead of her man, in 2003.


It was from the balcony of none other than Roy Thomson Hall where I personally first saw both June and Johnny perform together – at a Canada Trust-sponsored concert to launch their brand new Johnny Cash, I kid you not, ATM’s. June, hotter than a pepper sprout and then some, joyously high-stepped her dancing shoes clear off and over the wax-painted heads of that austere audience, Johnny bar-stormed through his many many hits at near-Ramone intensity and, ’way over in the corner on Telecaster? Why, ladies and gentlemen, it was none other than Buddy Holly’s last bass player, Waylon Jennings!


Thank the heavens Rick Rubin most obviously picked up on how the Eighties, and Mercury Records especially, had stupidly squandered the abundant Cash bounty on a series of ill-advised “big hat” productions and all-star Yesteryear groupings, and instinctively knew just what to do: Set Johnny up on a stool in his living room – or the Viper Room, throw up a couple of mics, simply press “record” and let the magic flow. The initial result was that truly alt.-country masterpiece “Delia’s Gone,” and a further five full Rubin-directed discs followed culminating with what is likely to be Johnny’s fifty-fourth (!) and benedictory hit, “Hurt.” P.S.: and the Old Testament video for that one actually won Johnny a slew of acclaim and awards …which, of course, the man never stuck around long enough to collect.

“Country music used to represent horses, railroads, land, Judgment Day, family, hard times, whiskey, courtship, marriage, adultery, separation, murder, war, prison, rambling, damnation, home, salvation, death, pride, humor, piety, rebellion, patriotism, larceny, determination, tragedy, rowdiness, heartbreak and love. And Mother. And God.”

(Johnny Cash,  February 26, 1932 – September 12, 2003)


Gary appears here whenever he wants

Contact us at: dbawis@rogers.com.

DBAWIS_ButtonGary Pig Gold may have grown up in Port Credit, run away to Hamilton to join his first rock ‘n’ roll group, hung out with Joe Strummer on his first-ever night in the UK, returned to T.O. to publish Canada’s first-ever rock ‘n’ roll (fan)zine, run away again gary pig gpld facong leftto Surf City to (almost) tour Australia with Jan & Dean, come home again to tour O Canada with that country’s first-ever (authorized!) Beach Boys tribute band …but STILL, he had to travel all the way back to the USSR to secure his first-ever recording contract www.GaryPigGold.com

4 Responses to “G Pig Gives Ten GOLD Reasons Why JOHNNY CASH Always Matters”

  1. Peter Montreuil Says:

    Another fascinating column. Well done, Gary!

  2. […] (“Ain’t What You Do,” live from the Mardi Gras Club, 1960) through dizzying M-beat covers of Johnny Cash’s (“Big River,” as interpreted by Denny Seyton and the Sabres circa ‘63) and even Ritchie […]

  3. […] Village, keeping eyes and especially ears wide open as he hung and howled amongst the veterans (Johnny Cash), the recently established (John B. Sebastian), the new kids down the block (a young Richard X. […]

  4. […] blues.” Sure enough, “Holloway Jail,” for one, would provide an ideal candidate for the Man In Black’s very next opus. It was at this precise moment that the original Kinks guitar-keys-drums line-up […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: