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Episode Timeline

00:10 Introduction

03:06 Commercial

05:23 Dixieland

06:33 Meet The Carters

25:27 On The Road

43:07 On His Knees

55:22 Outro

 

Introduction

Hello. I’m Troy King. Welcome to another episode of CASHback. Did you hear about the time that Johnny Cash got stung by a butterfly? No? Well, climb on board, settle into your seat, and leave the driving to our engineer. By the time we get back, you’ll be an expert on that . . . and a LOT more!

Now, first things first. For those of you who are new, we missed you last week. It’s true. Late is better than never and we are glad to have you on board this week. For our old friends and regular riders, welcome back. For you first timers, the dictionary defines a flashback as a sudden, vivid memory of the past. If those memories are of Johnny Cash, though, they are too special to be just another ordinary flashback. No. Around here, we have a special name for them — we call them CASHbacks. Before we return to the station, I hope you will too.

So join me as we board the CASHback Express and boom chicka boom our way through and across this week in Johnny Cash music history. This week, like every week, we will remember the songs and the sessions, the history, and, most of all, the Man, the Man in Black, that is, and his music.

Hear that? This week’s train is almost ready to pull out. We have scheduled stops ringside to remember the greatest — the greatest singers country music ever produced and the one they just call “the Greatest.” Stay tuned and I’ll tell you more.

Come Along & Ride This Train

Welcome back. We have our final clearance and will be pulling out shortly. Before we do, I want to give you your orientation session so you know what to expect. Think about our weekly trips as a mashup of Paul Harvey’s “Rest of the Story,” Jeopardy, and Mission: Impossible. As a boy, I spent many hours listening to Paul Harvey’s history lessons and trying to figure out the rest of the story before he told me. Now we offer you that same chance. Every trip we make will relate stories you have, hopefully, never heard before. As I told you, as on Jeopardy, we are giving you the answer to every question. It is “Johnny Cash.” There is a lot more to it than that though. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to figure out the question – how does each story relate to Johnny Cash before I tell you. One thing I can assure you, no matter what rail spur or detour we take is – eventually, they all return to the Johnny Cash mainline. Of course, participation is optional. If you prefer, you can also settle back in your seat, veg out, and just enjoy the ride. It’s up to you.

All set?

Then come along and ride this train with me back through the mists of time and across the week of September 13“ through September 19″. Every stop this train makes will be at the site of something that happened this week in Johnny Cash music history. Find a seat. The train is pulling out. All aboard!

DIXIELAND

Come along and ride this train with me to a steamy, balmy fall evening in the Big Easy, New Orleans, Louisiana where, this week in music (and boxing) history, on September 15″, 1978, the greatest of all time, the three time world heavyweight boxing champion, Muhammad Ali, faced off against Leon Spinks at the Super Dome.

Ali was born on January 17″, 1942, in Louisville, Kentucky. BABY CRYING His given name was Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr. Ali began down the path towards a career in boxing when he was 12. After his bike was stolen, Ali told the investigating officer that he intended to “whup” the thief. A policeman by the name Joe Martin, however, encouraged young Cassius Clay to learn to box instead. And learn he did.

Ali began his boxing career fighting under his given name – Cassius Clay. In fact, it was on the biggest stage in all of sports that the 18 year old Cassius Clay first strode when he arrived at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome. Clay won all four of his fights and brought home the gold.

Within a month, Clay was fighting professionally. Just consider though – before his first professional fight, Clay had won six Kentucky Golden Glove titles, two national Golden Glove titles, and a gold medal in the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome. In all, Clay compiled an enviable and impressive 100 wins and 5 losses record. Clay first stepped into a professional ring on October 29th, 1960, with a six round fight that went to a decision over Tunney Hunsaker. He won his first title when he was 22 by upsetting the reigning world champion on February 25th, 1964, beating Sonny Liston in a fight that was billed as “The Fight of the Year.” In a precursor to what would become an Ali hallmark, Clay, during a now- infamous in-ring interview following the match, shouted,“I’m the greatest thing that ever lived, and I just turned 22 years old! I must be the greatest! I told the world! I talk to God every day, if God’s with me, can’t nobody stop me! I shook up the world! … I am the king of the world! I’m pretty! I’m a bad man! I shook up the world!” CAN WE FIND THE CLIP OF HIM SAYING IT? That became a nickname that would stick. No one had ever brought such a brash, unbridled confidence to the ring. Far from the reverence with which Ali now commands himself, early on, his disrespect of boxing traditions caused him to be resented by purists, hated by the public, and reviled by many sports writers. Ali never needed a manager or publicist to speak for him. Instead, his public image and his ability to communicate became as famous as his ring skills. Ali became known as the Greatest … and it was more than just hyperbole. And everyone knew it.

In fact, proof that country music royalty knew and believed it came, following Waylon Jennings’s death, when a tape Jennings left behind labeled “New Stuff,” surfaced in a warehouse of the late singer’s artifacts. Ultimately, those stripped down demos of songs Jennings was collecting to record were released for Record Store Day on November 24, 2017. At the center of those songs was one Jennings wrote to honor his friend, Muhammed Ali. It was simply called “Here’s to the Champion (Muhammed Ali).” PLAY JENNINGS SONG “HERE’S TO THE GREATEST” An expanded version of the album came later in 2017 and featured six bonus tracks, each of them, a fresh take on the Ali tribute. There was Jennings unaltered demo, remixes, and versions featuring Mrs. Waylon Jennings, Jessi Colter, Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, and Waylon’s son, Shooter Jennings. Cash had likely met Ali through Jennings. Ali and Jennings shared a friendship so deep that Ali attended the christening ceremony for Waylon’s boy, Shooter.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s roll the calendar back to where we left off. In the mid-sixties, Ali was still Cassius Clay and he was only the greatest in his own mind. Turns out, he knew more than the rest of us.

Clay’s win over Liston made Clay the youngest fighter to strip a reigning champion of his title — a record that would stand until it was broken by Mike Tyson — twenty two years later in 1986. Creating more controversy, Clay converted to the Nation of Islam’s ranks and changed his name to Muhammad Ali soon. After several delays necessitated by Liston’s arrests and after multiple venue changes out of concern over mob ties, on May 25, 1965, in Lewiston, Maine, the Ali-Liston rematch was more decisive … if also more controversial. It lasted less than two minutes and ended in a knockout. The knockout though is a matter of much dispute. Despite Liston being knocked down, the knockout call was delayed. Decades later, the debate still rages over whether Liston threw the match or it was a legitimate KO.

Ali’s fight against Chuck Wepner in the mid-70’s became the inspiration for Sylvester Stallone’s “Rocky” film.

Whatever doubts may have existed after the Liston bout, met the same fate as nearly every boxer who stepped into the ring with Ali – he knocked them out as he fought his way to become the only three time World Heavyweight Boxing champion ever crowned. He won the world title in 1964, in 1974, and in 1978. Some of Ali’s fights became legendary — including his series of fights with Joe Frazier which many believe to be the best matches to ever hit a boxing ring fought and a fight against George Foreman at which Ali regained the title he had lost seven years before.

Ali met and dropped the title that night. Seven months later, the men met in a rematch in New Orleans.

It is this fight that places Ali on our calendar. Ali invited the Cash troupe to attend the fight as his guests. They flew from Dallas, Texas, to New Orleans for the fight. This fight boasted a title rematch between the two fighters. 

Ali filled the unusual boots of challenger. Leon Spinks was the reigning world champion.

The fight was a back and forth battle with each man trading rounds on points. By the end of the fifteenth round though, Ali was declared the winner by unanimous decision. 

In an instance of it takes one to know one, that night in New Orleans, Ali gave Cash an autograph that read, “To my man, Johnny Cash, World’s greatest country western singer from Muhammad Ali, World Boxing Champ.” Subsequently, Ali gave Cash a poem . The poem was called “The Soul of Truth” and Cash recorded it on January 17*, 1979, at Columbia Studios in Nashville, Tennessee during the sessions that yielded his “A Believer Sings the Truth” album. It lay, however, for decades unheard and unreleased until 2012 when the track was included as the title track of Cash’s fourth bootleg release, which bore the name of the song. That release also, sadly, dispelled the long held myth that Ali had penned the song himself. Only then was it discovered that it had been written by an Islamic cleric named Inayat Khan. Regardless of authorship, though, its connection to Ali remains undisputed. Here it is:

“The Soul of Truth”

With this fight (and others like it), Ali battled his way to more than just three world champion boxing titles — he also laid claim to Sports Illustrated’s “Sportsman of the Century” title and spent his twilight years as a revered elder statesman of boxing. Ali returned to the stage that first made him famous when he was selected to light the Olympic cauldron at the Opening Ceremony in Atlanta in 1996. Ali’s toughest opponent proved to be Parkinson’s Disease. On June 3, 2016, Parkinson’s Disease did what no mortal had been able to do – to knock the Champ down and keep him down – when Ali succumbed to the disease. By then, the whole world had come to agree with his earliest predictions and he was the undisputed Greatest. He had never doubted it. It just took the rest of the world longer to catch on.

Today, we slow the train, blow the whistle long and loud PLAY TRAIN WHISTLE and salute the man who was greatest in his field and who recognized what we all also know – that Johnny Cash made the greatest music ever produced. My Mama was right – it DOES take one to know one . . . and both of them were one.

TRAIN TRACK NOISE

So many of you enjoyed our day trip last week through the life and times of Ernest Tubb that we have another planned for you this week. I can’t spill all the beans of what lies down there. If you look out the windows you can see the tracks leading there. That’s all I’m allowed to say.

Ok. Ok. Ok.

Here’s a hint: we are booking seats on our early Halloween sightseeing trips into the original country music nightmare right now over at our members’ only counter.

Remember – this train is like none other. It’s never late leaving. Just visit our website, and check out the member’s section. We’d love to welcome you aboard over there.

In the meantime, back to THIS trip.

TRAIN TRACK NOISE

Come along and ride this train with me to the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia where, one month after the big bang of country music exploded in Bristol, Tennessee, Helen Myrl Carter was born. It is no exaggeration to say that Helen Carter was literally present in the womb alongside country music when it was birthed . . . and she was not far behind. And, on September 19th, 1927, baby Helen was born to Mother Maybelle Carter.

Helen Carter was the oldest of the Carter girls who, along with her mother and her sisters June and Anita, would carry on the traditions begun by her mother and her aunt Sara and her uncle A.P. Helen Carter made her debut on the radio with her family in 1937 when she was only ten years old. By then, she had been performing professionally for two years. As a little girl, Helen and her family often appeared on the Mexican border stations, like XET in Monterrey, Mexico, whose 50,000 watt signal was unregulated on that side of the border.

The station’s signal was so strong that Johnny Cash would later say that, as a boy, he could pick up the Carter Family’s program on the barbed wire fence at the family farm. That unregulated signal strength meant that the family was often singing to the largest radio audiences in history, audiences far beyond North America.

Sara and A.P. divorced in 1933 and, in 1939, Sara married A.P.’s cousin Coy and moved to California effectively ending the original incarnation of the Carter Family. Mother Maybelle had been bitten by the stage though and there was no settling back into the country life of Clinch Mountain. Instead, Mother Maybelle loaded up her girls and left the hills with a reconstituted family group – Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters. Helen was twelve when she took her first bow. She played accordion, guitar, and autoharp. By 1946, the Carters had made their way back to the States side of the border and was playing regularly on “The Old Dominion Barn Dance” radio show in Richmond, Virginia. Soon they moved to the bigger stage of the “Tennessee Barn Dance” in Knoxville where the family hired and then introduced the world to a young guitar picker named Chet Atkins. When they headed to the biggest stage in country music, WSM’s Grand Old Opry in Nashville, they took him along. Upon joining the Opry cast, the three Carter sisters, 22 year old Helen, 20 year old June, and seventeen year old Anita were among its youngest members. 

Helen rarely sang lead. More often, she can be heard harmonizing in the background. She had one other talent that would distinguish her. Johnny Cash often told his audiences that Helen was the only member of his entire troupe who could read and write music. She put that skill to work, arranging the complicated arrangements her family performed.

In the mid-fifties, Helen, her mother, and her sisters were on tour with one of the new breed of rockabillies emerging from Memphis with a new brand of music. His name was Elvis Presley. In 1959, Margie Bowles took Helen’s “Poor Old Heartsick Me” all the way to the top 10.

In 1961, it was another of the boys from Memphis who hired Helen and her family to join his show. His name was Johnny Cash. For the rest of her life and career, the Carter Family would be inextricably tied to the Cash family, eventually even formally and legally becoming part of the Cash family when Helen’s little sister June married Cash creating country music’s most durable, enduring, and creative dynasty.

Helen was not always just one of the girls in the background. In fact, for a time, she also had a solo career – recording for the Tennessee, Republic, Starday, and Hickory labels.

She cut songs like “Counterfeit Kisses” with Don Davis,  “You Can’t Stop Me From Dreaming” with Grant Turner,  and “Set the Wedding”.

Despite her pedigree, none of those recordings enjoyed the kind of commercial success befitting country music royalty.

In fact, even though she was a capable vocalist in her own right, rather than her voice, it was her writings that resulted in Helen’s greatest commercial success. On March 26th 1954, Mother Maybelle and her daughters cut Helen’s “Is This My Destiny?”

It was released as a single three months later in June. On November 30th, 1965, Johnny Cash took his turn with the song. In his drug ravaged state, it sounded almost like a first hand account of the hell he was living. 

It was included on his “Happiness Is You” album when it hit stores in October of the next year.

Her songs were recorded by some of country music’s biggest names – stars like Red Foley, the Byrds, Jan Howard, Wanda Jackson, Billy Grammer, Ray Price, Willie Nelson, Faron Young, Jean Shepard, the Louvin Brothers, and Waylon Jennings.

Throughout the mid-1960s and into the 1970’s, Mother Maybelle and her daughters released a series of albums: “Keep on the Sunnyside” in 1964, which was named for the group’s anthem of positivity PLAY CLIP, “I Walk the Line” in 1970, which included the group’s take on their troupe leader’s signature tune PLAY CLIP, and the “Travelin’ Minstrel Band” in 1972. The last of these yielded three charting singles: the title song which peaked at #35 PLAY CLIP and two others that featured guest vocalist Johnny Cash: “A Song for Mama” (which was co-written by Helen Carter, June Carter, and the possum himself, George Jones) hit #37 and is a beautiful tribute to Mother Maybelle Carter PLAY CLIP, and “The World Needs A Melody,” which was produced by Larry Butler reached #42. PLAY CLIP. “The World Needs a Melody” is unique in the Carter catalogue in that it samples from several classic hymns – “Give Me That Old Time Religion,”PLAY CLIP “In the Sweet Bye and Bye,” PLAY CLIP and “Down by the Riverside.” PLAY CLIP If it doesn’t get your foot tapping and your hands clapping, it just might save your soul.

Returning to the Helen Carter songbook, when Cash and June Carter recorded their first album together, they included a version of Helen’s “Fast Boat to Sydney.” It was recorded on April 14th, 1967 at Columbia Studios. PLAY CLIP

Along with her sisters, June and Anita, Carter wrote “Rosanna’s Going Wild,” which Johnny Cash recorded on October 2nd , 1967, at Columbia Studios and released as a single on November 6th. This may be the apex of Helen’s commercial success as a songwriter. The song entered the charts on December 23’d and spent 15 weeks there, ultimately peaking at #2 for two weeks in 1968. PLAY CLIP
Songwriting was in her DNA. Like mother, like son. Helen’s oldest son, Kenny Jones, was skilled at songwriting. His uncle, Johnny Cash, cut one of his songs and included it on his “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash” album in 1969. Cash performed it four months later when he played Madison Square Gardens on December 5th, 1969. In introducing it, he said of Jones, PLAY CASH SAYING “One of the songs in the new album “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash” was written by a young man, 15 years old Kenny Jones, who was the son of Helen Carter. We do this song tonight as a tribute to Kenny Jones who was killed in an automobile accident at the age of 16. And to give you an idea of the talents of this young man while he was with us, here was a song that he wrote when he was 14.”

The Carters were recognized with the “Favorite Country Group” award by the American Music Awards in 1973. Two years later, along with her mother, Maybelle Carter, Helen Carter participated in a recording session held by the Smithsonian Institution in 1975. The goal was to preserve the traditions of country music. They could not have picked anyone more seminal.

Helen released two solo albums on the Old Homestead Records label: 1979’s “This Is For You, Mama.” Here is the title track. PLAY CLIP Fifteen years later, she released her follow-up, 1993’s “Clinch Mountain Memories” with her takes on “Kneeling Drunkard’s Plea” PLAY CLIP and “Poor Old Heartsick Me” PLAY CLIP

In 1979, when Cash cut his love letter to Jesus album, “A Believer Sings the Truth,” Helen took a rare turn as his duet partner on “Wayworn Traveller.” This song and that entire album are essential. PLAY CLIP If you didn’t buy a copy when it came out, don’t worry. While that very limited release is hard to find, it was re-issued as a part of Cash’s bootleg series and included on “Bootleg IV: The Soul of Truth.” Luckily, that edition is widely available.

Ever the traditionalist, the next year, Helen lent her celebrity to the Phipps Family when they cut their “Hills of Home” album at the House of Cash. Helen takes the lead on “Walkin’ on the King’s Highway.” PLAY CLIP and picks the guitar on others.
On December 16th, 1983, Johnny Cash gathered his Carter in-laws up and headed back to where it all began, to Clinch Mountain, Virginia, for his annual Christmas Special. They toured the old Carter homelace in Maces Springs, Virginia. The usual Carters who traveled, toured, and recorded with Cash were there. They were joined by other Carters, including the children of Sara and A.P. Carter, Janette and Joe Carter. The proceedings close out at the historic Mount Vernon Baptist Church, the final resting place of A.P. and Sara Carter. Johnny, June, Anita, and the birthday girl, Helen, take to the pulpit for a spirited but reverential version of the old gospel standard “Where the Soul of Man Never Dies.” In a rare solo turn, Helen sings the second verse. PLAY CLIP

In the mid-1980’s, as Johnny Cash, recently dropped by his longtime label, Columbia Records, took up musical residence at Mercury-Polygram, a reconstituted version of the Carter Family, this time compromised, as always by Helen, June, and Anita, added June’s daughter, Carlene, also went back into the studio on June 23rd, 1986. Throughout the summer, longtime Cash collaborator Jack Clement oversaw the sessions and produced some of the best Carter Family music in years. Clement once famously remarked, “We are in the fun business. If we aren’t having fun, we aren’t doing our job.” These recordings are what happened when Clement and his artists did their jobs. They are fun and sprightly. As an added bonus, recreating the old sounds where A.P. Carter sang in the background, Cash stepped in and filled that part. They cut 40 Carter Family classics like “Worried Man Blues,” PLAY CLIP and “Church in the Wildwood,” PLAY CLIP and, of course, the album’s title track and, perhaps the most famous melody in all of country music “Wildwood Flower.” PLAY CLIP In what amounts to a crime against music, only 10 of them have ever been heard outside the studio walls. These recordings are proof that this music and the Carter harmonies are as pure as an Appalachian mountain stream and as timeless as the mountains from which they were mined.

When Cash cut his sophomore outing with Rick Rubin, it was a much more rocking occasion. With Tom Petty and his Heartbreakers and Marty Stuart playing, Cash sounded more like the old Sun rockabilly than he had in years. Cash dusted off an old Helen Carter-penned chestnut – “The Kneeling Drunkard’s Plea.”

It hit the right notes – it was about sin and redemption . . . and it has a catchy tune. Powered by quality songwriting like that, “Unchained” was a hit. It has sold 220,000 copies (and counting), hit #26 on the country charts, and took home top honors at the Grammys when it won the trophy for Best Country Album.
Helen Carter, long plagued by gastrointestinal issues, died of heart problems on June 2nd, 1998, in Nashville. She was 70. She was buried in Hendersonville in the family plot that already held her parents and that would, one day be the final resting place for her sisters and her most famous brother-in-law, Johnny Cash. They are together in death just as they were in life. That somehow seems appropriate.
Eight years after her death, in 2006, a forgotten set of recordings that had been made at the LSI Studios in Nashville by the Carter sisters in 1991 were rediscovered and released on Sphere Records. For a change, Helen took the lead vocal on many of them. Here is one of them, “Lonesome Valley.” 

We remember Helen Carter this week in Johnny Cash music history and light the 94th candle on her birthday cake. The candles on our cakes aren’t made for blowing out though. They are meant to serve as a light in our window, eternal flames keeping the memories of those we honor alive and well. Helen Carter has not been forgotten. Rosanne Cash credits her with teaching her to play guitar and her “Heart Full of Shame” could be heard in the 2003 movie “Northfolk.”

So embedded in the American songbook is the Carter Family that a candle is almost superfluous. Nevertheless, we light it anyway and wish Helen Carter a very happy birthday by reminding her that she has not been forgotten – not in her native Virginia, not in the broader musical world her family helped create, and, especially, not on our train. Happy birthday, Mrs. Carter!

We’ll be back.

Welcome back. I hope you are joining the ride. We have stoked the engines and are approaching our fastest speeds for the next leg of our journey includes a series of stops. For most of his life, if you were looking for Johnny Cash, you would be most likely to find him in one of four places: the studio (where you never knew who might show up to sing with him), the charts, a place Cash went more than almost anyone else in history, on stage, and honoring his God. This week and every week, we will stop by all of them. That’s a lot of ground to cover. Let’s get going!

On the Record

PLAY THE LAST CHORUS OF “FOLKS OUT ON THE ROAD”
Thanks you for the chance to make the music
The songs are the only thing I know
Some are for the money, some are for myself
This one’s for the folks out on the road

This week, like every week, Johnny Cash was back in the studio. On September l3t”, 1977, Cash entered the House of Cash Studios and recorded “I’m Alright Now”, which was written by cousin Jerry Hensley and reunited Cash with producer Larry Butler. The gospel tinged “I’m Alright Now” sounds autobiographical and describes Cash’s disembarkation from his wild ride on the Devil’s train. A ride that very nearly killed him. It was the closing track on Cash’s “I Would Like to See You Again” album in 1978. Buckle up. Otherwise you are likely to tap your foot right out of your seat. Oh and feel free to sing along as loud as you want.

“I’m Alright Now”
On the Charts

As always, Johnny Cash was on the charts this week in music history making country gold. This one reunites two old Cash compatriots — Jack Clement and Larry Butler. On July 6, 1978, “Gone Girl” was recorded at Jack Clement Studios in Nashville. “Gone Girl” was written by Jack Clement and produced by Larry Butler. Bassist Bob Moore played on these sessions. Moore would produce Cash’s great, late career return to his rockabilly roots when Mercury PolyGram turned the producer’s chair over to him for the “Boom Chicka Boom” sessions. “Gone Girl” debuted on the charts the week of September 9th, 1978, at #81. This week in Johnny Cash music history, though, the week of September 16th, it was #69. Ultimately, it would peak at #44 during the week of October 21st and it would spend a total of 8 weeks on the charts during its chart run. Despite having been a charted single, this song will be unfamiliar to all but the most serious Cash fans. If that’s you, I hope you remember it fondly. For the rest of you, though, I hope you like it … for the first time.

“Gone Girl”
Come on, Cashaholics, what are you waiting for? It’s time for a road trip!

On the Road
This week, like every week for over forty years, Johnny Cash was on the road. Our friends and the curators of our live recordings each week, the Johnny Cash Info Center have provided us another live recording. Thanks to the Johnny Cash Info Center, no matter whether you were a fan beginning in the early days in the 50’s or only discovered Johnny Cash with the coming of Rick Rubin and the “American Recordings” sessions, you can still experience the excitement that only came from being in the presence of the Man where he was most at home — on stage. If you have never visited their site, you should do so. It is an amazing resource, filled with live recordings, rare photographs, and everything else Cash you can imagine plus a lot you never even wondered about. You will thank me for sending you.

This week, on September 15th, 1975, we find Johnny Cash in concert at the Deutschlandhalle in Berlin, Germany, a place Cash knew well from his service in the Air Force when he was stationed in Germany and to which Cash would frequently return on his many overseas tours. This week, we catch Cash performing a concert favorite – “Cocaine Blues.” “Cocaine Blues” was a reworking of an old folk song called “Little Sadie,” by T.J. “Red” Arnall. It was first recorded by Arnall in 1947. It was Roy Hogshed’s version, though, recorded the next year, on May 25th, 1947, that became the song’s first hit version, reaching #15 on the country music charts the next year. Although Cash cut a renamed version of the song, called “Transfusion Blues,” on February 17th, 1960, at Nashville’s Owen Bradley Studios and included it on his “Now There Was a Song” album. It would likely have been forgotten if Johnny Cash had not taken it with him inside the walls of Folsom Prison when he recorded his live prison album there on February 24th, 1969. Cash’s sneering, darkly humorous tale sounds like it might have been powered by pure, unadulterated cocaine. Although this take lacks the frenzied reaction of inmates cheering him on, it is great in its own right. I hope you like it.

Shh! The Man is taking the stage.
“Cocaine Blues”

On his Knees

In Johnny Cash’s world (and music), the distance from Saturday night murder and mayhem to a Sunday morning pew was never very far.

Each week at this time, we remember the gospel side of Johnny Cash. Johnny Cash’s mother always believed that her son had survived his wild and harrowing ride of drugs, late nights, missed shows, and destructive behaviors because God had His hand on her son. Cash’s dramatic weight loss and the toll that the drugs and alcohol took on his body, reducing him to a walking skeleton and on his voice, often leaving it parched and ragged, left few others with her confidence. Cash though, even when he was running from God, never seemed to doubt that he would eventually return to his God. In the meantime, he always maintained the connection to his spiritual side . . . even if it was only through his music.

This week in Johnny Cash music history, our gospel song, “Here Was a Man’ was recorded on September 17th, 1963, at Columbia Studios in Nashville, Tennessee with Don Law and Frank Jones producing. This song was a favorite of Cash’s. He could often be found performing it on his television shows and in concert. The song was written by Johnny Tex Ritter and Johnny Bond.

Tex Ritter was a country music singer and western movie actor. Today, he is probably best remembered for being the father of comedian John Ritter and the singing voice of Big Al, the bear in Walt Disney’s Country Bears attraction, who has been belting out the hilarious “Blood on the Saddle” as the showstopping finale to crowds at the “happiest place on earth.”

Ritter was born in Murvaul, Texas on January 12, 1905. Beginning in 1928, he began singing cowboy songs on various radio programs on KPRC-AM in Houston, Texas. Columbia Records signed Ritter to the label in 1933. In 1935, he moved to Decca Records where he first recorded some of his original songs, including “Sam Hall,” which Cash would later cover and include on both his “Ballads of the True West” album when it debuted in 1965  and to which he would return and re-record for his “American IV: The Man Comes Around” album in 2002 PLAY CLIP. In 1936, Ritter debuted on the silver screen in “Song of the Gringo.” In all, Ritter starred in over seventy movies, the vast majority of them singing cowboy moves. Ritter became the first artist signed to Capitol Records — his first session was on June 11th, 1942. As a recording star, Ritter experienced a great deal of chart success, notching several top ten hits like 1944’s number one hit “I’m Wasting My Tears On You” PLAY CLIP and 1945’s chart topping “You Two-Timed Me One Time Too Many” PLAY CLIP, and “I Dreamed of a Hill-Billy Heaven,” a number 5 hit from 1961. PLAY CLIP Ritter also began appearing on various westerns on television, including “The Rebel.” Interestingly, Cash also performed the theme song for that program. PLAY CLIP Ritter was instrumental in founding the Country Music Association in 1958 and then joined the ranks of Country Music Hall of Fame as a member of its 3rd class in 1964, enshrined in a building he had been largely responsible for raising the money to build. On January 2nd, 1974, Ritter suffered a heart attack and died. Oddly, his son, John died on the same day as Johnny Cash.

Johnny Bond was a Texas legend. Perhaps, his biggest hit was “Divorce Me, COD,” a top ten hit in 1947. 

For seven years, starting in 1953, Ritter and Bond co-hosted the syndicated country music show, “Town Hall Party.” Although Bond died of a stroke in 1978, at the age of 63, his music lives on and a new generation met him when his song, “Stars of the Midnight Range,” was featured in the role-playing video game, “Fallout: New Vegas” in 2010. We remember him for putting the word in Cash’s mouth: the often recorded “Here Was a Man.”

Take off your hats boys, it’s gospel time.
“Here Was a Man”

Outroduction

This is Troy King. As the station comes back into sight, it is time for me to pack up the history books, but not before I thank you for joining me for this episode of CASHback. If you have learned something or tapped your toe or sung or hummed along to something we played during our trip, I did my job. If you heard a song you liked, check out the links to all the music at thecashbackshow.com. Did we play enough of some song or other to whet your appetite and now you want to enjoy the whole thing or add it to your library? We will make it easy for you to do so. And, to make you feel even better about it, as your shop, you will support our podcast and the important work we are doing here at CASHback Studios to preserve this music by finding new fans for it. We could not do it without you.

Because you are here at the beginning (and, if you like what you hear), this is your personal invitation to head over to our website. There is swag and bonus content that you can’t hear anywhere else waiting there. For those of you who are here as we restart the engine, we want to recognize you. Just as CASHbacks are better than ordinary flashbacks, our most hardcore and loyal supporters are too special to just be called our “founding members.” No. In our world, you are a “Founding Ember,” one of those who helped reignite the ring of fire that illuminates everything we do here. Claim your badge and show it off. Puff out your chest and enjoy your bragging rights.

Finally, if you enjoyed your ride with us as much as we enjoyed having you on board, review our podcast, tell a friend, and, most importantly, bring a friend with you next week when we set out on another bumpy, dusty ride through history.


Until the next time that I ride the airwaves back into your town, this is Troy King reminding you to kindly keep it Cash.

Music Featured in This Episode

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