JOHNNY CASH (Page 1 of 2)

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All the music I heard up until I left Minnesota was... I didn't hear any folk music... I just heard Country and Western, rock and roll and polka music.

New York, 1965.

I've heard Cash since I was a kid... I love him.

"Dylan meets Weberman", East Village Voice, Jan 19, 1971.


Thinking about The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, I have to say that it's still one of my favorite albums. If I had to answer that old but still interesting question, "What music would you want with you if you were stranded on a desert island?" (assuming your cell phone did not make it through the surf but your solar-powered CD player did), I'd say that Freewheelin' would have to be on the list....

I was deeply into folk music in the early 1960s, both the authentic songs from various periods and areas of American life and the new "folk revival'' songs of the time, so I took note of Bob Dylan as soon as the Bob Dylan album came out in early '62 and listened almost constantly to Tbe Freewbeelin' Bob Dylan in '63.
I had a portable record player I'd take along on the road, and I'd put on Freewheelin' backstage, then go out and do my show, then listen again as soon as I came off.

After a while at that, l wrote Bob a letter telling him how much of a fan I was. He wrote back almost immediately, saying he'd been following my music since "I Walk the Line,'' and so we began a correspondence.

Mostly it was about music: what we ourselves were doing, what other people were doing, what I knew about so-and-so and he didn't and vice versa. He asked me about country people; I asked him about the circles he moved in. I still have all his letters, locked up in my vault.

Johnny Cash (with Patrick Carr), Cash: The Autobiography, San Francisco, CA, 1996, pp. 197-198.

I didn't know him back then... but I liked the album so much I wrote him a letter... and I congratulated him on a fine country record. I could hear Jimmie Rodgers in his record, and Vernon Dalhart from back in the twenties, the whole talking blues genre. I said, "You're about the best country singer I've heard in years"... He wrote back and seemed kind of flabbergasted...

Quoted in Frye Gaillard, Watermelon Wine -- The Spirit of Country Music, New York, 1978, p. 61.


It wasn't a long correspondence. We quit after we actually met each other, when I went to play the Newport Folk Festival in July of 1964. I don't have many memories of that event, but I do remember June and me and Bob and Joan Baez in my hotel room, so happy to meet each other that we were jumping on the bed like kids.

Later, of course, Bob and I sang together on his Nashville Skyline album and I had him as guest on my TV show when that rolled around. In between we met a few times here and there, one of those occasions recorded by D. A. Pennebaker in his documentary film Don't Look Back, which chronicled Bob's European tour in 1965 [NOTE: MORE LIKELY EAT THE DOCUMENT ABOUT DYLAN'S 1966 TOUR!!!]....

Johnny Cash (with Patrick Carr), Cash: The Autobiography, San Francisco, CA, 1996, p. 198.

He and I were writing each other letters before we'd ever met. I got a letter from him saying that... something like he was from Hibbing, Minnesota, and there was nobody out there but me and Hank Williams, and he was glad to hear about that part of the world that was out there, you know -- he kinda said that in his own words.

The first time I met him was at the Newport Folk Festival in 1963. I was on the show with Joan Baez, Bob, and Ramblin' Jack Elliott.

Then one night Bob Johnston brought Dylan down to Nashville to do the "Skyline" album...

"The Other Side of Nashville" documentary, 1983; transcribed by Manfred Helfert.


That night Johnny Cash went on, and that was a groove. He came on like a king country stud, full of humble arrogance, and lit the night with his own kind of charisma. Dylan came later and instead of all the political material everybody expected, he did songs from Another Side..., like "Ramona." You could tell the audience was puzzled, but they didn't want to be thought uncool by anybody, so they applauded just as vigorously anyhow.

Later, in a motel room full of Joan Baez, Sandy Bull, Jack Elliott and some others, Dylan and Cash sat on the floor trading songs. Joan set up a little portable machine, and that's where Bob gave Johnny "It Ain't Me, Babe" and "Mama, You've Been On My Mind."

Johnny was there with June Carter, so shy and sweet and gentle, in a room full of freaks. Afterward, Johnny took Bob aside and gave him his guitar -- an old country gesture of admiration.

Tony Glover, "ad-den'dum," in Paul Nelson & Tony Glover, The Festival Songbook, New York, NY, 1973, p. 35.


In 1963, Cash was in New York, and went down to Greenwich Village to listen to Peter LaFarge sing his first Indian protest songs at the Gaslight café.

Backstage Johnny Cash ran into Bob Dylan. "I'd gotten some letters from John about my work, which knocked me out," says Dylan who had followed Cash since his early records. "He came down to the Gaslight and that's where I first saw him. I was struck by how tall he was. I didn't imagine him being that tall, by his album covers. He was dressed in black, with a white shirt. I saw him again at Newport. He gave me his guitar, and (sic) old Martin. I still got it."

They became friends when they both sang at the Newport Folk Festival in the summer of 1964. When Dylan later [1965] walked on-stage with an electric guitar and swung into rock, the staid festival went up for grabs. Foul, cried the purists, and Dylan was for months afterwards subjected to condemnation. To Cash, who moved easily from country to pop to folk and back again, the criticism seemed silly. It was what Dylan said, not how he said it, that mattered. Cash sat down and dashed off a note to the folk song magazine "Broadside," in which the controversy of Dylan's electrification continued to rage. "Shut up and let him sing!" Cash suggested.

Christopher Wren, Winners Got Scars Too: The Life of Johnny Cash, New York, 1971, pp. 160-161.



NOTE: It seems that most of the Johnny Cash songs covered by Dylan stem from Cash's 1950s Sun Records period, thus documenting Dylan's early exposure to Johnny Cash (and a preference for the distinctive Sun Records sound).

Only "Ring of Fire" and "Still In Town" as well as Peter LaFarge's "Ballad of Ira Hayes" (covered independently by both Dylan and Cash) originate from Cash's Columbia recordings (early to mid-'60s).


Hayes had been a marine during World War II, and during the Battle of Iwo Jima hill [Mount Suribachi, Jan 23, 1945] he was one of a handful of men to make it to the top and help plant the American flag. The photo of Old Glory on the rise became one of the classics of World War II, and when Hayes returned home to his native Arizona, he received a short-lived hero's welcome. But, as the song says, "He was just a Pima Indian," and he returned to the reservation, where jobs were scarce... Without either work or hope, Hayes became a drunk, and one night as he staggered toward home he passed out and drowned in a muddy irrigation ditch... Cash recorded a whole album of songs about such Indian tragedies..."

Frye Gaillard, Watermelon Wine -- The Spirit of Country Music, New York, 1978, pp. 61-62; comments/addenda (in square brackets) by Manfred Helfert.

So Cash took some of LaFarge's songs, added more of his own, and put out a now-classic album "Bitter Tears"... "Ira Hayes" was released as a single, but country music invaribly (sic) shied away from the controversy, and many disk jockeys refused to play the song.

Cash bought an ad in "Billboard" on August 22, 1964, accusing them of being afraid of the truth... A year later, he really upset his critics with a song pegged to the taboo of civil rights:

"I'd sing more about more of this land,
but all God's children ain't free.'"

Christopher Wren, Winners Got Scars Too: The Life of Johnny Cash, New York, 1971, pp. 161-162.

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