The Best of The Johnny Cash TV Show 1969-1971
Studio: Sony Columbia Legacy / Reverse Angle Productions
Release Date: September 18, 2007
Johnny Cash is famous for his music, but history should not forget The Johnny Cash Show. On June 7, 1969, after rising from drug addiction and marrying his sweetheart June Carter, Johnny Cash's television show premiered on ABC. The Johnny Cash Show would broadcast out of the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee, laying the groundwork for future cable channels like CMT. The music variety show ran until 1971 and was highly influential in showcasing multiple musical genres; the show also revealed Cash's personal stances as well as an awareness of nationwide concerns. Set against the political and cultural upheavals following the Vietnam War, The Johnny Cash Show turned an ear toward change while alleviating America with the traditional medicine of music.
The Best of The Johnny Cash TV Show 1969-1971 runs at about four hours long, and there's plenty packed in that the double discs encompass. Country Music Hall of Fame singer-songwriter (and friend to Cash) Kris Kristofferson hosts the DVD, and both his experience as an actor and connection to the show serve him well. He had an endearing relationship with The Johnny Cash Show and relates its stories with a smile on his face. Kristofferson is joined by interviews with knowledgeable guests, such as John Carter Cash and the show's musical director-arranger-conductor Bill Walker, who establish the background and mood of the show perfectly. The history segments on the DVD are more than welcome, but it's the live performances taken from the show's archives that are the main attraction. There are over 60 performances in all (most are found on second disc), featuring Cash's family and friends as well as the Man in Black himself.
Since the show was filmed in Nashville, it makes sense that the backbone of the DVD is country music. But what makes this extended setlist special is the non-selective inclusion of folk, gospel, jazz, classical, blues, and that old time rock 'n' roll. The Johnny Cash Show was about good music, whether it came from the acoustic picking of Chet Atkins (aka Mr. Guitar) or the trumpet playing of jazzman Louis Armstrong. If you're looking for music legends, this is where to find them. Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Tammy Wynette, Jerry Lee Lewis, Ray Charles, Roy Orbison, and Hank Williams Jr. are some of the artists who showcase their talents on The Best of The Johnny Cash TV Show 1969-1971.
Before closing off this review, I'd like to make it clear that Cash helmed his show as he saw fit. He had no qualms about raising network concerns, as he did when he met with college students, conversing frankly with them about drugs and other politically charged issues. Cash also refused to cut the word "stoned" from the song "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down" (originally written by Kris Kristofferson) while covering it on live television. There's a wonderfully informative synopsis of The Johnny Cash Show written by Rich Kienzle that is packaged with the double discs, and I'll let Kienzle speak on another stand made by Cash:
"ABC was gun-shy when Cash requested politically controversial folk legend Pete Seeger, who in 1968 caused a firestorm singing a searing anti-Vietnam tune on CBS' Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. Cash didn't care. He wanted Seeger and got him."
I'm sure some people are completely uninterested in the performances and impact of The Johnny Cash Show. When my mom found me watching, she was perplexed, acknowledging the TV show as something for "old people." Based on what I've written above, you should be able to judge whether you'd rather let this music take you back to a previous generation or perhaps watch the latest flavor of the week on MTV. I'll admit that not every performance held my attention, but all in all, The Best of The Johnny Cash TV Show 1969-1971 is a great trip into the past. If you haven't had the pleasure of being witness to The Johnny Cash Show, you should at least find a way to watch the very first episode; the opportunity to see Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan sharing a small stage together is enough to make the heart ache in appreciation.
Thanks for the recommendation. I watched it this week and thoroughly enjoyed it. His performance of Man in Black stood out to me the most, but there were so many fantastic performances that there really wasn't a dull moment on either disc. Thanks again!