50 Years Ago: ‘The Johnny Cash Show’ Premieres
On June 7, 1969, The Johnny Cash Show premiered on ABC. The country icon co-hosted the hour-long show with his wife, June Carter Cash, at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. Naturally, Johnny Cash performed during each show — both solo and with special musical guests — and there were also appearances from comedians, as well as skits courtesy of the Statler Brothers.
The Johnny Cash Show became a reality thanks to the release of 1968's At Folsom Prison and 1969's At San Quentin. "After [At Folsom Prison] was released and become a hit, it quadrupled the amount of people that knew about Johnny Cash," the Man in Black's long-time drummer, Fluke Holland, was quoted as saying in a 2018 Rolling Stone piece. "And then came the San Quentin album. I think that’s the two things that skyrocketed him to stardom.
"Then the thing that put the icing on the cake, as we call it, in the late '60s and early '70s, was when we did the weekly ABC network show [The Johnny Cash Show], and of course that just finished it up," Holland adds. "I don’t know if that could have happened, though, if the prison shows hadn’t happened before that. That set Johnny Cash up."
Appropriately, The Johnny Cash Show started off on a high note, as Bob Dylan guested on the first episode and sang a song from his then-new LP, Nashville Skyline ("I Threw It All Away"), as well as the single "Living the Blues." Dylan also dueted with Cash on "Girl From the North Country," while Cash and Carter Cash, in turn, covered Dylan's "It Ain't Me, Babe." For good measure, Joni Mitchell also appeared on this episode and performed "Both Sides Now."
That eclectic approach to booking continued throughout the show's run. Naturally, country icons such as Glen Campbell, Tammy Wynette, Roy Orbison and Merle Haggard appeared, while the Carter Family, Carl Perkins, and the Tennessee Three were also staples. But then-burgeoning stars such as Kris Kristofferson, Neil Young, James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt were given a shot at the spotlight, too. Plus, The Johnny Cash Show also welcomed rock bands (the Monkees, Derek and the Dominos with Eric Clapton, Creedence Clearwater Revival), jazz legend Louis Armstrong and soul / R&B stars (Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder).
The show's format also led to plenty of once-in-a-lifetime pairings, such as (to name just a few) Cash teaming up with Haggard for "Sing Me Back Home;" Roger Miller on "King of the Road;" Campbell on "Orange Blossom Special;" Charles on "Busted;" and Odetta on "Shame and Scandal on the Family."
Ultimately, The Johnny Cash Show ran for 58 episodes, ending its run on March 31, 1971. Reruns of the show also ran in Summer 2018, on the channel getTV, while plenty of these memorable moments are also available on YouTube.
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