Tag Archives: Ray Charles

50 Years Ago on the Johnny Cash Show: Ray Charles, Arlo Guthrie, and Liza Minnelli

For the last year or so I’ve been setting the DVR to record “The Johnny Cash Show” on GetTV. Back in the golden era of variety shows, when everybody from Ed Sullivan and the Smothers Brothers to Carol Burnett and Glen Campbell had their own primetime shows, the Man in Black got his own one-hour program on ABC.

And it’s awesome. Watching it is like taking a time machine back to an entertainment environment that feels almost entirely alien to today’s slick world where everybody on tv has perfect teeth, appropriately plucked eyebrows, and the exact same measurements. “The Johnny Cash Show” is funky and sincere and goofy and weird in the best way.

According to Johnny Cash: The Life by Robert Hilburn, ABC was hoping to piggyback on the success of CBS’s new hit, “The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour.” Cash agreed to do it as long as he could tape the show at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville and select his own guests. The production company agreed to the former and evaded the latter.

It started out as just a summer replacement series, debuting on June 7, 1969 with guests Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, fiddler Doug Kershaw, and comedian Fannie Flagg, and running every Saturday night through September 27. The show’s initial run created enough buzz to be renewed for another 17 episodes, starting Wednesday nights in January 1970 and running through May 13, 1970.

The final season of the Johnny Cash Show kicked off 50 years ago today on September 23, 1970, from Music City USA, Nashville, Tennessee. It featured guests Ray Charles, Arlo Guthrie, and Liza Minnelli along with the usual family of regulars: June Carter, Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters, the Statler Brothers, Carl Perkins, and the Tennessee Three.

It was Ray Charles’ 40th birthday. Johnny Cash was 38. Arlo Guthrie was 23. And Liza Minelli was 24.

Like each episode in the series it begins with an instrumental, big band version of “Folsom Prison Blues” conducted by Australian arranger Bill Walker, and then our host introduces himself: “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash.”

• Johnny Cash – Medley: “One More Ride” / “Hey Porter” / “Orange Blossom Special” / “Folsom Prison Blues”

• Ray Charles and the Raylettes – “Finders Keepers”

Ray Charles – “I Walk the Line”

Ray Charles – “Ring of Fire”

Ray Charles - Ring Of Fire

From Love Country Style (Tangerine Records, 1970).

Continue reading 50 Years Ago on the Johnny Cash Show: Ray Charles, Arlo Guthrie, and Liza Minnelli

Lost Classic: Bobbie Gentry – Ode to Billie Joe

Bobbie Gentry - Ode to Billie JoeBobbie GentryOde to Billie Joe (Capitol Nashville)

From the first strums on what sounds like a dime store student guitar and the odd orchestral backing, Bobbie Gentry‘s Ode to Billie Joe is clearly in a different sort of universe. Best known for the title track, which tells the story of young lovers and suicide from the Tallahatchie Bridge, Ode to Billy Joe is as complex as the subject matter suggests.

Video: Bobbie Gentry – “Ode To Billy Joe”

Country Soul is full of sultry songstresses with smoky voices. Dusty Springfield is probably best known, and her “Son of a Preacher Man” is probably the finest example of a genre all but forgotten today. Where the Mandrel Sisters, Dolly Parton and others opted for the lure of pop audiences that eventually brought us to the sorry reality of Rascal Flatts, Springfield and Gentry (along with Jeannie C. Riley of “Harper Valley PTA” fame) skipped the white bread for the grits. The late 60s and very early 70s produced a fantastic crop of Country Soul that sounds as unusual and compelling as ever. That it did not become the dominate cross-over sub-genre is too bad for all of us.

Continue reading Lost Classic: Bobbie Gentry – Ode to Billie Joe