The Soul of Johnny Cash

Via DBM, I note the forthcoming release of the fourth album in the Johnny Cash “bootleg” series. This one is Bootleg IV: The Soul of Truth. DBM has the skinny.

Since the Cash biopic, every time I hear Cash do gospel I always think of a young Cash in the film trying to sell himself and his sound to the Sam Phillips character with a cover of the old gospel standard, “I Was There When It Happened.” The Phillips character hears it and says something that, if I recall half rightly, amounts to: I don’t believe you when you sing that. I’m not sure that view is entirely fair to Cash. At least, it’s not exactly that I don’t believe him when he sings gospel or “soul” or whatever. It’s just that it’s clear that this stuff came much less naturally to him than, and plunged him into a kind of expressive self-consciousness that scattered the blunt force of his hammer-head rockabilly style. It was like he was trying to be good Johnny in church, to mask all evidence of the guy who (wrote that he) killed a man in Reno just to watch him die. I wouldn’t necessarily wanna hang out with a guy who sang songs about wishing he were a convicted killer, but that music is by far the more interesting and insightful of his work. Leave “Peace in the Valley” to the peacemakers, I say.

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  1. NG wrote:

    As a Cash fan since his second single in 1956, I have to disagree. “I Was There When It Happened” is one of the best cuts on the only Sun LP released while he was on the label. The first Columbia album has a wonderful version of the black gospel song “That’s Enough.” Cash was always a big fan of Sister Rosetta Tharpe. On Bootleg Vol III (live recordings through the years) the group of gospel songs done at the White House for Nixon is the highlight of the double CD. As his daughter Rosanne said in one of her songs: “He believes what he says he believes but that don’t make him a saint.” His belief comes across in his gospel songs right up until near the end. Just give a listen to “My Mother’s Hymn Book” one of the final CDs produced by Rick Rubin.

  2. irishlad wrote:

    You just can’y beat “Hello i’m Johnny Cash” Alabama 3 :)

  3. David Bruce Murray wrote:

    Singing with conviction, both gospel and otherwise, was what made Cash worth hearing. I never cared for him as a singer in a pure sense, but that ragged quality of his voice was so compelling that I liked him anyway.

    Sam Phillips really objected to “I Was There When It Happened,” because he knew he couldn’t sell gospel. It wasn’t about the way Cash sang it (regardless of how the movie portrayed it). It was about what people would buy…oh, and Phillips did eventually allow Cash to record “I Was There When It Happened” at Sun Records.

  4. David Bruce Murray wrote:

    I wrote “eventually.”

    It was actually on the first LP released by Sun Records featuring Johnny Cash.

  5. carl wrote:

    His voice is that of an old man on that last recording of “Ain’t No Grave” ( but it’s the voice of an old man who still connects like a pro. When I first heard that recording I was really impressed with the way he seemed to hark back to both the “soul” expression of that song–like Bozie Sturdivant’s recording ( from the 1940s–and the driving “rockabilly” incarnation of it that he probably knew best from Brother Claude Ely ( .

    He shows how those two traditions fit together. To borrow from the title of a song he wrote, his career illustrates how those song styles, right along with a range of gospel traditions from the South, are water from the same home wells.

    If I were honest, I’d have to admit that this topic shows me up for the double-standard hypocrite I am. I’ll maintain that “Folsom Prison blues” shouldn’t keep Johnny Cash out of the gospel music hall of fame, but every time I hear a song by Stuart Hamblen I think “Why should I listen to a guy who wrote ‘I won’t go huntin’ with you Jake but I’ll go chasin’ women’”).

  6. Ode wrote:

    5,Commendable humbleness, Carl.Don’t feel bad, we also all love the Psalms, but even the darkest SG sheep doesn’t come close to King David in terms of terrible and, sadly, unconfessed sins he kept commiting. Authors of “Folsom Prison” and “chasin’ women” lyrics are innocent doves in comparison. (And I know the Jewish boys - judging by David’s rap sheet that made it into canonical Bible, you multiply it times 10 if you want to get the real picture).
    Yes, it can be argued we are more advanced in Christian morality then our predecessors and should have higher standards, but that also means forgiving them as we hope future generations will forgive us….

    An old singer told us on this blog that mom n pop Speer would “roll in their graves if they learned” that a certain God’s command to ALL OF US was obeyed! I was profoundly disgusted, due to the important nature of the command. Do I forgive old Speers for their occasional ungodliness and bad behavior and enjoy their music? Of course, gladly! :)

  7. Wade wrote:

    ode — Well Said Mum!!!

    Always thought it was funny how most King James Version Red Letter Bible Believers tend to over look those facts about David!!!!

    Not using his behavior to justify MY BAD BEHAVIOR… but my counsel has told me if I ever stop feeling bad for it to be worried… Am sure David felt bad for it… but it sure does feel good sometimes and I am just FLESH… A SINNER SAVED BY GRACE!!!

    Glory on a TGIF!!!! I give God the Glory for this Incredibly Wonderful Day here in Chattanooga and for the Rainy days this week too!!

    Hope every one, even meanass Brooke has a Great Weekend!!!

  8. carl wrote:

    Ode, I sure look forward to seeing your posts. You saw the tongue in my cheek on that one didn’t you.

    My point was that if “worldly” lyrics kept anybody off the gospel music playlist we’d lose a big part of the roster. I was just picking on Stuart Hamblen because he was handy and I’ve never much liked his music.

    Gotta say, I don’t actually pay much attention to other folks’ off-stage conduct, in or out of the music industry, except that some reports of unusual adventures and excesses have a familiar ring to them because of my own less than saintly history.

    Something in your post makes me think you must be very young. You think we can take the account of King David’s confessions and multiply by 10. Make that “divide” by 10, and I’ll believe you. Haven’t you learned yet, on matters like this, men exaggerate.

  9. Ode wrote:

    ;)felt the irony ,sure,but complimented you sincerely. We are hypocrites if we feel uneasy about some gospel author’s secular lyrics while never minding David’s bio.

    Amen to “dont pay attention to off- stage conduct”. I, too, don’t expect SG bands to be all good Christians. As long as they are superb singers, that’s what we pay for. But I wouldn’t even dare to touch the whole dichotomy of secular and religious music, having grown up in the enviro where the difference is almost nonexistent. Maybe Doug will explore the topic one day……

    Yes sir, glad to take sage advice! So, let’s see, 9 official David’s wives divided by 10 = 0.9. Recalling the balance of power in my grandpa’s marriage that’s about right,ma never allowed him to think he fully owned her either. That’s been a notorious issue, look at biblical figures - Sarah, Rebecca, Esther,etc. They ordered their men around and ruled the show, while convincing the current husband-in-charge he was “the head”. The first truly submissive one was Miriam, and God quickly made her Jesus’ mother, knowing such freak of typical Jewess’ nature/deviant from the norm won’t happen again soon.

    David’s political career though- arranging murders, and having the power get into his head -is probably underreported. As with any politician, we know just the tip of the iceberg.

  10. Ode wrote:

    Well, you better feel bad and worry at your own will, pumpkin, or God knows,momma can make you! You are a kind soul,nice to see your hearlfelt grace, makes me proud.Gimme some sugar. And be nice to Brook, she is your Christian sister, after all.

  11. Wade wrote:

    ode — mum I was being nice I wished her a Happy Weekend!! Sugar on the way!!!

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