Admirers of each other’s work, Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan cemented their friendship at the 1964 Newport Folk Festival. In 1969, Cash launched his network variety show from Nashville, collaborating with Dylan for its premiere.
Souls Like Stars
One hailed from Minnesota, the other from Arkansas. Both appeared on the bill at the 1964 Newport Folk Festival. During a hotel-room jam, Johnny Cash presented Bob Dylan with a treasured Martin guitar—a symbol of respect and admiration—and their friendship was secured.
Dylan admired Cash’s recordings for Sun Records in the 1950s. Cash became a fan of Dylan’s 1963 release, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, playing the record incessantly. A correspondence ensued.
At Newport, Cash included “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” a Dylan song, in his set. Dylan called the moment “the high thrill of a lifetime.” Just a few months later Columbia released Cash’s recording, with June Carter, of Dylan’s “It Ain’t Me, Babe,” and the record became a hit. As Dylan shifted away from the protest songs that first attracted attention, Cash defended his friend’s new creative direction.
While Dylan was recording Nashville Skyline in February 1969, Cash dropped by, and over the course of two days they recorded numerous duets. Their performance of Dylan’s “Girl from the North Country,” appeared on Nashville Skyline, and Cash wrote Grammy-winning liner notes for the album. Dylan wrote “Wanted Man” for Cash, and Cash debuted the tune when he entertained the inmates at San Quentin prison.
The Johnny Cash Show
Hello, I’m Johnny Cash
Johnny Cash was riding a new wave of popularity in 1969, thanks to the crossover success of his 1968 album Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison. When ABC approached him about hosting a weekly TV variety show, Cash felt he had the leverage to make a couple of simple requests: he would choose the musical guests himself, and the show would be shot in Nashville, at Ryman Auditorium, home of the Grand Ole Opry.
The Johnny Cash Show quickly achieved notoriety for the quality and scope of its musical offerings. These included country legends such as Mother Maybelle Carter and Bill Monroe, and country legends in the making, including Merle Haggard, Tammy Wynette, and Charley Pride.
In addition, Cash’s show was a pipeline for bringing cutting-edge folk, pop, and rock artists to Nashville. Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell were guests on the first show, June 7, 1969. Later guests included Linda Ronstadt, Neil Young, and Eric Clapton’s Derek & the Dominos. Some of these artists stayed around to work with the city’s ace session players in the relaxed atmosphere of local recording studios.
At a time when the nation was divided over issues such as the Vietnam War, Cash’s inclusive approach to the music on his show created a bridge between audiences. After fifty-eight episodes, the groundbreaking show ended its run on March 31, 1971.