Johnny Cash – American Recordings – 1994 – American Recordings


For me this album, along with Dylan’s World Gone Wrong, signalled that something different was happening in the 90s. Things were going back to basics. This record, like World Gone Wrong, is totally solo and raw, stripped down to the bone. Cash was a basic guitarist and he proved that technique isn’t everything. In fact his lack of technique as a player worked for the songs, kept them stark and unadorned. Back when I saw him perform in Sydney he played 3 songs from this, it hadn’t been released yet. The show was mostly lacklustre actually, kind of awkward and tired (though June Carter’s set was pretty good and Kris Kristofferson would have been great if he’d killed the drum machine). But when Johnny played three songs solo, Let the Train Blow the Whistle, Bird on the Wire and, if memory serves me correctly, Down there by the Train, it was spellbinding. The show was worth it just for those three songs. He told the audience that he’d recorded this new album, that it was just him and his guitar and that he was very happy with it. From what I heard that night I knew it was going to be good. Once those three songs were over it went back to being an awkward show. The album cover to this record was photographed in Australia by Andy Earl in the same week as I saw Johnny perform. The evocative image fits perfectly with the music. After this record came out Cash was considered cool again. Funny, a lot of those people who derided me for liking Johnny Cash because he was “country crap” or whatever started to like him later in the 90s and conveniently forgot that they ever hated him. What is that about? A couple of years later I got to meet Johnny Cash’s drummer W.S. Holland in Circular Quay when he was touring with Cash and Willie Nelson. My friend Ruben was busking, playing African rhythms hitting the snare and the ground with a couple of sticks. I stopped to talk to Ruben for a bit. W.S. Holland came and put $5 in Ruben’s hat and introduced himself. He told Ruben that he liked what he was doing. He got into technical drum talk. We chatted for a bit. He boasted a lot about his career and achievements but yeah, if you played on the original Blue Suede Shoes with Carl Perkins you’d have a right to boast. It was nice to meet him.