This is the latest in the stash of Cash found after his passing, and curated by his son John Carter. This time, the them is live concerts, and the selections go from 1956 to 1979, snippets and greater chunks which give us a feel for the show he put on. Since he was an old-time performer, who grew up in a time when musicians catered to the audience, Cash always had a somewhat-scripted and well-rehearsed gig to present, even if it was a one-time only special evening. And although he was practised, it felt spontaneous and he had genuine affection and connection to the audience.
For most star performers, the big concerts of their lives happened in front of tens of thousands of people, or at legendary venues. Cash though found his moments in odd places, with select crowds, most famously in prisons. Here we get historic shows that may not be the best-recorded ones (hence the bootleg in the title) but are of signifigance for the event or the songs. His Folsom Prison and San Quentin recordings are already completely documented, but here we get another example from of all places, Sweden, in 1972. It turns out Sunday Morning Coming Down was something they understood all too well there, too. John Carter's ears are sharp, for sure. He grabs an excellent version of City Of New Orleans from a one-off set in front of a bunch of music industry suits at the CBS convention in 1973, showing Cash could wow even them whenever he wanted.
The oldest set here is a not-bad fidelity recording from a radio show called the Big "D" Jamboree in '56, the original Tennessee Two of Luther Perkins on guitar and Marshall Grant on bass showing us where the Sun Records sound came from. The still-new group does their single, I Walk The Line and Get Rhythm, and we hear a classic at its birth, songs that never needed to change. Next up is a 1962 rural show at an outdoors country stage in Maryland, and it's fascinating to hear the difference between country and rock and soul shows of the era; Cash is still doing a folksy, downhome routine, the audience members walking up to the stage to request favourites, the band and he trying comedy and impressions inbetween the numbers. The quality here is weak, but I don't know if I've ever heard a show quite like this, so the value far outweighs the listening issues.
By 1969, Cash was a kind of evangelist, but for humanity more than religion or country music. He straddled musical genres, politics and generation gaps. His admirers were kids and their parents, southerners and northerners, conservatives and liberals. When he appeared in Viet Nam for the troops, he could haul out a piece of patriotism such as Remember The Alamo, but follow it with Cocaine Blues, getting the soldiers revved up. Then, he and his fine-tuned roadshow (Carter Family, Statler Brothers, Carl Perkins) gave them big hits (Ring Of Fire, Jackson) and a stunning gospel finale of Daddy Sang Bass.
The centerpiece here is what might, at first, seem lame. In 1970, Cash was invited to perform at The White House, a tribute paid to such greats at the time as Duke Ellington. Not many could survive being tarred with the Richard Nixon approval. The Guess Who, for instance, lost much of their hip credibility in the U.S. by accepting an invitation. But the small-town boy from poverty recognized the importance, and even brought his dad along. Of course, he also grabbed the opportunity to do a little preaching, with pointed messages to the President and that part of the public. Addressing the growing rift between The White House and youth culture, Cash offered What Is Truth, asking for open minds from older Americans.
Johnny Cash did thousands of shows, and most were largely the same. This kind of cherry-picking is exactly the way to go, and hopefully there are more bootlegs to come.