The Best of the Johnny Cash TV Show
Television variety shows were a dime a dozen in the late 1950s and ’60s, and Johnny Cash performed on many of them. In 1969, following the success of his Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison album, ABC Broadcasting offered the singer the chance to host and arrange his own hour-long variety show. Thank goodness he jumped at it. His two-year run on television yielded a small American treasure of live popular music and priceless performances.
Produced at the spacious Ryman Auditorium in Nashville (home of the Grand Ole Opry), Cash presented more than just the current country radio stars of the time. He invited an unusually diverse range of blues, rock, jazz, folk, vocal, soul, and bluegrass acts in their prime … and jammed with them live on stage. The pit orchestra, conducted by Bill Walker, often backed the special guests as well. Some song arrangements were flexible, while others were very solid. The loose feel fit the show, though, and reflected the homespun personality and deep confidence of the host himself.
Through 58 episodes filmed between 1969 and 1971, the Johnny Cash TV Show featured the likes of June Carter and the Carter Family, Louis Armstrong, The Statler Brothers, Carl Perkins, Bob Dylan, Linda Ronstadt, Kris Kristofferson, Mickey Newbury, Neil Young, Merle Haggard, James Taylor, Derek & The Dominoes, George Jones, Roy Clark, and Tammy Wynette on garishly decorated stages and sets.
Aside from Cash’s wild wardrobe (at times, his outfits resembled colonial-era and pirate costumes), the big on-stage highlights include a two-fer from Roy Orbison (dressed completely in black, he and Cash looked like blood brothers as they performed “Pretty Woman”); a funky and completely reworked version of “Ring of Fire” by Ray Charles; Carl Perkins’ guitar solo on “Big River” (with Cash and the Tennessee Three); and Mother Maybelle Carter strumming the autoharp on “Wildflower Honey” with the Carter Family.
Respectful and polite, Cash handled things more like an old friend of the guest and the viewer than a professional TV personality. Often, he and his guests bantered through unrehearsed exchanges and musical bits. It’s a sunnier side of Cash not so well represented in the recent Walk the Line biopic or various TV documentaries and box sets. Sadly, nothing like the Johnny Cash TV Show would make it to the small screen these days. (www.legacyrecordings.com) —T. Ballard Lesemann
Hated: GG Allin & The Murder Junkies
The title and expression on late punk singer GG Allin’s contorted face in the new cover art of this special DVD edition of Hated just about say it all: this was an intense man tangled up in an extreme life. Allin hated and was hated. However, through all the shit and shittiness depicted in the film, there were glimpses of love and brotherhood in Allin’s rough punk-rock world.
Allin was notorious for performing naked, smashing equipment, defecating on stage, throwing his own shit at audiences, and other vile and violent acts. His devoted followers celebrated him as one of the few genuinely over-the-top rock ‘n’ rollers of the punk generation. Others dismissed him as a novelty.
Originally released in 1994 (just a year after Allin died of a heroin overdose in N.Y.C.), this underground documentary was young filmmaker Todd Phillips’ first full-length effort. And it’s a mess — literally. Phillips basically follows GG’s band The Murder Junkies — bass-playing brother Merle Allin, naked drummer Dino Sex, and a rotation of fill-in guitarists (including ex-Ramone Dee Dee) — on an ill-fated tour that barely made it out of the Northeast. The director mixes scenes from the shows and backstage footage of the band members together with interviews of Allin’s high school buddies, teachers, and former bandmates. It paints a choppy picture of the man’s life in music and punk culture. A few amusing bits of footage from Geraldo and local TV news clips. Other highlights (and low moments) include montages from various tours to the tunes of “When I Die,” “Bite It You Scum,” and “Die When You Die.” Not a rockumentary for the timid. (www.mvdb2b.com) —T. Ballard Lesemann