There is a man in Seattle named Bob LeClair who has a been collecting country records since the 1950s. Do I need to tell you he has a lot of them? He’s also a longtime listener, and critic of Walkin’ the Floor, as well as being an extremely generous contributor to the show with some hard to find records. They weren’t that hard to find when he bought them brand new! He gave me some advice about ten years ago, warning me to be careful doing birthday tributes, because once you start you’ll never be able to stop. He was right, it’s always someones birthday and frankly, more than a passing remark and it gets a bit boring. So, with that in mind I will not tell you that today is Johnny Cash’s birthday.
Instead let’s look at “From Memphis to Hollywood – The Bootleg, Vol. II.” It’s strictly a fan record. That said, if you’re reading this we can assume you’re a fan. You’ll like it. It’s filled with demos and outtakes, including early solo acoustic recordings and radio transcriptions that aren’t even found on Bear Family’s exhaustive collections. It’s remarkable how fully formed he already was on the recordings. Part of the thrill of Presley’s Sun recordings was listening to a man find himself. Here Cash is already Cash. Yes, he changes some words and the demo of “I Walk the Line,” has him singing in an uncomfortably high register, but if Luther Perkins had been sitting next to him running his lead lines it would sound like, well, Johnny Cash.
Here’s Dylan on “I Walk The Line,” who often says what I think, but better:
“The Record sounded like a voice from the middle of the earth. It was rich and profound, and so was the tone of it, every line; deep and rich, awesome and mysterious all at once. “I Walk The Line” had a monumental presence and a certain type of majesty that was humbling. Even a simple line like “I find it very, very easy to be true” can take your measure. We can remember that and see how far we fall short of it. Johnny wrote thousands of lines like that. Truly, he is what the land and the country are all about, the heart and soul of it personified and what it means to be here; and he said it all in plain English.”
“I Walk The Line” – Demo
Happy Birthday, Johnny.