Throughout the 1950’s Johnny Cash represented every dynamic of popular American Music. From his rhythmic strumming; echoing the trains that charged across the nation, to the deep voice and thoughtful lyrics that spoke the heart of American ideals; Johnny Cash was American music. Similarly, Bob Dylan, arriving on the scene a generation behind Cash, directed light onto political and social issues, providing thought provoking lyrics to the conflicting melody that was a heated time of war for the United States. Bob Dylan was American music.
This solid foundation of similar musical representation is what led these two legendary musicians to a lifelong friendship. As Cash confided in Cash: The Autobiography, their alliance began when, “I’d put on [The] Freewheelin’ [Bob Dylan] backstage, then go out and do my show, then listen again as soon as I came off. After a while at that, I wrote Bob a letter telling him how much of a fan I was. He wrote back almost immediately, saying he’d been following my music since ‘I Walk the Line,’ and so we began a correspondence.” This undeniable mutual respect, and admiration for one another, was the initial link that solidified a relationship between the Folk Rocker and Country star.
Cash and Dylan’s first face to face interaction occurred at the 1964 Newport Folk Festival, a music festival that would serve to remain a crucial component throughout Dylan’s career. Few details are known about their interaction, but Cash’s son would later come forth with story he claims is straight from his own father’s mouth. He reported that, upon finally meeting one another, “Dylan rushed into his room, jumped on the bed and began bouncing up and down chanting, ‘I met Johnny Cash, I met Johnny Cash!”
Despite this indisputable bond, the duo recorded together only one time. In the midst of recording his, Nashville Skyline album, Dylan invited Cash down for what would become a two-day session. Starting on February 17, 1969 at Columbia Studios in Nashville, Tennessee, Dylan and Cash were reported to have recorded fifteen songs. Amongst the list was a Dylan tune, “One Too Many Mornings;” some Cash classics, “Big River,” “Ring of Fire” and “I Walk the Line,” and a collection of blues, country, and rockabilly standards such as, “That’s Alright Mama,” “Matchbox” and “Careless Love.” The session ended as more of an experimental jam session, never truly rehearsing a song, but rather, enjoying the spontaneity of the moment. One sole tune, “Girl from the North Country,” made the cut and onto Dylan’s album. The several others can be found as unreleased bootleg versions, to those lucky enough to find them, that is.
At times, within the world of popular musicians, similarities are interpreted as competition. That was not the case for Dylan and Cash. Their friendship, which lasted the span on 40 years, proved that musicians from separate generations and musical genres could not only unite, but create a lasting impression upon one another. After Cash’s death is 2003, Bob Dylan spoke out stating, “In plain terms, Johnny was and is the North Star; you could guide your ship by him — the greatest of the greats then and now… Truly he is what the land and country is 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 think we can have recollections of him, but we can’t define him any more than we can define a fountain of truth, light and beauty. If we want to know what it means to be mortal, we need look no further than the Man in Black. Blessed with a profound imagination, he used the gift to express all the various lost causes of the human soul.” The love for one another’s voice, music, and being is apparent, marking this pair as one of Rock N’ Roll music’s most endearing and lasting friendships.
5 thoughts on “The Iconic Pairing of Dylan and Cash”
I enjoyed reading that. Thank you.
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Thank you so much! I appreciate that more than you know!
Reblogged this on Opher's World and commented:
A good piece of writing about what I always found as a strange pairing. I quite like Johnny Cash but I am mad about Dylan. They always seemed very different to me.
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Nashville Skyline is a favorite. I can imagine Dylan singing “I walk the Line”. That version would be wonderful. My favorite song off of “Skyline” is “Lay Lady Lay”. If you have not read it, I recommend Dyaln’s autobiography. It was once available as an audio book read by Dylan at the MTSU library.