Johnny Cash is one of the most imposing and influential figures in the history of music. Emotional and real, his deep baritone voice and percussive guitar style created a bridge among various genres of music and earned him induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
While Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison, the 1968 album that made Cash a household word, spent only two weeks at No. 1, this 1969 follow-up topped the charts for 20 weeks. As with Folsom, the San Quentin LP had to be edited due to space limitations. Now, 31 years after the fact, the show can at last be heard in true perspective. All the original performances hold up, including the album's hit single: Shel Silverstein's "A Boy Named Sue," presented unbleeped for the first time. Equally impressive are the eight restored tracks and unexpurgated between-song patter. Cash's opening renditions of "Big River" and "I Still Miss Someone" are bracing. So are four closing songs teaming Cash with his complete performing troupe (the Carter Family, Carl Perkins, and the Statler Brothers). Their gospel performances ("He Turned the Water into Wine," "The Old Account," and an early version of "Daddy Sang Bass") are electrifying, as is a concluding medley featuring everyone. Cash is presented here at his roaring, primal best.
This is the centre-piece of an extensive Johnny Cash Night on BBC Four. A major retrospective of Cash's life, times and music, it includes contributions from his daughter, Rosanne Cash, and son, John Carter Cash; his long-time manager, Lou Robin; and fellow musicians, including Little Richard, Cowboy Jack Clement, Kris Kristofferson, Merle Haggard and Elvis Costello.
After 1994's American Recordings revitalized Johnny Cash's career, he and producer Rick Rubin had to come up with an encore, and in some respects 1996's Unchained was the sort of album many were expecting American Recordings to be. Instead of the solo acoustic approach of American Recordings, Unchained paired Cash with a noted rock band Rubin had worked with in the past – Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, whose roots-conscious style and Southern heritage would seemingly make them compatible with the Man in Black…