Despite running for only 58 episodes, from 1969 to 1971, The Johnny Cash Show has given us here at Open Culture much to get excited about, including striking performances from Neil Young, Bob Dylan, and Dennis Hopper. The Man in Black would also take the stage now and again to play solo, and you could hardly ask for a more distinctively (and refreshingly, not traditionally televisual) hosting presence. Though short-lived, Cash’s variety show happened at just the right time to bridge the sixties and seventies, offering sets from some of the musical figures who themselves defined that cultural transition. Case in point: the woman, the legend, the era-embodying Joni Mitchell.
Viewers who tuned in to The Johnny Cash Show‘s debut episode on June 7, 1969 saw a performance of her now-classic song “Both Sides Now”. You can also watch Mitchell do a version of country ballad “The Long Black Veil” in July 1969 and then perform Bob Dylan’s “Girl from the North Country” in October 1970. She takes on neither of these two songs alone; Cash joins her for the both of them. No partisan in the heated conflict across the “generation gap,” Cash, then in his late thirties, regularly joined forces with luminaries who came in on the rising tides of rock, folk, and folk-rock, on television and beyond it. Then again, you’d expect from the man some music critics credit, on the strength of “Folsom Prison Blues,” with fathering the genre of gangsta rap. And you’d certainly expect appearances this memorable from Mitchell.
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on literature, film, cities, Asia, and aesthetics. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.