Inside the 1969 Bob Dylan-Johnny Cash Sessions

Bob Dylan and John­ny Cash had formed a mutu­al admi­ra­tion soci­ety even before they met in the ear­ly 1960s.

“Of course, I knew of him before he ever heard of me,” Dylan wrote short­ly after Cash’s death in 2003. “In ’55 or ’56, ‘I Walk the Line’ played all sum­mer on the radio, and it was dif­fer­ent than any­thing else you had ever heard. The record sound­ed like a voice from the mid­dle of the Earth. It was so pow­er­ful and mov­ing.”

When the young Dylan arrived on the scene in 1962, Cash was impressed.

“I was deeply into folk music in the ear­ly 1960s,” he wrote in Cash: The Auto­bi­og­ra­phy, “both the authen­tic songs from var­i­ous peri­ods and areas of Amer­i­can life and the new ‘folk revival’ songs of the time, so I took note of Bob Dylan as soon as the Bob Dylan album came out in ear­ly ’62 and lis­tened almost con­stant­ly to The Free­wheel­in’ Bob Dylan in ’63. I had a portable record play­er I’d take along on the road, and I’d put on Free­wheel­in’ back­stage, then go out and do my show, then lis­ten again as soon as I came off.”

Cash wrote the young Dylan a fan let­ter, and they began cor­re­spond­ing. When they met at the 1964 New­port Folk Fes­ti­val, Cash gave Dylan his gui­tar as a ges­ture of respect and admi­ra­tion. Five years lat­er, when Dylan was in Nashville record­ing his ninth stu­dio album, Cash was record­ing in the stu­dio next door. He decid­ed to drop in. On Feb­ru­ary 17 and 18, 1969, Cash and Dylan record­ed more than a dozen duets. Only one of them, a ver­sion of Dylan’s “Girl From the North Coun­try,” made it onto the album, Nashville Sky­line. The oth­ers were nev­er offi­cial­ly released, but have long been cir­cu­lat­ing as bootlegs. In the video above, Dylan and Cash work on one of two ver­sions they made of “One Too Many Morn­ings,” a song orig­i­nal­ly record­ed by Dylan in 1964 for The Times They Are a‑Changin’.  The out­takes Dylan and Cash record­ed togeth­er are all scat­tered around Youtube. One Youtu­ber post­ed a com­pi­la­tion back in 2013.

A few weeks after the release of Nashville Sky­line, Dylan and Cash per­formed “Girl From the North Coun­try” on The John­ny Cash Show. It was taped on May 1, 1969 at the Ryman Audi­to­ri­um in down­town Nashville. A rough video clip (around the 30 minute mark) cap­tures the moment. Despite Dylan’s report­ed ner­vous­ness, the per­for­mance was well-received. “I did­n’t feel any­thing about it,” Cash said lat­er. “But every­body said it was the most mag­net­ic, pow­er­ful thing they ever heard in their life. They were just rav­ing about elec­tric­i­ty and mag­net­ism. And all I did was just sit there hit­ting G chords.”

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