‘The Needle and the Damage Done’: Neil Young Plays on The Johnny Cash Show, 1971

Here’s a scene from a clas­sic episode of The John­ny Cash Show, with Neil Young singing a deeply per­son­al song that he had only recent­ly writ­ten.

“John­ny Cash on Cam­pus” was a spe­cial edi­tion that aired on Feb­ru­ary 17, 1971.  Cash and his crew vis­it­ed Van­der­bilt Uni­ver­si­ty in Nashville to talk with stu­dents. In the pro­gram, one of them rais­es the sub­ject of drugs in the music indus­try, and Cash speaks briefly about his own prob­lem with drugs before intro­duc­ing Young, who sings “The Nee­dle and the Dam­age Done” in front of an all-stu­dent audi­ence at the Ryman Audi­to­ri­um. Young then puts down his gui­tar and moves to a piano to play “Jour­ney Through the Past.”

It was a busy time for Young. While he was in Nashville to appear on the show he was per­suad­ed by a local record pro­duc­er to record his next album there. He began work almost imme­di­ate­ly on what would become his mas­ter­piece, Har­vest. On the night of the John­ny Cash Show Young invit­ed two oth­er guests that night, Lin­da Ron­stadt and James Tay­lor, to go back to the stu­dio with him after­ward. Togeth­er the three sang the back­ing vocals on “Heart of Gold” and “Old Man,” and Tay­lor played the dis­tinc­tive ban­jo gui­tar part on “Old Man.”

The Feb­ru­ary 17, 1971 episode of The John­ny Cash Show is also notable for being the first time Cash per­formed “Man in Black.” He got the idea for the song from his dis­cus­sions with the stu­dents at Van­der­bilt, and fin­ished writ­ing the lyrics on the day of the show. The song was so new he need­ed cue cards to sing the words.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Neil Young Busk­ing in Glas­gow, 1976: The Sto­ry Behind the Footage

Neil Young Reveals the New Killer Gad­get That Will Save Music

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  • Sarah Bybee says:

    Neil- Thank you for shar­ing your poet­ry and your music tal­ent with me for almost my life. Your music has touched many peo­ple’s heart. Your gen­er­ous “heart of gold” has helped caus­es that have tru­ly helped a lot of peo­ple with things peo­ple deeply need. Thanks for being a good per­son and car­ing to help!


    Sarah Bybee

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