Loney Hutchins Unearths Treasure Trove of Demos from House of Cash
In an only-in-Nashville story, Loney Hutchins went overnight from selling mobile homes to working as a staff writer for the House of Cash, Johnny Cash’s publishing company. Hutchins, whose family grew up in a mountain holler not far from The Carter Family, visited the Cash company one day in 1972, hoping to get Cash to listen to some of his songs. By chance he met June in the driveway, and the two started talking and discovered they went to the same school. Soon June was calling Johnny up to the house, where Hutchins played a four-song demo reel for Cash and Cash offered him a job. He spent the mid-’70s writing songs and producing demos of his and other writers’ songs for Cash.
The 24 tracks on Buried Loot: Demos from the House of Cash and Outlaw Era, ’73–’78 collect never-before-heard recordings of demos of Hutchins’ songs, as well as songs penned by Cash and recorded as demos before they were released, that Hutchins had tucked away. The opening track, “Pinball King,” blends honky-tonk with doo wop and a Waylon Jennings vibe that borders on rockabilly. The folk ballad “Who Will Be My Fire?” showcases Hutchins’ cascading flatpicking guitar, while the spiraling minor-chord guitar picking of “Fool’s Gold” provides the foundation for a Celtic-inflected mountain murder ballad, with the late bluegrass legend Margaret Archer Bailey providing accompanying vocals. The never-before-heard “Stoney Creek,” written by Hazel Smith, the woman credited with coming up with the term “outlaw music,” swirls gently in eddying pools of piano, guitar, and vocals.
Hutchins sings the Cash-penned song “Daughter of a Railroad Man” here for the first time on a demo; it’s a chugging, straight-head scamper propelled by DJ Fontana on drums. Lloyd Green’s unfurling steel guitar licks scuttle under the rousing duet between Hutchins and an unidentified female singer on “I Do Declare”; if you close your eyes you can hear sounds that recall Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn’s “marriage” songs in which each partner clearly expects something different from the relationship. The country stomper “We Got It All” rollicks across the barroom floor, while the mountain ballad “Whippoorwill” celebrates the beauty and mystery of the mountains where Hutchins grew up.
The collection contains the first-known recording of the Cash-penned “Committed to Parkview,” and Hutchins’ lilting, waltzing version belies the claustrophobia and hopeless of the song, lacking the soul darkness of later versions by Cash himself and Porter Wagoner. The collection also includes the never-recorded gospel song “Ya Gotta Live It,” co-written by Hutchins and Helen Carter. The album closes with a percolating paean and nostalgic remembrance of Hutchins’ home in “My Tennessee Hills.”
It’s a gift to have this collection of Hutchins’ demos. They showcase his canny ability with lyrics that convey feelings of loneliness and joy and tell stories of folks who have migrated from the mountains to the city wistfully looking back to the happiness of their homes. The collection is a treasure trove that illustrates Hutchins’ way with a song, re-introducing his work to us. Buried loot, indeed.