Review: Johnny Cash – Bootleg III: Live Around the World (Columbia/Legacy, 2011)
Volume 1 of the bootleg series, Personal File, documented solo home recordings from the ‘70s and ‘80s in which Johnny Cash explored a wide variety of American song. Volume 2, From Memphis to Hollywood, essayed the background of Cash’s transition to country stardom via a collection of 1950s radio appearances, Sun-era demos and a deep cache of 1960s studio recordings. Volume 3 looks at Cash’s role as a live performer from 1956 through 1979, including stops at the Big “D” Jamboree, the Newport Folk Festival, a USO tour of Vietnam, the White House and the Wheeling Jamboree. Among these fifty tracks, thirty-nine are previously unreleased, giving ardent Cash collectors a wealth of new material to enjoy.
The earliest tracks, from a 1956 show in Dallas, find Cash opening with a powerful version of the 1955 B-side “So Doggone Lonesome” and introducing his then-current single on Sun, “I Walk the Line.” At the end of the three-song Dallas set you hear an audience member call out for “Get Rhythm” and the band launches into it. Cash was always a generous stage performer, early on sharing the limelight with Luther Perkins and Marshall Grant, introducing and praising them, and giving Perkins a solo spot for the instrumental “Perkins Boogie.” By 1962 the Tennessee Two had expanded to a tight trio with the addition of W.S. Holland on drums, but even with Cash’s move to Columbia, the group’s appearance at a Maryland hoe-down is still rootsy and raw. They rush “I Walk the Line” as if they’d had one too many pep pills, but Cash is charming as he addresses the audience and hams it up with impressions and jokes.
Two years later at the Newport Folk Festival Cash was introduced by proto-folkie Pete Seeger. Cash is thoroughly commanding as he sings his hits and expands his palette with Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright,” Pete LaFarge’s “Ballad of Ira Hayes” and the Carter Family’s “Keep on the Sunny Side.” His 1969 trip to Vietnam was bookended by more famous live recordings at Folsom and San Quentin prisons, but the soldiers at the Annex 14 NCO Club in Long Binh were treated to a prime performance that included June Carter on “Jackson,” “Long-Legged Guitar Pickin’ Man” and “Daddy Sang Bass.” Cash continued to mix his hits (including a request for “Little Flat Top Box”) with folk and country classics, mixing “Remember the Alamo” and “Cocaine Blues” into his set.
Cash’s performance at the Nixon Whitehouse in 1970 is this set’s most legendary, and also its longest at twelve songs. Richard Nixon provides the introduction, including a few remarks on the safe return of Apollo 13. Cash’s set includes a then-familiar mix of hits and gospel songs, but is mostly remembered for his choice not to play Nixon’s requests for “Okie From Muskogee” and “Welfare Cadillac,” and instead sing “What is Truth,” “Man in Black” and “The Ballad of Ira Hayes,” the first of which is included here. Nixon is self deprecating in explaining Cash’s rebuff, and Cash is deferential in addressing Nixon as “Mr. President,” leaving the political implications to seem more legend than truth. Still, Nixon couldn’t have been comfortable having his antipathy towards the younger generation questioned by “What is Truth.”
The remaining tracks collect an eclectic array of songs recorded at a number of different locations throughout the 1970s. The titles include Kris Kristofferson’s “Sunday Morning Coming Down,” the 1920s standard “The Prisoner’s Song,” Gene Autry’s “That Silver Haired Daddy of Mine,” Steve Goodman’s “City of New Orleans,” the Western classic “Riders in the Sky,” Billy Joe Shaver’s “I’m Just an Old Chunk of Coal,” and several of Cash’s Sun-era tunes. It’s interesting to hear Cash’s breadth, though not as fulfilling as the set lists elsewhere in the collection. The recording quality is good to excellent throughout, with the Newport tracks in especially crisp stereo. If you’re new to Cash’s catalog, start your appreciation of his performing talents with At San Quentin, but this is a terrific expansion (at nearly 2-1/2 hours) of the well-known, previously issued live materials.