Johnny Cash - Live At The Carousel Ballroom 1968
The year is 1968, in the days to come" Live At Folsom Prison" will be released, and 6 months later a further prison based album "Live At San Quentin" will become defining moments in Johnny Cash's catalogue. Live versions of "Fulsom Prison Blues" and "A Boy Named Sue" will revitalise his presence in the singles charts with the latter even charting in the UK at number 4.
Those shows magical as they were, were played to a confined audience, what would it have been like to have seen Johnny Cash in a more normal setting?
That opportunity now comes our way via a fascinating artefact "Live At The Carousel Ballroom". Recorded with some then state of the art equipment, this recording lets you immerse youself in what it would have been like to have seen Johnny Cash live.
It would would have been their second show of the day at the San Francisco ballroom, playing to a lively if not over enthusiastic audience, Such is the authenticity of the recording that the crowd shouting out song suggestions is left in and you can hear the palpable panic sweep through the room when he announces he has only a few song left and has yet to play "Ring Of Fire" or the seeming lack of interest in the announcement of a new unrecorded Bob Dylan tune.
Flicking through the track listing, remarkably few songs come in at over three minutes, and most of those are at the top of the show. Things commence with "Cocaine Blues", judging by Johnny's comments, the set has been under a way for a short while, it's a tale of drugs and murder, subjects that will recur throughout the album at an alarming rate. The band seem to be a standard bass, drum and guitar set up, most of the time playing an unassuming steam train chugalong while Johnny out front regales us. Another of the early songs "The Long Black Veil" find him in his top singing voice, rich and warm. He quite humbly talks about trying to meet everyones requests which does somewhat incite people to call out their favourites, and he can be heard saying "I will I will " reassuring them that their one will come later in the evening.
For "Orange Blossom Special" he plays a mean harmonica that rouses the crowd, with the song collapsing at the end rather than finishing. The introduction to "Going To Memphis" is worth hearing as much as the song, with a rich narrative established before he sings a word, it is also notable for some preculiarly out of time clapping from the audience, while "Rock Island Line" is played at a frenetic pace,with the actual singing part of the song lasting barely a minute. At this stage in the show songs are fired out like bullets from a gun in rapid succession, the announcement of "One Too Many Mornings" being an unreleased Bob Dylan song gets the merest of appreciation from about 6 audience members, whereas another Dylan song "Don't Think Twice It's Alright" is given a warm reception just from the opening line.
Prison plays a key part in the show "Give My Love To Rose" and "The Green Green Grass Of Home" both find Johnny pouring plenty of emotion into these tales of men separated from their true loves. The latter at this point had already been covered by a number of people in the previous three years including Tom Jones's version. Another theme that crops up and shows Johnny in an exceptional light are his songs around Native Americans. TV shows of the time were still very much awash with stereotypes but "The Ballad Of Ira Hayes" and the powerful punch of "Old Apache Squaw" paint them in a different light, the latter, lasting a mere 90 seconds is not your average song to lay upon an audience.
There is a special request from Gordon Lightfoot who is in the audience, and Johnny can be heard discussing with the band what key it is played in before he plays his Irish ballad "40 Shades Of Green". One can only imagine what is going on stage during "Bad News" with Johnny variously laughing and snorting throughout!
At this point Johnny announces "This is my little wife June Carter Cash" and together they launch into "Jackson", her arrival audibly lifting the spirits of the crowd. At the end of the song June is left to take centre stage while Johnny gets his breath and lightens things with a great sense of humour and some great singing. the intro to "Tall Lover Man" is an absolute hoot with June noting "no one requested it " and that it was a "complete flop!", The song itself is a little gem albeit that is harshly edited out as it nears a close.
She then proceeds to rip through her songs at twice the speed that Johnny has been at previously, in a turbo charged short medley "Wildwood Flower" is fired off in less than a minute, as is "Foggy Mountain Top", Woody Guthries "This Land Is Your Land" and setting a record at a mere thirty five seconds "Wabash Cannonball"! By contrast "Worried Man" clocks in at a lengthy 1 minute 16 swconds.
Johnny returns to the stage and they duet on Carl Perkins's "Long Legged Guitsr Pickin Man" together they are simply magnificent, Johnny,s delight at sharing the stage with his true love clearly comes over on the recording. The announcment of only a few songs remaining sends a by now boistererous crowd apoplectic and one dreads to know what would have happened had he not played "Ring Of Fire" although he does rattle it off in ninety seconds. A closing salvo of "Don't Take Your Guns To Town" and inevitably "I Walk The Line" bring things to a close with the crowd clapping along.
As Johnny leaves the stage the band feel emboldened to let rip for a short burst and then in a quite strange closing minute the MC comes out to say "Thats It thank you for coming enjoying the show, sure it was a good one" and to what appears to be the sound of chairs flipping up as people leave, he tries to rustle up business for forthcoming acts Steve Miller and James & Bobby Purify with one of the most understated sales pitches ever!