On This Day: ‘The Johnny Cash Show’ Debuts on TV in 1969

by Suzanne Halliburton

“Hello, I’m Johnny Cash.” Of course the country legend opened his new variety show with his classic greeting 52 Junes ago today.

On June 7, 1969, Johnny Cash and his wife, June Carter Cash, were the hosts of the new The Johnny Cash Show. The two were near newlyweds, celebrating their first wedding anniversary three months earlier. And if you flipped on the TV, you’d also catch the usuals who accompanied Cash and his wife on so many tours. The Carter Family often performed on the show, as did the Statler Brothers. So did Carl Perkins and Cash’s backing band, the Tennessee Three.

They’d all gather at the Ryman Auditorium, then the home of the Grand Ole Opry, in Nashville for an hour of musical bliss. Americans tuning in could watch a performance like this:

Of Course He Did: Johnny Cash Performed a Classic for First Show

Johnny Cash could sing anything he wanted. He chose Folsom Prison Blues, The Wall and Greystone Chapel. Then he and June got together for a duet of It Ain’t Me, Babe.

You can definitely say Johnny Cash and his new show featured an eclectic guest list. Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell performed for the premiere. Doug Kershaw, the frenetic Cajun singer and fiddle player, also was on the first-ever episode.

Dylan sang I Threw it All Away and Livin’ the Blues. And Mitchell sang Both Sides Now.

Then Dylan and Cash got together for Girl from the North Country. We’re assuming Dylan approved of Johnny and June singing his own tune, It Ain’t Me Babe.

Kershaw was the only other country act booked for the first show. He didn’t disappoint with his Diggy, Liggy Lo. Later that year, the astronauts of Apollo 12 — Richard Gordon, Pete Conrad and Alan Bean — showed their love for Kershaw. The crew played Louisiana Man, turned it up real high, and blasted it back to Earth.

ABC Liked Cash’s Live Performances at Prisons, So Network Offered Him a Show

Executives at ABC offered Johnny Cash a variety show as a summer replacement series after they watched his live performances at San Quentin and Folsom Prison. In fact, Cash, nine days after his show made its debut, released his live album At San Quentin. His song A Boy Named Sue was about to blow up, big time.

The Johnny Cash Show, like many variety programming in the 1960s, relied heavily on cross-over stars so that all Americans would have reason to tune in. That meant Bob Hope dropping by Ryman Auditorium. Kirk Douglas and Peggy Lee were there for episodes. So was Ben Cartwright of Bonanza. You know him by his real name, Lorne Green. Johnny Cash loved Bonanza so much, he recorded the theme song. The Monkees, the made-for-TV pop group, also sang on the show.

June Carter Cash filmed part of her appearances that first season as opposed to performing on stage. She was pregnant with the couple’s first child, together. John Carter Cash was born in March, 1970.

In the season one finale, Johnny Cash invited Roy Orbison as a featured guest. Orbison sang Crying. Then he and Cash sang Pretty Woman, together. Now that’s some entertainment.

All the country greats, at the time, joined Johnny Cash on stage for an episode. George Jones and Merle Haggard made appearances. So did Glen Campbell. But there were other performers with cross-over genre appeal like Eric Clapton, Stevie Wonder, Mahalia Jackson and Ray Charles.

And on any of the episodes, you could see performances like this. Yes, please.