Bonanza and Johnny Cash. What’s not to love? The country icon singing the show’s theme was the perfect fusion of the pop culture classics.
This was all back in the summer of 1962. By then, the country was in love with the series and the Cartwright crew, dad Ben and sons Adam, Hoss and Little Joe. They lived, worked and loved on the Ponderosa, a mighty ranch near Virginia City and Lake Tahoe, with the Sierra Nevadas serving as a gorgeous backdrop.
By the summer of 62, Bonanza was readying for its fourth of 13 seasons. So why not Johnny Cash adding to the western flavor?
Months before Cash released the theme to Bonanza, he moved his first wife and four daughters to a hilltop home in California. He did two albums in 1962 — Hymns from the Heart and The Sound of Johnny Cash.
Cash opted to release Bonanza as a single. Here was one problem with the theme song. The one used in the TV show had no words. It was an instrumental version. Al Caiola and his orchestra recorded the song in 1961. He’d worked with a bevy of stars, including Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly and Tony Bennett.
This Bonanza recording was a popular one. It reached No. 19 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Johnny Cash and friend Johnny Western gave the Bonanza theme some words. Western was a singer/songwriter who performed with Cash and Gene Autry, aka, the singing cowboy.
Check Out This ‘Bonanza’ Poetry by Johnny Cash
And here is the musical poetry the two worked up as an ode to Bonanza:
“The claim we hold is as good as gold, bonanza. Hand in hand we built this land, the Ponderosa Ranch.
Our birthright is this Cartwright bonanza. We here belong, and standing strong, wrong ain’t got a chance .
“Day by day, work or play, ready side by side. Hello friend, come on in, the gate is open wide.
Bound to be a fightin’ free bonanza, Singing pines of boundary lines for the Ponderosa Ranch.
“Every tree and flower is part of our bonanza. The stars at night, the morning light, water in the branch. We ride along four men strong together. Every plain and ridge is our heritage: Ponderosa Ranch.
“Day by day, work or play, ready side by side. Hello friend, come on in, the gate is open wide. Bound to be a fightin’ free bonanza, Singing pines of boundary lines for the Ponderosa Ranch.“
Cash released Bonanza as the A side of the record. The B side was Pick a Bale O’Cotton. And folks, although this seemed to be a terrific idea in theory, country music fans thought otherwise. The song didn’t even register on the country charts.
Here’s a vintage clip from Johnny Cash singing Bonanza at the Grand Ole Opry.