Before his ACM Awards’ Tribute to Johnny Cash, Eric Church sent Cash’s children a heartfelt letter. At the award ceremony, Church performed a rendition of “Ragged Old Flag” as a tribute to the country music icon. The performance transitioned into his own song “Stick That in Your Country Song.”
ACM Awards Executive Producer RAC Clark explained the tribute might not have happened otherwise. Clark approved Church’s idea for the performance, but they needed permission from Cash’s estate for the song.
“As we got into it, we found the Cash estate and publishers are very protective,” Clark told Country Aircheck. “No matter how much talking I did trying to get it cleared, it was a corporate wall.”
On Clark’s suggestion, Church wrote to Cash’s children Rosanne and John Carter Cash about his idea for the performance. Though Clark didn’t share the details of the letter, the letter convinced Cash’s children to let the country singer use the song.
“I’m never going to share that letter. But it’s the reason that performance aired,” Clark said. “His passion about what he wanted to say and why allowed them to entrust him with their father’s legacy.”
Eric Church played the melody of the song while a recording of Johnny Cash played.
Cash wrote “Ragged Old Flag” in 1974 during a time of political and social turmoil. The singer began to question his faith in America following President Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal and the Vietnam War. Cash created the song to reaffirm his faith in “the goodness of American people.”
Rather than try to match Cash’ vocals, Church played a recording of Cash reciting the lyrics. Shrouded in a silhouette for the performance, Church backed Cash up by playing the melody on an acoustic guitar. In the background, images of Cash flashed across the stage.
“There was a lot of sweat equity by a lot of people. Part of my job is to bring these things to life, but this was Eric’s vision,” Clark said. “He pushed it over the top, and boy, did he deliver.”
[H/T: Taste of Country]