Fifty-one years ago today, the Man in Black took the Grand Ole Opry stage to record his third live album. However, it wasn’t just an album. It was also a tie-in with his hit variety program The Johnny Cash Show. It was almost 14 years to the day since Cash made his Opry debut. At the same time, he recorded his variety show in Nashville’s Mother Church, the Ryman Auditorium. So, recording the tie-in record at the Grand Ole Opry House connected the show to both of Music City’s most important venues.
The connections to country music history don’t stop there, though. For instance, June Carter and the Carter Family sing backup on The Johnny Cash Show. The Statler Brothers lend their voices to the mix as well. At the same time, legendary guitarist and “Blue Suede Shoes” writer Carl Perkins played guitar on the album. The stage was a who’s who of great country musicians. We’ll come back around to the most historically important thing about the record in just a moment.
The Johnny Cash Show hit shelves in October of 1970. It went to the top of Billboard’s Country Albums chart. It was later certified Gold by the RIAA. The lone single from the record also went to the top of the chart. Likewise, it is the most historically important part of the release.
Johnny Cash Helps to Launch Kris Kristofferson with Hit Single
The Johnny Cash Show produced one single. It was “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down,” penned by Kris Kristofferson. Today, we know Kristofferson as a singer, songwriter, and actor. However, he is probably best known for being one of the legendary Highwaymen. Cash’s decision to use “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down,” had a lot to do with Kristofferson’s rise to prominence.
When Kristofferson wrote the song, he was living in a run-down house in Nashville and sweeping floors at Columbia Records. There, he met Johnny Cash and June Carter-Cash. June and Kris became friendly and she would sneak the songwriter’s demos home to Johnny whenever she could. One of those tapes included “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down,” and Cash loved it.
When he introduced the song that night he said, “One of the greatest songwriters around these days is a friend of mine named Kris Kristofferson. He’ll be with us on the show in a couple of weeks. But, before he comes, I’d like to do one of his songs, too. One of my favorite songs of his.”
Before he went on stage that night, the producers told Johnny Cash to change the lyrics. They wanted him to swap “Wishin’, Lord, that I was stoned,” to “Wishin’, Lord, that I was home.” Cash said, “I don’t give a damn what they say, I’m going to sing it the way Kris wrote it.” And, he did. If you listen to the cut of the song from the album, you can hear a subtle emphasis on the word “stoned.” It was, at the same time, a middle finger to the man as well as an endorsement of Kristofferson’s writing.