Friday, September 12, 2003

Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison was the first "country" record I ever listened to from beginning to end. My uncle, Arlon Earle, owned it and we were visiting him in Jacksonville, Texas. I first heard Hank Williams, Bob Wills, Jimmie Rodgers, and Ray Price in that house — "hillbilly records" he called them, so I called them that, too. As I got older and discovered the Beatles and the Stones and Bob Dylan, only Johnny Cash survived the shift in my musical tastes. Cash was different. He was a BADASS. He wore a lot of black and he sang about murder and dope and adultery and ghosts. He had genuine attitude. His music, more than anyone else's, was simultaneously COUNTRY and ROCK.

In 1968 John had his own television show and I NEVER, EVER missed it. I saw Neil Young, Linda Ronstadt and in his first network appearance, Bob Dylan. All during the most formative period in my musical life. Nothing else would influence as much as that hour a week until I met Townes Van Zandt in 1972.

I finally met John in 1987 at a photo session for a newspaper article publicizing a benefit we shared the bill on. Present were John, myself, Waylon Jennings and Mark Germino. It was John who noticed that everyone in the picture was wearing black except him.

In 1991 I dropped off the edge of the earth, resurfacing in '95 by way of the Davidson County Criminal Justice Center. Later that year Ry Cooder asked me to play electric guitar on John's contribution of the Dead Man Walking soundtrack. (I got to "be" Luther Perkins. How cool is that?) I hadn't seen John since I went away and when I walked into the green room at 16th Avenue Sound, he was standing over the pool table with his hand in an old fashioned picnic basket. He looked up when I entered the room and said "Steve, would you like a piece of tenderloin on a biscuit that June made this mornin'?" I allowed how I would and he said "I knew that you would." Then we went in and made a record — as if nothing bad had ever happened to either one of us.

— Steve Earle, Troy, NY, June 1999

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