It’s February 1969. Bob Dylan, two years removed from the release of the somber and contemplative John Wesley Harding, returns to Nashville to begin work on what will become his ninth studio album, the full-on country record Nashville Skyline.
Though it was met with great commercial success, it peaked at #3 on the charts, many critics didn’t know what to make of it, despite knowing Dylan’s penchant for shifting gears, changing sounds and his chameleonic nature.
The album, under the direction of producer Bob Johnston was recorded in about nine days, from Feb. 12-21. Midway through the sessions at Columbia’s Studio A, friend (since the 1964 Newport Folk Festival) and fellow label mate Johnny Cash stopped by to say hello.
Cash was still basking in the success of the release of his live record At Folsom Prison, was still four months away from his other legendary live performance At San Quentin and that year he would begin playing television host for The Johnny Cash Show on ABC. Needless to say, these two musicians were not only at the height of their popularity (well some thirty years later it’s debatable as both are as popular now as they were back then) and creative peak.
During a two day stretch of playing and recording together, Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash recording a bevy of songs together, all of them deemed unworthy to be released or featured on Dylan’s new record. Only one of them, a reworking of “Girl From the North Country” was added to Nashville Skyline.
What’s interesting about this session is how much fun Dylan and Cash had playing music together. Many of the songs are sloppy and rightfully don’t belong on any official release. Lines are screwed up, notes are misplayed, both artists sing over each other. It feels like one of those moments, a rare glimpse into two Supernovas playing for no reason but the hell of it.
There’s an excellent mix of Cash tunes, Dylan originals, more traditional Americana arrangements, even an Elvis Presley cover song. After a few listens, one can easily understand why neither wanted this released, but these sessions deserved to be heard for not just music fans or fans of either gentleman, but as a slice of American history, a sharp moment in time, never to be duplicated. For these sessions represent the improbable intersection of what could have been had Cash and Dylan said screw it and tossed aside any notions of The Traveling Wilburys or The Highwaymen.
Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash – The Nashville Sessions
- One Two Many Mornings (recorded Feb. 17)
- Mountain Dew (recorded Feb. 18)
- I Still Miss Someone (recorded Feb. 17)
- Careless Love ( traditional / recorded Feb. 18)
- Matchbox (recorded Feb. 18)
- That’s Alright, Mama (Elvis Presley cover / recorded Feb. 18)
- Big River (recorded Feb. 18)
- Girl From the North Country (recorded Feb. 18)
- I Walk the Line (recorded Feb. 18)
- You Are My Sunshine (recorded Feb. 18)
- Guess Things Happen That Way (recorded Feb. 18)
- Just a Closer Walk With Thee (traditional hymn / recorded Feb. 18)
- Blue Yodel #1 (Jimmie Rodger’s cover / recorded Feb. 18)
- Blue Yodel #5 (Jimmie Rodger’s cover / recorded Feb. 18)
- I Threw it All Away (LIVE FROM THE JOHNNY CASH SHOW)
- Living the Blues (recorded Feb. 18)
- Girl From the North Country (LIVE)
- Nashville Skyline Rag (recorded Feb. 18)
- I Threw it All Away (alternate album version)
- Peggy Day (alternate album version)
- Country Pie (alternate album version)
- Tonight, I’ll Be Staying Here With You (alternate album version)
Now this is not the complete session, as versions of “Ring of Fire” “Mystery Train,” “Don’t Think Twice it’s Alight,” “How High the Water” and “Wanted Man” were also attempted. Those songs, I was unable to track down.
If anyone has versions of them, please pass them along from one fan to another. I’ve been told there are bootlegged versions, commercial or otherwise, of these sessions. Which means, those have to be out there, right?