View From Lodi, CA: Christmas Memories Of Johnny Cash


Because my weekly

Lodi News-Sentinel
columns
were suspended during the

late summer and early fall,
I didn`t have a chance
to write about Johnny Cash after he died on September
12.

I had seen Cash in concert many
times. When he stepped onto the stage to introduce
himself simply by saying, “Hello, I`m Johnny Cash”
the audience broke into wild applause.

In his later years, Cash laughed
about that. Cash said that no matter what corner of the
world he traveled to, everyone recognized him. Even
without his long, black coat people pointed to him and
said, “There`s Johnny Cash.”

Last month, on November 11,
Nashville hosted a

tribute
to Cash at the Grand Ole Opry`s Ryman
Auditorium. Cash, the maverick and beloved singer,
launched his career at the Opry in 1956.

Country singers and rock stars
alike gathered to honor Cash for maintaining his
integrity to

songs about love, failure and death.
Today, when one
country music song sounds exactly like Cash`s
contributions stand out. Cash won 12 Grammy awards
during his 42-year music career.

Travis Tritt and Hank Williams Jr.
joined icons like Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson and
George Jones on the Ryman stage. 

Cash`s step-daughter Roseanne sang


“I Still Miss Someone,”
and rocker John
Mellencamp turned Cash`s famous rockabilly tune,

“Hey, Porter,”
into what New York Times
music critic Jon Pareles called

“a pensive, spectral ballad.”

Lou Robin, Cash`s manager for 35 years, said the Cash
family wanted to hold the tribute for the fans that were
unable to attend the September 15 funeral service.

“[The family] just wanted to … give the public … closure
to their feelings about John`s death,”
Robin

said
.

“They thought maybe this would be an opportunity for a
lot of different entertainers to come and voice their
feelings and perform and entertain.”

What I most admired in Cash`s work were his songs about
Americana. So many of them commemorated the

names and faces
that dot American history. Cash
featured

Abraham Lincoln, Paul Revere, Andrew Jackson and Daniel
Boone
on his songs.

One of Cash`s most famous albums, “From Sea to
Shining Sea”
brimmed with unquestioning patriotism.
But other songs like

“Johnny Reb”
and

“Green Grow the Lilacs”
told darker tales about
war`s ultimate consequences.

The

Christmas season
reminded me again about Cash
because over the decades he cut seven wonderful but
largely unheralded Christmas collections.

One of the best is his first—the 1972

“The Johnny Cash Family”—
recently re-released
by Sony Special Projects. What sets this album apart
from others is the nine tracks of Christmas dialogue by
Cash. Other tracks feature June Carter, the Statler
Brothers and Carl Perkins. In the final track, the Cash
family sings “Silent Night.”

For traditionalists,
“Johnny Cash Classic Christmas,”
recorded in 1980 is
the best choice.
“Classic Christmas”
includes all the well known
carols like “Joy to the World,” “O Little Town of
Bethlehem,”
and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.”
Cash is backed on these songs by a full
orchestra—quite unlike the unadorned presentation on his
other albums.

The standout song on
“Classic Christmas”
is

The Christmas Guest,”
an old Grandpa Jones
tale about an aging man who has been visited—unbeknownst
to him—by the

Lord
three times on Christmas Day.

“The Christmas Spirit”
is another outstanding Cash holiday album. While there
are many

traditional
songs on the album, the best are Cash
originals: Ringing
the Bells for Jim
,” “We
Are the Shepherds
,” “Who
Kept the Sheep
.”

Two other great cuts are Cash`s version of “The
Little Drummer Boy”
and a musical version of Edna
St. Vincent Millay`s poem,

“The Ballad of the Harp Weaver.”

The most memorable of all Cash`s Christmas songs, Christmas
as I Knew It
,”
is also found on “The
Christmas Spirit.”

Cash tells about how he as a youngster celebrated one
holiday during the

Depression
in

Dyess, Arkansas
. Although the cotton crop had
failed, the Cash family felt blessed that they had good
health, and enough to share with others even less
fortunate.

The Cash albums are a great addition to your Christmas
music. And if you shop around, you`re likely to find
many of them at deeply discounted prices.

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Joe Guzzardi [email
him], an instructor in English
at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly
column since 1988. It currently appears in the


Lodi News-Sentinel
.