The Johnny Cash Show

By Jean Metcalfe

Electricity virtually crackled through the Palace Theatre on April 7 as the evening's first band played the unmistakable notes of "I Walk the Line," signaling that there would be no opening act for Johnny Cash. And when The Man in Black strode onstage, the near-capacity crowd leapt to its feet, whooping and hollering throughout Cash's opening "Folsom Prison Blues."

"Hello, I'm Johnny Cash, he said in his trademark declaration, and the cheering almost drowned out his second sentence: "I love this theater."

Never mind that his voice has seen better days, every song offered up was eagerly welcomed. Early numbers on the list were Kristofferson's "Sunday Morning Coming Down," "Ghost Riders in the Sky" and Cash's 1963 No. 1 hit "Ring of Fire."

Cash spoke with pride of having received a Grammy on March 1 for his acclaimed American Recordings album. (He had watched the awards show alone via television from his place in Tennessee: "I jumped up to tell somebody, but there wasn't anybody but me.")

The audience reverently received Cash's song/poem/prayer adaptation of "Oh Bury Me Not" from the award-winning album, then cheered "I Walk the Line" and a fancy instrumental solo from Cash's piano player of (what sounded like) "You Are My Sunshine."

John Carter Cash (son of Johnny and June Carter Cash) had a turn at the spotlight, with Dad providing harmony on his first selection, John Prine's "Paradise." Young Cash, whose physical resemblance to his famous dad was not discernable from the seventh row, was politely received in a nice four-song segment of his original tunes. The voice and the style of music was unlike his famous father's, and there was no call for an encore.

Cash returned to blow harp on "Orange Blossom Special" providing a sentimental train journey via a video featuring 1968 vintage Johnny Cash.

Especially enjoyable was an intimate solo spot highlighting cuts from the American Recordings album. (Cash had wanted to title the album "Scary," he said, while his wife June had suggested "Painfully Honest," because "you can hear every mistake on it.") "Drive On," a cut from Cash's own pen, takes a poignant look at the Vietnam War and suggests a healthy, but perhaps difficult-to-acquire, way of dealing with the lingering scars of American soldiers who served in that 'unpopular' war.

"Bird on a Wire" and the weird but fun "Delia," also from the current album, were well received, but at least one fan wanted to hear a favorite from the past. It had been quite a while since he had done that one, Cash chuckled, but he nevertheless obliged with "Egg Suckin' Dog."

After singing his "testimony" song ("Redemption"?), Cash introduced his spouse, June, "the star of the show," who was warmly greeted by the crowd. One couldn't help noticing how slim and trim she looked in a flattering black outfit. (Her husband likewise looked spiffy in his trademark black outfit; the Cash son was the only performer who broke with the color scheme.) A crowd favorite, "Jackson," saw the couple engage in a cute bit of feistiness, and, after a big kiss the couple did a piece of schtick with their famous duo number "If I Were a Carpenter."

The missus took center stage and did some funny stuff and some reminiscing about trips through Louisville when she was a young girl. Her patter disclosed that she has six daughters (which would include the better known singers in the family, Rosanne Cash from Johnny's previous marriage, and Carlene Carter from June's marriage to country singer Carl Smith).

It was a family affair with a medley of Carter Family songs, showcasing a nephew, sister Helen, and daughter Rosie, on "Wabash Cannon Ball," "Wildwood Flower"and "Church in the Wildwood."

Rosie did a lusty blues gospel version of "Amazing Grace" and June took up the autoharp of her legendary parent, Mother Maybelle Carter. Struggling to climb up on a stool, she said, "Y'all got some tall cows in Kentucky, haven't you?"

She traveled back to her rock 'n' roll years in a song she wrote in '55-56 while in New York to study acting, having decided she no longer wanted to be on the Grand Old Opry. It was difficult to determine the title of the original, but the lyric contained references to such illustrious performers as Elvis Presley.

"Will the Circle Be Unbroken?" provided a standing-ovation finale for the Cash/Carter foursome. Johnny returned to join them, along with yet another daughter, and they all joined in on "Daddy Sang Bass" and the Southern Gospel "Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego"

For a grand finale, Johnny croaked out "A Boy Named Sue," graciously acknowledged the heartfelt standing ovation and shook hands with many of the fans who ringed the stage.

No way could that voice handle an encore, and the audience knew it. All who could reach him shook his hand, while the rest of us settled for a gracious bow.