Cash Cover Master

I cannot say for most of my life that I really listened to, or was a fan of Johnny Cash. Somewhere I knew he was the “man in black” and had done a concert inside a prison. But I chalked him up to country music (like Jake and Elwood said, “yep, we got both kinds of music- country and western”).

And as much as I liked the movie and respected what I got to know from Walk The Line, I cannot say I got any Cash tunes in my playlists, beyond perhaps the cover of Ring of Fire by Social Distortion.

It was really after the NMC 2006 Summer Conference in Cleveland, at the Rock n Roll Museum jam session when Tim Svenonius from SFMOMA did the spot on cover of Folsum Prison Blues, that I cam home and spent some time combing through some Cash originals on the iTunes Music Store, and found myself buying a bunch of them… finding the basic down home early rock sounds I’ve always been drawn too. I found some incredible songs I liked from his late in career Unchained album.

In particular, the raw sound of “Rusty Cage” got me listening repeatedly- or even watching:

And even more impressive, this is a cover song, and some covers are rather thin re-castings of a song, this is a complete new and powerful interpretation of the original by Soundgarden.

Listening to the chords, I pulled out the very dusty guitar and found a rather simple, yet not too simple, but easily identifiable pattern — confirmed and expanded by the guitar tab I found (where was the web and online tabs when I was 16???). Yet, while the guitar riff was almost pulled off, could in no way find the balance to get the lyrics on pattern. Yet the version by Cash makes it sound easy.

This is a long way roundabout to recognize the mastery in doing original “covers” by going beyond a slight copy, but making it something new. And after a long road, I am now a Johnny Cash fan, both country and western.

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An early 90s builder of web stuff and blogging Alan Levine barks at CogDogBlog.com on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person. And he is 100% into the Fediverse (or tells himself so) Tooting as @cogdog@cosocial.ca


  1. My personal favorite Cash cover is his rendition of Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus” -his genius here is nailing the connections between ostensibly disparate forms such as 80s New Wave and Country. I am going though my own Cash discovery currently, so it is really cool to find this post.

    If you want to see something wild, check out the wikipedia entry on the Depenche Mode song “Personal Jesus,” it is quite impressive.

  2. Hey Alan, thanks for stopping by … Feed2JS is treating me very well of late, thanks for asking. 🙂 Funny you have this post up, I’m a long time Cash fan and just got his last album as an Xmas gift from my brother. … ah, perhaps not surprising, as I have a full Tom Waits collection as well. But please, Walk the Line, well, sucked. Very dissapointing movie. Sort of like watching Pearl Harbor, if you know what I mean.

  3. Haha. No accounting for (my) movie taste — I think I know what you mean, but for me it just was an opening to knowing more about his life. Cheers

  4. You might enjoy the Dixie Chicks’ complaint about the state of country music in the last verse of Long Time Gone (on the album of the same name):

    We listen to the radio to hear what’s cookin’
    But the music ain’t got no soul
    Now they sound tired but they don’t sound Haggard
    They’ve got money but they don’t have Cash
    They got Junior but they don’t have Hank
    I think, I think, I think (“thank”)
    The rest is a long time gone…

  5. This is one of my favorite three Cash covers from this series of American recordings. #1 is his cover of Nine Inch Nails “Hurt”– you HAVE to find and listen to that. Now!

    Ok, wasn’t that great? The other I am partial to is his cover of U2’s “One”– but I seem to be in the minority on that one…

  6. I definitely agree that “Hurt” is a powerful cover, especially for Cash’s history and where he was at that point. But musically, I think ‘Rusty Cage’ is just freaking a power ripping song, and such a different feel from the original, that it defines what a good “cover” ought to be. Plus,. a song I like that I can almost pick the guitar chords for is a double treat.

    U guess the Man in Black is raking in more comments than anything I’ve written in a while.

  7. I might feel differently if I’d not been so familiar with the AIC version of “Rusty Cage” — it’s never been one of my favorites. I’m more of a “Rooster” “Rain When I Die” “Flood” kind of guy I guess… all songs, incidentally, that I used to play back in my gonna be a rock star days…

    I’d describe “Hurt” the same way you describe “Rusty Cage” (well, except the CogDogBlog gee-tar pickin’ part– who can argue with that?)… I’m feeling an EdBlogger Band in the making 🙂

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