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July 9-11

Why this weekend? It was a year ago Friday that I and several of my friends and colleagues received pink slips from the word factory. This seems as good a song as any to mark the anniversary.

About the record: Columbia 4-45660, recorded June 5, 1972, at House of Cash Studios, Hendersonville, Tenn. Released the following month, eventually reaching No. 2 on Billboard‘s country chart. LP debut was on Any Old Wind That Blows, Columbia KC-32091, released January 1973. Eventually reached No. 5 on Billboard‘s country album chart.

In the ’50s, budding songwriter Jerry Chesnut lived in Florida and for a time worked for a man named Oney. Fast-forward 20 years, and here’s Oney immortalized in Chesnut’s ode to the working man. It’s kinda scary, the degree to which Cash seems to relish how he’s about to go out with a bang. But, not altogether unsatisfying, if you know what I mean.

Special note: It’s good to be back at it here at 3 Chords a Day, after a couple of weeks off. I’m still not completely caught up, so I won’t be posting daily just yet — you can expect 6 or maybe 9 chords a week for the next little while. Whatever the frequency, I’m going to celebrate the Country Music Hall of Fame by linking each post with the roster of inductees, in order of enshrinement. So when next you hear from me, it will be in the nasal voice of Hall of Famer No. 1: Jimmie Rodgers.

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June 14

Why today? It was on Flag Day in 1977 that Johnny Cash went to the U.S. Capitol to recite before Congress his self-penned tribute to our national standard.

About the record: Columbia 4-46028, recorded Jan. 28, 1974, at the House of Cash complex in Hendersonville, Tenn. Released that April, eventually reaching No. 31 on Billboard‘s country chart. First LP appearance was on Ragged Old Flag, Columbia KC-32917. Released April 5, 1974, it eventually reached No. 16 on Billboard‘s country album chart.

In early 1974, the Man in Black had been recording more than 18 years, with a whopping 56 albums to his credit. But as great a composer as he was, not one of those LPs was all his; each contained at least one song he didn’t write. “It’s something I always wanted to do,” Cash declared in the liner notes to Ragged Old Flag, “write an album of all my own songs and for some reason, I just never got around to it.”

By ’74, he’d gotten around to it: “In the last year or two, these songs started bubbling out of me more than ever and I started putting down everything that came out. I sang them for my family and my friends, and all they had to do was say they liked one and I’d go write another one.”

Twelve of them became the album Ragged Old Flag. The title cut, Cash said, practically wrote itself: “You’ve heard of people who write songs in ten minutes? ‘Ragged Old Flag’ was one of those songs.”

It was recorded at the family’s business headquarters, the House of Cash complex not far from his lakeside home northeast of Nashville. The occasion was a luncheon for CBS Records folks, and it’s their applause you hear as big John completes his stirring recitation. That’s Cash’s labelmate Earl Scruggs on the banjo, and an orchestra and chorus arranged by Chuck Cochran.

While not a huge hit, the song made an impression during those tumultuous days of Watergate and the Vietnam War’s last gasp. And so, three years later, on June 14, Johnny Cash was in Washington, declaring before Congress his mighty pride in that ragged old flag.

May 21-23

Why this weekend? Because the calendar tells us these seven songs are keyed to the next three days. Go to the jump, and enjoy. Read the rest of this entry »

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May 3

Why today? What other classic country song is there to commemorate the massive flooding that more than a foot of rainfall over two days brought to the Nashville area?

About the record: Columbia 4-41427, recorded March 12, 1959, at the Bradley Film & Recording Studio in Nashville. Released June 29 of that year, reaching No. 14 on Billboard‘s country chart and No. 76 on the pop chart. Also appeared on the LP Songs Of Our Soil, Columbia CS-8148, released September 1959.

Cash wrote this song about the great flood of 1937, scenes of which make up the YouTube video you’re watching. The flood devastated the Ohio River valley, most famously Louisville. Eventually all that water moved into the Mississippi River, and when it reached northeast Arkansas, it made an impression on 5-year-old J.R. Cash. Two decades later, out came “Five Feet High And Rising.”

I wonder what young tunesmith-to-be is loading the sights, sounds, thoughts and feelings of the weekend onto the ol’ mental hard drive, to someday chronicle Nashville’s Great Flood of 2010 in song …


Feb. 26: Hey! Why aren’t you wearing black today like you’re supposed to? That’s right — today would have been Johnny Cash’s 78th birthday, and his final producer, Rick Rubin, wants the world to sartorially honor the Man in Black upon the release of the last of the American Sessions material. Thanks, but I’ll go against the grain and pull three obscure numbers from my favorite Cash era, the days when he was a man who occasionally performed in white — as a Sun Records artist. Hear and learn more about ’em on the jump.

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Jan 13: I realize that we heard from J.R Cash just the other day. Nonetheless, on this day, the anniversary of an auspicous event — the recording of the live album Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison in 1968 — a quick Cash turnaround is in order.  Rather than pick out a single song from this milestone concert, I’m linking to the entire album. Listen to any or all of the tracks — and marvel.

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Jan. 8: Today’s the birthday of a guy who came to prominence on Sun Records, who performed at schoolhouses, armories and dives across the Mid-South in the mid-’50s, whose influential sound blanketed the Southwest from the stage of the Louisiana Hayride in Shreveport.

Elvis? Well, yes. But I’m actually talking about Luther Perkins, the “boom-chicka-boom” guitarist who helped invent  Johnny Cash’s unique sound as part of the Tennessee Two. So much so that big John wrote this song, recorded it in July 1955 and took it to the Top 10 on Billboard’s country chart when Sun released it 3 1/2 years later. By then, Cash had moved on to Columbia Records, and the Tennessee Two was the Tennessee Three. But Luther Perkins continued to “play the boogie, in the strangest kind of way.”

He died in 1968, when he fell asleep while smoking and his house caught fire.   Learn more about him and that simple but oh-so-effective guitar style here.

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