“Five Minutes to Live”: Death Sentence Commuted to 18 Years

My heartfelt appreciation to Brian Horrorwitz of Trash Palace for introducing me to a great tune that was sung by Johnny Cash and featured in a mediocre film in which he starred:

I am especially in awe of Luther Perkins’ guitar lines, who plays exactly the right notes and not a single note more.  Luther’s terse instrumental passage preceding each verse captures perfectly the unrelenting dread – one imagines – of those awaiting execution, while the economy of his playing thrills me in the same way that complex and showy musicianship used to knock me out when I was a wide-eyed teen.

But if you search all of Cash’s Columbia single releases, you will discover that this obvious A-side was never issued as a 45 — nor was it released on any of Johnny’s Columbia albums either.  Neither was it issued as part of a soundtrack album for Five Minutes to Live (a.k.a., Door-to-Door Maniac), as far as I can tell.  Thus, this song, born in 1960, remained in solitary confinement for 18 years until the 1978 release of The Unissued Johnny Cash by Bear Family, (the German reissue label that compiles lavish and scrupulously annotated box sets of American roots rock, country & blues artists) – and even then, it was only available to U.S. fans as a pricey import.

Five Minutes to Live poster

Is it possible that the heavyweight topic of capital punishment made the song too sensitive for radio play?

Thanks to In the Can for the recording session info:

Wednesday, November 2, 1960 :  At Bradley Studio in Nashville, Johnny Cash
records “Five Minutes To Live” and “The Losing Kind”, both of which are
first issued on the LP “The Unissued Johnny Cash” (Bear Family BFX 15016)
in 1978.

Personnel : Johnny Cash (vocals / guitar) ; Luther Perkins, Johnny Western
(guitars) ; Marshall Grant (bass) ; W.S. Holland (drums).
Produced by Don Law.

“Frankie and Johnny”: Sincerest Form of Flattery

We’ve seen musical artists get into trouble with the public (and/or copyright holder) for releasing an original song that hews a little too closely to a prior piece of music, e.g., “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke and allegations that the song overtly mirrors “Got to Give It Up” by Marvin Gaye – as well as “Sexy Ways” by Funkadelic – in ways that go beyond being “reminiscent of a sound” (as Thicke and his producers claim) and into actual copyright infringement (as the plaintiffs assert).

You might recall that the Rolling Stones found themselves in the hot seat when certain people began to notice – Keith Richards’ daughter, Angela, preeminent among them – that the chorus to “Anybody Seen My Baby?,” the big single from 1997’s Bridges to Babylon, also closely resembled the refrain to K.D. Lang’s “Constant Craving,” which had very nearly topped the adult contemporary chart five years previously (Lang & Ben Mink, the song’s composers, were given co-writing credit by Jagger & Richards to keep the peace)

How interesting, then, to discover that people curiously not only seemed not to have a problem with Johnny Sea’s letter-perfect rendition of Johnny Cash in his cover of an old pop standard (that turns 110 this year), but that both versions would perform with near-identical success in the country chart — Johnny Cash (#9) vs. Johnny Sea (#13):

Frankie & Johnny - Cash 45Frankie & Johnny - Sea 45

Fascinating to observe that the Columbia 45 says “arr(anged by) Johnny Cash,” whereas Johnny Sea’s version attributes writing credit outright to Cash!  Both versions, by the way, released in 1959.   Wikipedia claims that at least 256 different recordings of “Frankie and Johnny” have been made since the early 20th century (not to mention the song’s use as the centerpiece of Scene V in ee cummings’ 1927 play, Him).

Interesting to note that Johnny Sea had already embraced his family’s original surname (Seay) by the time he recorded harrowing Dylanesque murder ballad, “Behind My Baby’s Bedroom Door” in 1967 for almighty Columbia.

Johnny Seay

“Understand Your Man”: Jimmy Dempsey Picks on Johnny Cash

Guitarist “Little” Jimmy Dempsey uses twin guitars to transform Johnny Cash’s “Understand Your Man” into a tuneful instrumental that bears little resemblance to the original – in a good way:

Understand Your Man – Little Jimmy Dempsey

[Pssst:  Click the triangle above to play “Understand Your Man” by Little Jimmy Dempsey.]

This track can be found on 1970’s Little Jimmy Dempsey Picks on Johnny Cash, the first of four albums for Shelby Singleton’s Plantation Records.

Little Jimmy Dempsey LP

“Jackson”: Public’s Help Sought in Identifying Artist

As soon as I picked up this album and felt the lightweight textured paper, I knew right away that this record was from outside the “West” – in this case, Romania:

C & W Greatest Hits

Much of this album is a mystery since there are practically no credits, but I’m guessing it came out in the mid-to-late 70s.

Check out the song selections – and Johnny Cash’s looming shadow:

Side 1

1. “Give My Love to Rose” (Johnny Cash from his Sun catalog);  2. “Oh Susanna”;            3. “Frank[y] and Johnny” (song made famous by Johnny Cash but actually over 100 years old);  4. “She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain”; 5. “Jackson” (Johnny Cash yet again)

Side 2

6. “She’s Gone”;  7. “Sunday Morning Coming [to] Down” (also made famous by Cash);   8. “My Old Kentucky Home”;  9. “Willow Tree”;  10. “Red River Valley”;  11. “Paper Roses”

It says “greatest hits,” so it gives the appearance of being a compilation of various artists.  But then you listen to it and find out there is but one artist.

Unnamed.

I find that very funny.

Anyway, “Jackson” – Johnny & June Carter Cash’s big declaration of love from 1967 – is easily the coolest thing on this album:

Jackson – Romanian All-Stars

[Pssst:  Click on the triangle above to play “Jackson” by Artist Unknown.]

Could this possibly be another musical prank from Jonathan King?

Nashville Chowdown: Rice’s Great Image Makeover

I cannot imagine why anyone would let this album go, but someone obviously did, and five dollars later, we became family:

Nashville-Chowdown

The album’s subtitle is a bit of a hoot:  “country & western supper music and singing rice-ipes” (as in recipes for rice).  Would you be surprised to learn that this album is yet another “Columbia Special Product” – in this case, CBS Records teaming up with the fine folks at Riviana’s Brands to market rice more effectively to American women and help counter public perception among down-home Americans that rice is “difficult to cook”?

According to the press release that came with my particular copy of Nashville Chowdown: “The singing rice-ipe was first used a year ago (1969) in radio spots in the New York Metropolitan area for Carolina Rice … In collaboration with Riviana’s home economist, Mrs. Judy Youngblood, the agency submitted musical ideas for ‘singing rice-ipes’:  bossa nova for a Latin American rice dish; Caribbean, Hawaiian, Hindu and Country & Western for their special dishes.  Mrs. Youngblood then developed a recipe, copywriter Mike Hale wrote lyrics, and Arnold Brown, director of recording, supervised the appropriate musical arrangements.”  As of February 1970, the Carolina rice campaign was still running with singer, Blossom Dearie, the voice on all these spots – chosen “because of her versatility in different styles and her exceptional annunciation.”

Back when this musical ad campaign took place, $1.50 and proof-of-purchase from any Riviana rice product got you this “doubly unusual” musical package:  one 10-song LP of hits from many of the biggest country artists in the Columbia stable (Lefty Frizzell, Flatt & Scruggs, Ray Price, Marty Robbins, Jimmy Dickens, Jimmy Dean); one 7″ flexi-disc record that contains 7 singing rice-ipes (including such dishes as Houston Hash, Hopping John, and Blue Ridge Flap-Jacks); plus one double-sided document listing the actual recipes for each of the 7 flexi-disc selections on one side with song lyrics to the singing rice-ipes on the the other (“Houston Hash,” as it turns out, is a truck driving song).  And, if you’re lucky like I was, you might also end up with a 4-page strategy document put together by Biderman Associates on behalf of Dancer-Fitzgerald-Sample, who “conceived, produced and designed” this “full-scale record promotion … a real first in the industry”:

Nashville Chowdown Strategy Document

One song on the “supper music” LP does seem to steal the show – the Carter Family’s upbeat and fresh arrangement of The Man in Black’s “I Walk the Line,” first released as a single in 1966:

I Walk the Line – The Carter Family

Also for your enjoyment is the singing rice-ipe for “Houston Hash” from the flexi-disc — keep in mind that you will need to add 1 tsp. of chili powder plus salt & pepper when you add the can of tomatoes and 1 cup of rice to your green pepper, onion and ground beef saute:

Houston Hash – Riviana All-Stars

[Pssst:  Click on the triangles above to play (1) “I Walk the Line” and (2) “Houston Hash.”]

Bonus recipe for Hopping John:

1 cup dried black-eyed peas; 1/4 lb. (4 slices) smoked bacon; 1 medium onion (chopped); 3/4 cup chopped celery; 1 small bay leaf; 2-3 cups of water; 1/4 tsp. pepper; 1/2 tsp. salt; 1 cup uncooked rice.

In saucepan, combine all ingredients except rice.  Simmer until peas are tender (1-2 hours).  Meanwhile, cook rice as package directs.  Combine cooked peas, cooked rice, and some of the liquid from peas.  Simmer several minutes to blend flavors.  Makes 6-8 servings.

Nashville Chowdown flexi-disc