Man In Black: Johnny Cash Live in Denmark 1971: 9.3
Koncert V Praze: In Prague Live: 9.5
American country music has been enjoyed by Europeans for almost a century now, going back to when acts would make their way across the pond during World War I, not to mention the likes of Roy Acuff and Minnie Pearl playing for the troops stationed on the continent during the Second World War when the Grand Ole Opry followed the USO circuit of army bases and barracks across the region.
In fact, Johnny Cash formed his first band, the Landsberg Barbarians, with his fellow airmen over there while stationed in Germany during the Korean War. By the time Cash returned to Europe in 1971 on a tour of Scandinavia, it was with his famous Johnny Cash Road Show alongside wife June Carter-Cash and her famous family, guitar hero Carl Perkins and country duo The Statler Brothers, all of whom were also stars of the singer’s hit television variety program The Johnny Cash Show. When the crew made its way to Denmark, they were asked to star in their own special on Danish TV. This outstanding recording, released in late 2015 on CD for the first time, is the product of that soundstage recording. And it’s as crisp and clear of a capture of The Man in Black in action as there’s ever been made available in record shops. What the company delivered to the polite studio audience on hand was a wonderful replication of the Johnny Cash Show in ‘71, highlighted by strong renditions of such JC faves as “A Boy Named Sue”, “I Walk The Line” and “Folsom Prison Blues” along with a stirring rendition of Kris Kristofferson’s “Bobby McGee” rife with extra emotion given the weight of Janis Joplin’s passing in October of the previous year. Meanwhile, Johnny and June delivered a gorgeous performance of their Grammy-winning rendition of Tim Hardin’s “If I Were A Carpenter,” while Carl Perkins turned up the heat with his insane guitar work on “Matchbox,” the Statlers came correct with a jubilant spin on their Pulp Fiction favorite “Flowers On The Wall” and the Carter Family inspired with “A Song to Mama” before the entire cast came together for a trio of gospel standards.
By April of 1978, The Johnny Cash Show was long since canceled, and Cash himself was on the road in support of his freshly released 57th studio LP, I Would Like To See You Again. It’s not exactly the most memorable album in the Cash canon, but it was the one that was coincidentally new to record stores when the Man in Black was invited by the Czechoslovakian government to perform a four-date stand in Prague as an experiment to see how audiences would react to American music inside the Soviet Union. From the sound of this excellent 11-track live set, originally released in 1983 on the local Czech classical label Supraphon, the reaction was indeed comparable to the hooting, hollering and total sense of joy experienced by the prisoners of Folsom and San Quentin—and a fitting one at that, given how the Prague audience had been living through a captured experience behind the Iron Curtain, having only heard Cash’s music through Radio Free Europe and records that were smuggled into the country. But for those four dates Cash had played with his Tennessee Three (the shows marked the final gigs with original bassist Marshall Grant) and The Carter Family, the freedom the audience felt was indeed palpable and can be felt through the speakers as boldly as the music itself. Among the favorites enjoyed during the stand include “Ring of Fire,” “Big River,” “I Still Miss Someone” and a pair of medleys that instilled the imagery of American culture for most of the world: Cowboys (“I Ride an Old Paint”/ “Streets of Laredo”) and Railroads, which includes a great cover of The Grateful Dead’s “Casey Jones” amidst such JC standards as “Hey Porter,” “Wreck of the Old ‘97” and “Orange Blossom Special.” These shows in Prague, and the accompanying souvenir that is this treasure of a live album, were some of the earliest signs of the thawing of the Cold War between America and the Soviets, and paved the way for acts like Billy Joel, Bon Jovi, Motley Crue and Ozzy Osbourne to play in actual Russia during the late ‘80s.
Both Man In Black: Live in Denmark 1971 and Koncert v Praze: In Prague Live are essential live documents in the still-evolving relationship between American country music and European fans that rank right up there among the Man in Black’s finest concert recordings.