Revisiting Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan’s iconic duet on ‘Girl From The North Country’
On this day in 1969, some 51 years ago, the world would watch on as Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan reunited to record a stunning performance of their duet ‘Girl From The North Country’ for The Johnny Cash Show. The rendition marked a poignant moment in both their careers as two icons were together as one.
The Johnny Cash Show was an institution during it’s 58-episode run from 1968 to 1971, it gave many artists a national platform to play their music who otherwise may not have ever had this opportunity. Filmed each time at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, the likes of Ray Charles, Neil Young and Eric Clapton all would step foot on the Ryman’s hallowed turf during its existence. However, it was when Bob Dylan performed with Cash which would be the most poignant moment in the show’s history.
Dylan was no stranger to the programme, having performed on the inaugural episode a year earlier. The singer-songwriter had remained close friends with Cash since they first met at Newport Folk Festival in 1964, a bond that remained strong up until Cash’s death in 2003. Performing together intermittently throughout their careers, both would reach the pinnacle of music and cement their respected place as two of music’s most important figures.
There was a great deal of mutual respect between the two icons with Cash recalling in Cash: The Autobiography: “I had a portable record player that I’d take along on the road, and I’d put on [The] Freewheelin’ [Bob Dylan] backstage, then go out and do my show, then listen again as soon as I came off. After a while at that, I wrote Bob a letter telling him how much of a fan I was. He wrote back almost immediately, saying he’d been following my music since ‘I Walk the Line,’ and so we began a correspondence.”
“In plain terms, Cash was and is the North Star; you could guide your ship by him—the greatest of the greats then and now,” Dylan wrote upon Cash’s passing in 2003. “Truly he is what the land and country is all about, the heart and soul of it personified and what it means to be here; and he said it all in plain English. I think we can have recollections of him, but we can’t define him any more than we can define a fountain of truth, light and beauty. If we want to know what it means to be mortal, we need look no further than the Man in Black. Blessed with a profound imagination, he used the gift to express all the various lost causes of the human soul.”
The timing of Dylan’s performance on The Johnny Cash Show couldn’t have been any more perfect as it came just a matter of weeks after he released Nashville Skyline which was, of course, the location in which the show was recorded. Nashville Skyline’s opening track ‘Girl From The North Country‘ was a re-working of the 1963 classic which featured Johnny Cash and would mark the only time that the pair would record together.
This performance of the 1969 version of the track is the only live footage available of the pair performing it together, a factor hindered by their busy schedules. Marvel in its brilliance, below.