If there was any doubt about Johnny Cash’s eclectic love of music then he quashed it with one of the greatest cover albums of all time, American IV, which saw him take on the industrial stylings of Nine Inch Nails with the heart-tugging ‘Hurt’ and the synth sound of Depeche Mode were also reworked with a cover ‘Personal Jesus’.
Likewise, Beck is an all-encompassing music fiend, working with everyone from Childish Gambino to Will Ferrell. Cash and Beck together, however, seem hard to imagine coexisting, but back in 1995 Beck actually opened a Hollywood show for The Man in Black, in one of the most surreal LA concert billings going, and he certainly caught his ear.
It would appear that Cash wasn’t behind the booking because it was the first time that he had heard youngster, which makes the fact that he arrested his attention all the more noteworthy. “I listened to him backstage and I was so impressed with the way that he could do Appalachian music, like a Hillbilly, he’s really good at it. And then his own sort of songs,” he said.
Cash reserved specific praise for the track ‘Rowboat’, stating: “It sounded like something I might have written or might have done in the sixties when I was going through some weird times.” In fact, Cash liked it so much that he later covered it on his 1996 record Unchained.
For Beck’s part in the matter, he says that the song came about rather flippantly. “I was playing this country club in Los Angeles,” he explains, “Called The Palamino… I made friends with the pedal-steel player from the house and I asked him if he would be interested in record with me.”
“He said ‘yeah sure’, so about two days later I was going to pick him up and take him down to the studio,” Beck says. “And I realised I didn’t have any country songs on hand. I didn’t have any pedal steel worthy songs, so I quickly wrote this song so that I wasn’t empty-handed when I picked the guy up.”
Beck has stated in the past that all in all the song took about 20 minutes to write, not bad for a track that Cash thought was befitting to proudly put on an album.
You can check out both Cash’s cover and a clip of the country legend waxing lyrical about Beck below.