After over a quarter of a century in the game, country legend Johnny Cash approached the new decade of the eighties with the same formula that had seen him triumph in the previous ones. Make good music and never take yourself too seriously. It was the kind of ethos that not only made him a hero on record but out of the studio too, as The Man in Black could share a joke with just about anybody.
In the video below we have one of those special moments where those two worlds collide and the late great, Johnny Cash takes his musical chops on to The Muppets Show for an irresistible duet with Miss Piggy. It’s the kind of performance that not only warms your heart but satisfies the soul that, after all, Johnny Cash was a decent bloke.
The 1980s began with a bang for Cash, though stricken by a career’s worth of prescription drug abuse which had severely hampered him, the singer found himself briefly back in the charts with his album The Baron. It followed Cash’s induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame and his solidification as a legend of music. It was exactly the kind of acclaim he not only richly deserved but needed too.
It was, however, a legend, intrigue and mystique that Cash himself was all too willing to pull down whenever possible. Case and point arrived in 1984 with the lampooning of his everlasting moniker The Man In Black after he released ‘Chicken in Black’. But the seeds were already being sown, and Cash’s absurdity already being felt, back in 1981 when he appeared on the Valentine’s Day special of The Muppets Show with a song in his heart, a smile on his face and his tongue firmly in his cheek.
Cash’s Muppet Show appearance will go down in history as one of the more bizarre moments of television. The show included a performance of ‘Ghost Riders in the Sky’, a rendition that saw him both play and sing the number as the hook-nosed Great Gonzo. All while other Muppets ride cows around the set all covered in white sheets—which feels pretty strange looking back, especially given there’s a Confederate flag in the shot too. It’s the kind of fever dream that only truly exists on children’s TV of yesteryear.
Cash didn’t let up with his pursuit of the perenially crazed either as, later in the episode, he sang 1966 novelty track ‘Dirty Old Egg Sucking Dog’. A triumph, perhaps, but the best was yet to come. The final number saw Cash replace his darling wife and co-collaborator, June Carter for the glamourous Miss Piggy as they performed a duet of ‘Jackson’ during their ‘Orange Blossom Special medley’. As Cash makes googly eyes at Miss Piggy, you can feel the laughter inside emanating from the singer.
Despite his image, Johnny Cash never took himself too seriously, which would be missing the point. The point was Johnny Cash connected with the audience on all levels from hilarity down to tragedy. It wouldn’t be the last time his story would intertwine with that of a muppet. Cash appeared on Sesame Street many times and was even parodied on the show during the nineties with the environmentalist troubadour, Ronnie Trash—the kind of tribute we all dream of.
For now, take a look back at where it all started with Johnny Cash’s appearance on the Muppet Show and his duet with Miss Piggy.