Cold, Hard Cash and the interpretation of song

I haven’t written a blog entry in a very long time and I’m thinking that perhaps it’s something I should do with some regularity.  It’s not only a really good way to communicate with the people who are fans of my music, but it’s just plain good to get out and off one’s chest, some of the things that are running around the old brain.

So - I was recently invited to participate in a Johnny Cash Birthday Tribute show, which will feature eight other acts.  We all threw the list of songs we’d like to do for the show into a big pile and once the duplicates were weeded out I was all too happy to see that my two songs for the evening are two of my all-time Cash favorites, “Cry, Cry, Cry” and “The Long Black Veil”.  Unfortunately, I don't know how to play either.  I’m in the business of writing and performing my own songs, and while I do know a good amount of other artists songs, I don’t spend a whole lot of time doing that, because quite honestly most of my time is spent working on booking, promoting and performing my own shows and trying to write new material.  Learning cover songs is something that I have always enjoyed and have always thought of it as a valuable method to get out of a creative drought, perhaps learn some new chords and to get a new slant on the craft of songwriting.  When you sit down and learn the material of another artist, you’re able to dissect it from the inside out and in learning the song you see how the chords changes work together, influence the melody, how mood is created between the music and lyric and how the dynamic of the storyline unfolds.  In all honesty, learning cover songs was a valuable tool in the process of learning to write my own songs.  And in doing so, you learn how to become an interpreter of the original work.  Which leads me back to Johnny Cash……

In my very humble opinion, two people always come to my mind when I think of recording artists that are the greatest interpreters of song.  And by that, I do not mean, just recording the song of an outside writer and doing it as the writer would.  I'm speaking in terms of artists who make the song so entirely their own that you forget who wrote and recorded the song in the first place.  For my money, those two artists are Patsy Cline and Johnny Cash.  I mean really, when you hear Patsy’s version of “Crazy”, do you even remember or think of Willie Nelson for one minute?  And particularly in his later years, when working with Rick Rubin, Cash took the songs of artists one would never imagine that he would cover and completely make the songs into Johnny Cash songs.  After Cash released his version of “Hurt”, it was no longer a Nine Inch Nails song; it was Johnny’s and Johnny’s alone, his version became synonymous to a younger generation with the name “Cash”, introducing a lifetime of great work to that generation.

So on February 26th, I, along with several friends will raise a glass, sing our interpretations of a few songs and pay our ultimate tribute to one of our greatest American artists, “the man in black”.