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    Johnny Cash in concert

    An Interview with Johnny Cash

    Ken Myers of Mars Hill Audio shares an interview from 1972, in which Johnny Cash talks about faith and music – and then breaks into song.

    By Ken Myers

    August 16, 2022
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    Susannah Black Roberts: Welcome to a very special bonus episode of The PloughCast. I’m Susannah Black, senior editor at Plough. Pioneering interviewer Ken Myers, whose Mars Hill Audio Journal was being circulated on audiotape long before the concept of the podcast was a glimmer in anyone’s eye, recently offered us at The PloughCast the opportunity to share with our listeners an extraordinary piece of history: his very first interview, which he did backstage at a concert near the University of Maryland, where he was still going, in 1972. Ladies and gentlemen, this is Ken Myers, interviewing Johnny Cash.

    Johnny Cash: I’ve been through a lot in my time, and I always knew that God was saving me for something special. I believe we’re doing that work right now.

    Ken Myers: In the fall of 1972, not long after Cash kicked his nearly fatal amphetamine habit and his career rebounded as yet another generation took a liking to his music, I had an opportunity to interview Johnny Cash. It was the very first interview I ever did. I was nineteen, and I just started a Christian radio program on the campus station. I thought it would give the show a boost to feature interviews with some celebrities, and Cash, who had sung gospel music all of his life, had recently been collaborating with Billy Graham and with Campus Crusade for Christ. He and June Carter Cash were performing not far from where I went to school.

    So, with the help of a good friend, I got into Cash’s trailer backstage with a cassette recorder and an Electro-Voice 635A microphone and talked to him about his faith and his music. As I said, I’d never done an interview in my life, and there was June Carter Cash in the next room, fixing her hair, putting on makeup. Johnny Cash looking me straight in the eye, his guitar propped up next to the chair. Looking back, I’m amazed I didn’t drop the microphone. We talked for about ten minutes before he had to go on stage.

    Johnny Cash in concert

    Johnny Cash, Bremen, September, 1972

    Johnny Cash: Well, you know, I’m not really totally alive until I’m on stage performing. I perform my best when I’m performing gospel music or religious music, songs like “Peace in the Valley,” or like a song we’ll do tonight, a song that is a recent song I’ve written about some of the miracles of Jesus, a song called “I See Men As Trees Walking,” which is taken … I took it from the fourth chapter of … I may stand to be corrected on this, but I think it’s fourth chapter of Mark, where Jesus touches a blind man at Bethsaida.

    But you were talking about a ministry in music. I really feel very strongly about this: there are those of us who are called to the ministry musically. And even though I’m not a very good musician, I feel what I’m singing. And I’ve been paying a lot of particular attention recently to all new gospel songs that come my way to see if there’s inspiration in them.

    And all of a sudden, the last couple of years, I sense and feel immediately if a new gospel song I hear was really inspired or if it’s somebody just trying to sit down and just write another song. Some of them are kind of shallow. Some of them have depth and are... you know, when you find one that’s really got a lot of depth and a lot of spirit in it, it’s always based upon something from the Bible, where the richest words for man can be found.

    June and I have just produced a film on the life of Christ. We filmed it in Israel in November, and it’ll be seen this fall or winter on television and in films. And I’ve been wrapped up in the songs from that film for quite a while now. As a matter of fact, I came down here early tonight to rehearse one of them, a song called “The Last Supper.”

    Well, the only best way I can describe it to you is let you hear it.

    Ken Myers: Okay.

    Johnny Cash: In our film, Jesus the Man is very much human. And Jesus the God is very much evident at the end. It’s very evident that I’ve been trying to show you not only the story of His first coming, of His earthly ministry, but also that He was divine, the Messiah.

    And as our story nears the end, He’s gathered around the table with his twelve disciples. And these are the words of Jesus that I’m singing. I’m singing this song with a camera for the main part on him, at the head of the table.

    I can tell by your faces that you don’t understand
    the awesome things you felt and seen at the touch of my hand.
    But someday you’ll understand it, when the Father means for you too.
    But for now, drink the cup and break the bread, and I’ll eat my last supper here with you.
    Have a little bread, Simon. Pass the wine to James my brother.
    Go ahead and eat, fellows, and love one another.
    Have a good time, friends, because tomorrow I must die,
    and I am never more going to eat with you again till we eat the merry supper in the sky.
    Go ahead and eat, children, though I’ll not be long abiding.
    Have a good time tonight because tomorrow you’ll be hiding,
    fearing for your lives, friends, because you followed after me.
    But after tomorrow, you’re never going to fear again.
    I’m going to lose the chains and set the captives free.

    That’s one of the songs from the film about the life of Jesus that we did.

    Susannah: Thanks for listening! Be sure to subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts, and for a lot more content like this, check out plough.com for the digital magazine. You can also subscribe: $32/year will get you the print magazine, or for $99/year you can become a member of Plough. That membership carries a whole range of benefits, from free books, to regular calls with the editors, to invitations to special events, and the occasional gift. Our members are one aspect of the broader Plough community, and we depend on them as a kind of extra advisory council. Go to plough.com/membership to learn more.

    Johnny Cash:

    Matthew, Mark, and Luke and John
    Told about Jesus on that Gospel highway
    Matthew, Mark, and Luke and John
    Told about Jesus on that Gospel Road …

    Contributed By KenMyers Ken Myers

    Ken Myers is the host and producer of Mars Hill Audio in Charlottesville, Virginia, where he also serves as music director at All Saints Anglican Church.

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