“I was trying to get him to go from all these years of thinking his best stuff was behind him and just phoning in records to thinking we could make his best albums ever,” Rubin says in Hilburn’s biography. The intermixing of confidence, swagger, and vulnerability that Rubin captured on American Recordings and nearly every moment of music he and Cash created during their decade-long relationship is on full display in the above video, shot for VH1. Backed by longtime drummer W.S. Holland, Cash rolls through “Folsom Prison Blues” and “Sunday Morning Coming Down,” and draws the crowd in for American Recordings‘ “Delia’s Gone” and “Drive On.” Though he had ten productive years ahead of him, Cash’s health was already failing him. But he does here what he would spend the next decade doing: pressing on. words/ m garner
It wasn’t necessarily going to end this way for Johnny Cash. When the 62-year-old singer first sat in Rick Rubin’s Sunset Strip living room and played him the handful of songs that would form the core of 1994’s American Recordings, he seemed destined not for a packed Manhattan Center (now the Hammerstein Ballroom) and an inky monochromatic video treatment but someplace far darker: Branson. And not only Branson, but a gig playing understudy to Wayne Newton in a theater named for the Vegas star. So taken for granted was Cash and his talent by mainstream America, reports Robert Hilburn in his excellent Cash biography, that the shows Cash did perform in Branson in 1994 undersold dramatically, with as few as 185 people showing up for a matinee in the 2,500-seat hall.