The 1969 summit meeting in Nashville between Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash is at the heart of the latest entry in the ongoing series of archival recordings pulled from Dylan’s vaults.
On Nov. 1, Columbia Records will release “Bob Dylan (featuring Johnny Cash) — Travelin’ Through, 1967- 1969.”
The new set gathers 25 tracks they recorded together Feb. 17 and 18, 1969, in Columbia’s Studio A using Cash’s band, which at the time included guitarist and songwriter Carl Perkins, guitarist Bob Wootton, bassist Marshall Grant and drummer W.S. Holland.
Over the course of those two days they covered material from both of their song catalogs, including Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice It’s All Right” and “One Too Many Mornings” and Cash’s “I Still Miss Someone,” “Big River,” “Wanted Man,” “I Walk the Line” and “Five Feet High and Rising.”
They also worked up a variety of songs both recent and traditional from other writers they both admired, among them June Carter and Merle Kilgore’s “Ring of Fire,” Perkins’ “Matchbox,” Jack Clement’s “Guess Things Happen That Way,” Jimmie Davis and Charles Mitchell’s “You Are My Sunshine,” Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup’s “That’s All Right, Mama” and two medleys of Jimmie Rodgers songs.
Additionally, the set includes recordings made at the Ryman Auditorium during Dylan’s guest appearance on the first episode of “The Johnny Cash Show,” which premiered on June 7, 1969, on ABC. In addition to “Girl From the North Country,” the two artists sang Dylan’s songs “I Threw It All Away” and “Living the Blues,” the latter previously unreleased.
Also in the collection are outtakes of “Ring of Fire” and Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues,” recorded during May 3, 1969, sessions for Dylan’s “Self Portrait” album, which was reexamined in depth in Vol. 10 of the “Bootleg Sessions” series released in 2013.
The set is rounded out by five tracks Dylan put on tape a little more than a year later in New York with bluegrass pioneer Earl Scruggs on banjo and his sons, guitarist Randy Scruggs and bassist Gary Scruggs rounding out the ensemble.
Those sessions included “Nashville Skyline” songs “To Be Alone with You” and “Nashville Skyline Rag,” A.P. Carter’s “East Virginia Blues” and the traditional “Honey, Just Allow Me One More Chance.”
Working on “Nashville Skyline” and “John Wesley Harding,” Dylan diverged both from the psychedelic movement in rock in the late ’60s and the trend toward more expansive instrumental backing many artists were favoring. Instead, Dylan stripped his band down to a trio during the 1967 sessions, with himself on guitar and harmonica backed by ace Nashville session pros Charlie McCoy on bass and Kenneth Buttrey on drums. The forces were slightly larger during work on “Nashville Skyline,” when Dylan, McCoy and Buttrey were joined by steel guitarist Pete Drake and four other guitarists.
Dylan had recorded much of his 1966 double album masterpiece, “Blonde on Blonde” in Nashville and was impressed by both the efficiency and artistry of musicians known as Nashville Cats.
“I didn’t know how to record the way other people were recording, and I didn’t want to,” Dylan once told journalist Matt Damsker, in an exchange that’s part of musicologist Colin Escott’s liner notes. (Cash’s daughter, Rosanne Cash, also contributes notes in the package.) “I just didn’t think all that production was necessary.” The same applied to Dylan’s more direct, less oblique lyrics. “What I’m trying to do now is not use too many words .… There’s no line you can stick your finger through. There’s no blank filler.”
The new set, to be released on three CDs, three LPs and in digital configurations, is available for preorder.