Today in 1956...Johnny Cash Makes His Opry Debut And Meets June Carter

July 7, 2016

On July 7, 1956...

Johnny Cash walked onto the Grand Ole Opry's stage for the first time...

armed with an acoustic guitar...his Tennessee Two bandmates...

and his soon-to-be iconic black suit...

“When I came to appear on the Grand Ole Opry the first time...

I waited two hours out in the waiting room before the manager of the Opry...

Jim Denny finally said...'Come on in'...“He looked at my black clothes and long hair and sideburns and said ‘What makes you think you belong on the Grand Ole Opry?’...

So I said...‘Well...I’ve got a record in the Top 10′… ‘I think they’d like to hear me'...

Cash performed “I Walk the Line”...“Get Rhythm”...and “So Doggone Lonesome”

during his Opry debut....

At the time of his performance...“I Walk the Line” was still climbing the charts...

the now-legendary tune became his first Number 1 hit two weeks later...

"I Walk the Line" had been released two months earlier...

giving Cash one of the biggest hits of the summer...

He was a country singer who appealed to mainstream fans...too...

a crossover star at a time when few singers apart from Elvis Presley

could straddle the country/pop divide...

It was the perfect time to make his Grand Ole Opry debut...

After an introduction from country crooner Carl Smith...

Cash and company kicked into a three-song set...

The stage setup was elaborate with the bandmates sitting on stools in a makeshift saloon...

In the foreground...a group of good ol' boys huddled around a table pretending to play cards... Everyone was dressed in cowboy hats and bright suits…

apart from Cash...lead guitarist Luther Perkins and bassist Marshall Grant...

whose black attire and stark lonesome twang sliced through the pageantry

of the Grand Ole Opry like a knife...

The real action happened backstage where Cash first bumped into Carl Smith's wife June Carter who was hurriedly tuning up her guitar before walking onstage...

Carter who'd recently wrapped up a tour with Elvis Presley...

had become a fan of Cash's music on the road

where Elvis reportedly played "Cry! Cry! Cry!" on jukeboxes across the South...

Meanwhile...Cash had grown up listening to live performances from Mother Maybelle & the Carter Sisters whose lineup included a young June on the radio...

That Saturday night in 1956...

both singers happy introduced themselves with Cash saying, "I've always wanted to meet you" and Carter replying with "I feel like I know you already"...

"I can't remember anything else we talked about, except his eyes" June Carter wrote in the liner notes of Cash's 2000 box set, Love, God, Murder...

"Those black eyes that shone like agates… He had a command of his performance that I had never before. Just a guitar and a bass and a gentle kind of presence that made not only me, but whole audiences become his followers."

Cash became a regular on the Grand Ole Opry, but his ongoing battle with drugs and alcohol caused that relationship to be severed for a time....

In 1965, while performing at the Opry while under the influence...

Cash’s behavior became so unruly that he was asked to never return...

“I don’t know how bad they wanted me in the first place...

but the night I broke all the lights on the stage with the microphone stand...

they said they couldn’t use me anymore” recalled Cash to CBS News...

“So I left and used that as an excuse to really get wild

and wound up in the hospital with my third time I broke my nose”...

Smith and Carter divorced later that year...

Carter eventually joined Cash on the road

where the two sang together on hit songs like "Jackson"...

They married in 1968...a dozen years after their backstage meeting at the Grand Ole Opry

and remained together until their deaths in the early 2000's...

Fortunately...

the Man in Black was eventually invited to return to the Opry

where he remained welcome until his death in 2003...!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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