Heads up! This Friday, the unlikely meeting of country music and the counterculture will collide with the release of a never-heard 1968 Johnny Cash performance at San Francisco’s Carousel Ballroom recorded by the Grateful Dead’s sound wizard Owsley “Bear” Stanley. On December 31st, Cash wrote a letter to himself praising ’68 as the best year of his life and now, over 5 decades later, a lost chapter has emerged to enrich and complement the story of that very good year.
Bear’s Sonic Journals: Johnny Cash, At The Carousel Ballroom April 24, 1968 will be released this Friday through a partnership between the Owsley Stanley Foundation, The John R Cash Family Trust and BMG’s Renew Records. Preserved and transferred from Stanley’s original two-track tapes – which he used “to capture the sound as faithfully as possible” and create a three-dimensional feel – the Carousel Ballroom show finds Johnny, June and the Tennessee Three performing classics like “Jackson,” “I Walk The Line” and “Cocaine Blues” alongside audience requests (“Forty Shades Of Green,” naturally) and a pair of Bob Dylan covers; a tip of the cap to the bard of the hippie generation and a foreshadowing of their work together the following year on Nashville Skyline.
Would love for you to cover on Friday! Here are a few exciting talking points around the release:
1. The record captures an extremely unique moment in Cash’s career – having overcome the battles with addiction that nearly killed him the previous year, he appears renewed, reinvigorated and ready for a comeback. But still months off from his return to #1 with “Folsom Prison Blues,” there is a palpable hunger to impress that half-empty San Francisco ballroom.
2. The truly distinctive mix of the evening’s sound engineer, Owsley “Bear” Stanley, better known as a true counterculture icon, a prominent “clandestine chemist” and the architect of the Grateful Dead’s hallowed “Wall Of Sound.” Bear’s mix sets Cash entirely in the left channel and the Tennessee Three fully in the right…the result has been called “probably the closest to what it actually sounded like to be in the audience for a Johnny Cash show in 1968.”
3. Historically speaking, Johnny Cash being recorded by Owsley Stanley in front of 700 hippies at a venue run by members of the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane (and soon after Bill Graham) is probably the earliest prominent meeting of country music and the counterculture – which would explode in the immediate years to come with ‘Sweetheart of The Rodeo,’ Willie Nelson, the Dead themselves embracing a more country sound….Cash plays to the audience by taking requests (including from Gordon Lightfoot) and with two Bob Dylan covers (including his earliest known cover of “One Too Many Mornings”).
4. It’s the essential, missing third piece of the Cash comeback puzzle documented on At Folsom Prison and At San Quentin. Since it was never meant to be released as a live recording – unlike the former two – there is an extra level of authenticity and spontaneity that’s all its own. In terms of audio quality, Rolling Stone notes the prison shows were “not equipped to capture pristine audio, but the Carousel was recorded using techniques Stanley developed while working as the in-house engineer at the venue.”
Pre-order the full album Bear’s Sonic Journals: Johnny Cash, At The Carousel Ballroom, April 24 1968 here before its October 29 release: