On Life and Love After 50 eNewsletter
By Tom P. Blake – columnist
August 26, 2022
LIVE AT THE RYMAN
In September 2019, when Ken Burns’ eight-part film series “Country Music” premiered on PBS, my partner Greta and I watched the series in two-hour segments. We loved it. After that, we started watching more country music programs on YouTube.
This Monday night, I turned on YouTube music while working on a Sudoku puzzle before going to sleep. YouTube music often presents us with a choice of country music selections based on our previous viewings.
I noticed Monday that “Country Music. Live at the Ryman,” was on and featured many of my favorite country music stars. I thought perhaps it was a segment from the 2019 “Country Music” series, but it wasn’t. It was a two-hour show, also produced by Ken Burns, that promoted the release of the upcoming 16-hour “Country Music” series.
“Live at the Ryman” was released in March 2019 and filmed at Nashville’s historic Ryman Auditorium, which was home to the Grand Ole Opry for 31 years until the Opry was relocated a few miles away in March 1974. Greta and I took a tour of the Ryman in 2017.
That Ryman tour touched me deeply as my friends Johnny and June Carter Cash, on March 15, 1974, sang the final Opry song at the Ryman, which was “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.” (Made popular by the Carter Family and others).
Many of you know that I worked with Johnny in 1975 and 1976 when I was the director of Marketing for the Victoria Station Restaurant Chain (restaurants were built of boxcars and cabooses–Johnny loved trains). Johnny agreed to do our radio commercials.
On the night that his band recorded the music for our commercials at the House of Cash recording studio in Hendersonville, Tenn., Johnny invited some of his friends to play along with the band. Band members included Carl Perkins (Blue Suede Shoes), Larry Gatlin of the Gatlin Brothers, Earl “Pool” Ball (piano), W.S. Holland (drums), and Marshall Grant (bass). I think Marty Stuart and Rodney Crowell were there as well. I got to meet them all.
While watching “Live at the Ryman” on Monday night, I started to feel a little nostalgic. Especially when Larry Gatlin sang my favorite Johnny Cash song, “Sunday Morning Coming Down (written by Kris Kristofferson). Once, at the Sahara Resort in Lake Tahoe, Johnny asked me before the show what my favorite song of his was. He opened the show by dedicating that song to me before an audience of 2,000 people.
I have remained friends with Rosanne Cash. When Rosanne sang on the show, “I Still Miss Someone,” a song her dad, Johnny, wrote for her, it was a real grabber for me.
Marty Stuart was on the show. He had played guitar for Johnny and was married to Cindy Cash, Rosanne’s sister for a while.
Seeing Vince Gill playing guitar on nearly every song, regardless of the artist singing was indicative of his versatility and talent. Gil has been a regular at the Grand Ole Opry for years.
When Greta and I were having a private VIP backstage tour at Opryland in 2017, we walked past Gill’s dressing room. He was there receiving lots of visitors, so we did not get to meet him. Our tour had been set up by Johnny’s long-time manager and dear friend of mine, Lou Robin, who was still overseeing Johnny’s royalties, 24 years after Johnny had passed away.
I got to know the Carter family well. Mother Maybelle was a sweetheart, and June’s sisters, Helen and Anita were always nice to me. Mother Maybelle played an instrument called The Carter Scratch. Her best-known song is “Wildwood Flower.”
Anita Carter, June’s sister, had one of the purest women’s voices in the history of country music. Her singing of the song “Peace In The Valley” was breathtaking. Anita’s husband, Bob Wootton, and I became buddies during the two years.
When “Live At The Ryman” ended with the entire cast returning to the stage, and singing, “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” I nearly lost it. Rosanne was front and center and she and Dwight Yoakam were having fun up there together. Ken Burns was even on stage singing. I thought to myself, how fortunate I have been to have known so many of these talented people.
By the way, I was so captivated that I didn’t make one entry in the Sudoku puzzle!
In 2015, I published an eBook on Smashwords.com, titled, “The Johnny Cash I Knew. A Kind and Caring Man.” The 64-page book details my time spent with Johnny and June. It’s $2.99. I think you’d enjoy it. The link is below. Once it opens, type the book’s title in the search box.
As I often do, I include an appropriate song in my articles. There were many from which to choose but I think this version of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” is exceptional, as many country music people are featured. Johnny opens the video. Watch for the picture of June Carter Cash near the end.