September 18, 2003


Free in L.A.: John R. Cash, 1932–2003 (Jonny Whiteside, SEPTEMBER 19 - 25, 2003, LA Weekly)

While Cash’s stunning Sun Records output stands nearly unrivaled, his most adventurous artistic bloom coincided with his move from Memphis to Los Angeles in early 1959. First living in a rented home on Coldwater Canyon Avenue, then buying a house from Johnny Carson in Encino, he enjoyed more freedom than he’d ever been afforded; at Sun, Sam Philips hadn’t even let him cut gospel (the very first thing Cash did at his new label, Columbia), and during his five years in Southern California he attained a series of highly unorthodox musical peaks, even as he belly-flopped through a course of doped-up fiascos on the road.

The liberated atmosphere created by Cash’s departure from Tennessee bore fruit: the sweeping high-concept narrative-and-music albums >Ride This Train and Ballads of the True West; the smoldering protest of 1960’s “Old Apache Squaw” on Songs of Our Soil (which Columbia was loath to release); and Bitter Tears, his definitive examination of the injustice suffered by Native Americans. Much of the inspiration sprang from a hell-raising collaboration with Kentucky fingerpicker Merle Travis, another longtime Hollywood habituĂ©. Beyond music, the pair worked together in an offbeat hillbilly-noir-exploitation flick, Five Minutes To Live (a.k.a. Door-to-Door Maniac), each giving an intense performance — Cash as the menacing hostage taker, Travis the unctuous underworld toady. Even the title song was a gasser, and Cash rarely sounded as badass as when he growled, “Come on, babe, let’s get primitive/You’ve got five minutes to live.”

Man, it's awfully hard to believe that B-movie fanatic Quentin Tarantino didn't swipe that line for Marselles Wallace in Pulp Fiction: I'm gonna git Medieval...

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 18, 2003 7:42 PM
Comments for this post are closed.