Johnny Cash At 'Town Hall Party' – Liner Notes
The 24 tracks on this DVD originate from appearances Johnny Cash made on the Town Hall Party on 15th November 1958 and 8th August 1959. Before we look in more detail about the tracks and Cash’s career around this time we should give a brief history of the show.
Town Hall Party was California’s largest country barn dance and ran from 1953 through 1961. The show was broadcast on a Saturday night from an ex-theatre, made up to look like an old barn, at 400 South Long Beach Boulevard in the suburb of Compton in Los Angeles. On a good night crowds numbering up to 2000 would fill the venue to see and hear the artists of the day performing their hits live. The first hour was broadcast live over Radio Station KFI and reached a wider audience when NBC syndicated the show on radio. The broadcast was extended to three hours when KTTV-TV televised the show on Channel Eleven. International coverage came from the Armed Forces Television Service who, along with Screen Gems, filmed many of the shows. Jay Stewart, and occassionally Tex Ritter, were the MCs and the house band, led by Joe Maphis, included regulars Merle Travis, Skeets McDonald, Johnny Bond and Tommy Duncan. Artists appearing on the show included The Collins Kids, Carl Perkins, Jim Reeves, Patsy Cline, Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, Wanda Jackson and, of course, Johnny Cash. The show was so popular that, in 1958, Columbia Records issued the Town Hall Party album featuring various artists.
In August 1957, following an appearance on Town Hall Party, Cash was approached by Don Law with the offer of signing to the Columbia label following the expiration of his Sun contract. There was still a year to run on his contract but on 1st August 1958 he signed with his new label. Between 1955 and 1958, during his time with Sun Records, Johnny Cash along with The Tennessee Two (Luther Perkins on electric guitar and Marshall Grant on upright bass) had scored a run of hits that included I Walk The Line, Folsom Prison Blues, Big River and Get Rhythm, the song that opens this DVD.
Although he didn’t officially sign with Columbia until August he held his first session for the label on 24th July 1958 and among the tracks recorded were It Was Jesus and Suppertime. In August he was back in the studio recording All Over Again the a-side of his first single for the label, Frankie’s Man Johnny and Don’t Take Your Guns To Town.
Throughout September, October and November 1958 Cash had been touring the mid-west on a package with Carl Perkins, Sonny James and Mitchell Torok. Moving into Texas added attractions to the show were Bob Luman, Gordon Terry and Johnny Horton. Following the tour and an appearance at the DJ Convention in Nashville, Johnny Cash and The Tennessee Two appeared on Town Hall Party on 15th November. The first eleven songs on this DVD are taken from that show.
They opened with a record they had cut back at Sun Records in 1956 and one that had become a concert favourite with the fans, Get Rhythm. He turned to Sun for You’re The Nearest Thing To Heaven, I Was There When It Happened, I Walk The Line, The Ways Of A Woman In Love and Give My Love To Rose. The last two tracks had been recent successes for Cash on the country charts and the opportunity to promote his latest Columbia single wasn’t missed. Both All Over Again and the follow-up single Don’t Take Your Guns To Town are performed. Cash’s first album for Columbia was also issued in November, The Fabulous Johnny Cash, and included Frankie’s Man Johnny and the song that closes this first show Suppertime.
Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Two were kept busy during 1959 with sessions, concert tours and more TV appearances. Hymns By Johnny Cash, his first gospel album, was issued in May and in September Songs Of Our Soil was released. The album featured Five Feet High And Rising, the story of the 1937 Mississippi floods, which had been paired with I Got Stripes for single release in July. Both these songs feature on the 8th August Town Hall Party appearance which make up the remainder of the DVD.
Once again Cash turns to his Sun catalogue for several songs and opens the show with Guess Things Happen That Way and also picks Folsom Prison Blues and Big River, two of his biggest hits for the label. Despite having an extensive catalogue from which to choose both Don’t Take Your Guns To Town and Frankie’s Man Johnny are performed again.
Around this time Cash often used to perform a selection of impressions during his shows. Ernest Tubb, Red Foley and Kitty Wells were just a few and on this show Cash turns in a great impression of Elvis Presley performing Heartbreak Hotel. The show ends with a second performance of I Got Stripes.
There has been very little live material from the fifties released featuring Cash with Luther and Marshall, and even less on video, and this DVD captures the excitement of those early shows. Let’s hope that there is enough material for a second volume.