Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Area Code 615, and more

Dylan, Cash and the Nashville Cats: A New Music City
Music City Rocks
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Dylan, Cash

Nashville became a magnet for rockers when Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, and Gene Vincent recorded there in the ’50s, but the ’60s British Invasion and folk-rock boom also connected to the Nashville recording scene. Peter & Gordon paved the way, recording a country album there for Capitol in December 1965.

This two-disc, 36-track anthology, created by Legacy Recordings with the Country Music Hall of Fame to accompany its exhibit on the subject, explores the way rockers and folk-rockers connected with Nashville in the late ’60s and early ’70s.

It offers stunning work by the town’s brilliant cadre of studio musicians and progressive producers, among them Bob Johnston at Columbia Nashville. Many musicians who played on those dates are now legendary, including guitarist-harmonica player Charlie McCoy, guitarists Mac Gayden, Joe South, Chip Young, Charlie Daniels, Wayne Moss, and bassists Norbert Putnam and Henry Strzelecki, drummer Kenny Buttrey, and pedal-steel aces Lloyd Green, Pete Drake, and Weldon Myrick.

The material explores several areas. Two established Nashville stars are heard covering Dylan tunes: Johnny Cash and June Carter’s hit 1964 duet on “Don’t Think Twice It’s All Right” and Flatt and Scruggs’s take on “Down In The Flood.” Such folk-rockers became a bone of contention between Lester and Earl, leading to their 1969 split.

Charlie McCoy and the Escorts’ explosive 1964 single “Harpoon Man” provides context, featuring McCoy’s harmonica and several sidemen (Moss, Gayden, and Young), who became mainstays on country-rock sessions and members of Area Code 615.

Dylan is heard on tracks from Blonde On Blonde and Nashville Skyline. Nashville artists trying more progressive directions included John Hartford, heard on his original ’68 RCA recording of “Gentle On My Mind.”

Also surveyed: the many folk and rock acts who recorded in Nashville, excluding Peter & Gordon but including Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney and Wings, and George Harrison. Two Byrds tracks from Sweetheart Of The Rodeo are included.

Others represented are Joan Baez, Leonard Cohen, Leon Russell, the Steve Miller Band, Country Joe McDonald, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Jerry Jeff Walker, The Monkees, Eric Andersen, Steve Goodman, Neil Young, J.J. Cale, Steve Young, and Ian & Sylvia.
Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Boxer” featured Fred Carter Jr.’s now-legendary guitar break. The set includes several rarities such as a radio ad for the Sweetheart album, a ’68 Kris Kristofferson demo of “If You Don’t Hank Williams” and an unissued ’70 Dylan take on “If Not For You” with Lloyd Green.

In all it’s a complex story, given a compelling overview.

This article originally appeared in VG‘s October ’15 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.