Monday, April 20, 2009

Song of the Week: "Tennessee Flat-Top Box", Johnny Cash

Listen - Johnny Cash performs Tennessee Flat-Top Box

Everyone loves Johnny Cash. Punks adore him. Country and Honky Tonkers revere him as a Mt. Rushmore figure of the genre. People who hate country, love Johnny Cash. Folkies love him. Rock-n-rollers love him. Hippy-jam band cats love him. Honestly, how could you not like the man in black? He was exceedingly original, stiff armed the stiff Nashville machine, embraced musicians like Bob Dylan when others around him were hostile to rock and folk, and produced consistently great quality work. JC even embraced people who were relegated to the trash bin by society as witnessed by his prison concerts.

And no wonder everyone loves him -- his music, his voice, his story-telling skills are just top-notch. As evidence, I offer the man's 1961 sleeper, Tennessee Flat-Top Box. The somewhat autobiographical tale of an unassuming boy who was quietly turning heads by doing things his own way is classic Cash. So is the Tennessee Two's chug-a-chug-a-chug chug rhythm. But what's different about this song is that striking and constant acoustic guitar lead. I'm unsure if the wonderful wooden indian-like lead guitarist Luther Perkins is playing this lead or if a studio musician was called in. In some aspects it is very Luther (the walking leads with heavy emphasis on the polka beat), but in other ways it is not Luther at all (the multi-string slides and the use of acoustic). I wouldn't be surprised if it turned out to be Carl Perkins on lead. I just don't know. If you do know, please let me know.

I hope you enjoy this song. Cheers.


  1. According to the liner notes of the Johnny Cash The Legend box set, Roy Nichols and Johnny Western played guitar on this track, along with Luther. My guess would be Nichols for the lead. He played lead guitar with Merle Haggard and the Strangers for many years.

    Thanks for reminding me of this tune. It's got a nice relaxed pace to it, in contrast to a lot of his amphetamine fueled output of this era.

  2. Thank you for doing my homework for me. I didn't think it was Luther. It's a wonderful little guitar riff that gives the JC song a unique feel.