Flashback: Johnny Cash Is First Country Artist on 'Letterman' - Rolling Stone
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Flashback: Johnny Cash Is First Country Artist on ‘Letterman’

Watch the Man in Black perform “Don’t Take Your Guns to Town” on an early ‘Late Show’ episode

The Late Show With David Letterman had only been on the air for five weeks when Johnny Cash visited the program in October of 1993, marking the program’s first performance by a major country star.

With no album to promote, Cash was throwing his weight behind two off-the-wall projects: the first, an appearance on U2’s experimental Achtung Baby follow-up, Zooropa, and the second, a children’s book and accompanying cassette called The Good, the Bad and the Two Cookie Kid, in which Cash sings the tale of a sweet-toothed pre-teen who steals all the cookies in the Rio Grande Valley. American Records, his career-rejuvenating album with Rick Rubin, was still a work in progress. Maybe that’s why Cash decided to reach back into his catalog and sing “Don’t Take Your Guns to Town,” one of his first Number One hits.

In the video above, Letterman introduces Cash as “one of the best ‘real deals’ around,” then watches as the Man in Black performs with all the stoicism and steady swagger that he boasted in the late 1950s, back when Cash sang “Don’t Take Your Guns to Town” in the same venue — New York City’s Ed Sullivan Theater — during his second appearance of The Ed Sullivan Show. “I was on after either a juggling act or a trained goat; I’m not sure which,” Cash tells Letterman after the performance. 

David Letterman, who aired his final episode of the Late Show last night, was a longtime supporter of country music, with artists including Mary Chapin Carpenter, Jason Isbell, Roseanne Cash, k.d. Lang, Justin Townes Earle, Faith Hill, Randy Houser, Jamey Johnson, Dwight Yoakam, Shelby Lynne, Ryan Adams and Sturgill Simpson making some of their first prime-time appearances on his programs. Several of those artists returned to the show recently, looking to pay their respects to the host before he tossed the baton to Stephen Colbert. 


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