Twenty-eight years ago this week, Rosanne Cash released King’s Record Shop, the hit follow-up to her hugely influential 1985 LP, Rhythm & Romance. While the latter album produced a pair of Number One hits, the Tom Petty- and Benmont Tench-penned “Never Be You” and the Grammy-winning “I Don’t Know Why You Don’t Want Me,” all four singles from King’s Record Shop topped the charts, with the album becoming Cash’s first gold LP since her 1981 breakthrough, Seven Year Ache. It also marked something of a return to the producer’s chair for Cash’s then husband, Rodney Crowell, who had co-produced Rhythm & Romance with David Molloy and David Thoener, but had helmed her previous efforts as sole producer. A year after King’s Record Shop was released, Crowell would score a record-setting five Number One singles from his own Diamonds & Dirt LP.
Of the quartet of country hits that the album produced, only one, “If You Change Your Mind” was co-written by Cash. John Hiatt, who contributed the rocker “Pink Bedroom” to her previous release and the 1982 single “It Hasn’t Happened Yet,” wrote “The Way We Make a Broken Heart,” a song the two had performed as a duet years earlier. “Runaway Train,” meanwhile, was penned by John Stewart and “Tennessee Flat Top Box” was written and originally performed by someone Cash knew very well — her father, Johnny Cash — although she had no idea of its origins at the time she recorded it.
A self-penned hit for Johnny Cash in 1962, when his daughter Rosanne was six years old, “Tennessee Flat Top Box” tells the perhaps autobiographical success story of a little dark-haired boy who played the titular guitar at a cabaret on the south Texas border before suddenly disappearing then resurfacing with a tune on the “hit parade” years later. Although she may have recognized the parallels to her dad’s life in the tune and had been exposed to it her entire life, it was Crowell who told Cash that her dad had written the song.
“It was like singing a lullaby that you’d heard through your childhood,” she would say later. When the song topped the charts, the elder Cash took out an ad in Billboard calling his daughter’s success with the record “one of my life’s greatest fulfillments.”
At the 2003 tribute concert to her dad, held at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium shortly after his death, Rosanne Cash performed a spirited version of “Tennessee Flat Top Box,” a song she had performed with him only on a few occasions. One such event was the 1989 invitation-only launch for Mother Maybelle’s Cookbook, compiled by June Carter Cash. During the party, held at the Cash family’s home north of Nashville, June read stories from the book and the husband and wife, both adorned with Hawaiian leis, also sang together. But this clip of the rare father-daughter duet of their shared hit song (26 years apart) is a sweet document of the love they obviously had for one another, although the younger Cash admitted their relationship was at times rocky and tenuous.
The colorful clip also offers something that’s even rarer than their singing together on film. As the song comes to a close, Johnny and Rosanne break out some memorable dance moves. It’s a chance to see a very different, utterly charming and unguarded side to the Man in Black — and proof that sticking to guitar was a wise choice for one little dark-haired boy.