Throughout his career, songwriter John Prine has not only had his remarkable catalog of songs covered by other artists, he has also put his own spin on songs by his influences and peers. The latest in the latter category is Prine’s delicate take on a song Johnny Cash first recorded 60 years ago for Sun Records, but that was actually written by country-pop legend Charlie Rich and Bill Justis, whose signature hit, the instrumental tune “Raunchy,” had been released a year earlier in 1957.
Prine’s vocal version of “Ways” slows down Cash’s original, which was, naturally, driven by Luther Perkins’ guitar and Marshall Grant’s bass, with additional guitar work from Sun’s “Red Hot” rockabilly star Billy Riley. Released as Cash’s final Sun single in August 1958, the tune actually hit the charts shortly after Cash’s Sun contract had expired and his new deal with Columbia Records had taken effect. It also marked the Man in Black’s last entry on the pop Top 40 for nearly five years. His next major pop hit would be 1963’s “Ring of Fire.”
The unusual music video accompanying Prine’s version of the song exemplifies the folk-country legend’s gift for blending a bit of oddball humor with heart-touching tenderness and features the main character (played by Colter Britt, the 6-year-old son of the clip’s co-director Joshua Britt, who created the video with fellow musician/visual artist Neilson Hubbard) dressed in a suit and wandering around a dreary looking Music City with a box on his head, a dour expression painted on his cardboard face.
The song is featured on Love Me, an exclusive 50-song Amazon Playlist “for lovers around the world.”
John Prine will release the new LP The Tree of Forgiveness on April 13th. Produced by Dave Cobb, it’s the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame legend’s first collection of new, original songs in over 13 years.