In 1971, as the war in Vietnam raged on, and the issues of poverty, discrimination and inequality were sharply dividing the American people, Johnny Cash was one of the few musicians who effectively brought people of nearly every generation together through his socially conscious music. Cash had already recorded a series of concept albums devoted to furthering awareness of the plight of Native Americans (1965’s Bitter Tears), prisoners (At San Quentin, At Folsom Prison) and others who were oppressed or simply down on their luck. One of the artist’s most political tunes was “Man in Black,” the centerpiece of the upcoming album Man in Black: Live in Demark 1971.
Set for release on a single CD and via digital audio December 4th, the concert recording, which was taped for a Danish TV audience on a soundstage, will also be available on vinyl as a two-record set pressed in red and white (the colors of Denmark’s flag) for Record Store Day, on Black Friday, November 27th. (Listen to Cash’s live version of “Man in Black” below.)
As the host of his own network music series beginning in 1969, Cash’s concertgoers and TV viewers took notice of his propensity for wearing black outfits onstage. The songwriter fully explained his decision to do so in “Man in Black,” which appeared on the album of that same name, released in May 1971. Cash first performed the song on The Johnny Cash Show, within days of writing it, after filming a particularly poignant segment for the series in which he engages in candid conversation with students on the campus of Nashville’s Vanderbilt University. During the song’s debut TV performance, the lines about the number of casualties in Vietnam resonated with the youthful audience, which gave him a rousing round of applause when he sang the line “each week we lose a hundred fine young men.”
“It’s about a lot of people that I’ve met throughout the country, throughout the world. People that mean a lot to me,” Cash says of the song before performing it for the Danish audience, whose polite applause at the end was in stark contrast to the wild ovation the song received during his TV show. The audio of the 1971 concert in Denmark was previously only available on DVD, having been released in 2006. Also appearing during the live recording were Cash’s band, the Tennessee Three, and the TV series’ regulars June Carter Cash, the Carter Family, Carl Perkins and the Statler Brothers.
Another historic Cash performance captured for a live recording is also due in early 2016. Koncert v Praze (In Prague-Live) was recorded onstage in the Sportovní hala in the Czechoslovakian city in April 1978. It documents the first time any major American country or popular music artist ever performed behind the Iron Curtain. With the Czech government functioning as agents, promoters and managers, Cash and an entourage of 19 left Berlin in a tiny school bus to perform four shows, in an effort to determine how audiences in the Soviet bloc would respond to American music. According to the United States ambassador, the four shows (which sold out in two days and played to 40,000 people) did more for U.S.-Czech relations than he could have accomplished in four years. The live album will be released February 5th.