When Johnny Cash hosted his own variety show for two seasons on ABC in the early Seventies, each episode incorporated the feel of inviting viewers into the Cash home, with his new bride, June Carter Cash, and her mother and sisters, who performed as the Carter Family, singing along with the Man in Black each week. On a show that originally aired Christmas Day 1970, Cash and family, including his parents, brother Tommy and the country legend’s nine-moth-old son John Carter Cash, were joined by guests including comedian George Gobel, Opry star Minnie Pearl, the Everly Brothers and the Cash’s neighbor, rock & roll icon Roy Orbison, who was making a return appearance to the show.
The episode, which featured a number of Christmas songs as well as a comical sketch in which Cash narrated a country-music version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, also featured a few non-seasonal tunes, but maintained a comfy home-for-the-holidays vibe throughout. Perhaps the most heartwarming highlight of the special episode was Orbison’s intensely beautiful acoustic performance of the now-holiday classic “Pretty Paper.”
Penned by Willie Nelson late in 1963, the song was inspired by an encounter with an amputee selling pencils and wrapping paper outside a department store. The following November it became the first track the future Hall of Fame entertainer would cut at RCA’s historic Studio B after signing a record deal with the label. But by that time, the song had already been a bona fide hit, as Orbison’s version entered the pop Top 20 during the 1963 holiday season, as the country was grieving the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
Perfectly suited to Orbison’s dramatic but never maudlin singing style, “Pretty Paper” will forever be one of the songs most associated with the late vocalist. But in the years since its release, the song has been covered by dozens of additional artists including Glen Campbell, Marty Robbins, Kenny Chesney, Randy Travis, Pam Tillis, Julie Roberts, Don McLean, Carly Simon, Chris Isaak, Robert Ellis and the Lumineers.
The Christmas 1970 episode of the Johnny Cash Show will air Sunday, December 23rd, at 10:00 p.m. ET on GetTV, followed immediately by a 1977 Christmas special featuring Cash and Orbison along with Roy Clark, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis.