When he’s not flying solo, Rhett Miller fronts the Old 97’s, so it makes perfect sense that he’d cover the country classic “Wreck of the Old 97” to honor Johnny Cash. In this interview, Miller reveals his history with the Old 97’s, the name similarities, the track’s background and more.
“For the last 19 years, I’ve been in a band named after a song Johnny Cash popularized,” admits Miller. “Certainly the only reason I knew of it was because of Johnny.” Though the Vernon Dalhart-penned tune was originally the B-side to the first million-selling country single, “The Prisoner’s Song,” Johnny Cash’s version of “Wreck of the Old 97” profoundly inspired Miller’s songwriting style. “Johnny took it and he did this thing with it that, again, I’ve stolen for my entire songwriting career, where you take a dark subject and you present it in a really fun way,” says Miller.
But when it came time to name his band the Old 97’s, Miller says things just clicked. “I thought, ‘This is what we want to be. We want to be a combination of Johnny Cash and the Clash. We want to be this rocking band that’s got, at its heart, this really lively folk music,'” reveals Miller. “I don’t think there could be a better name for us.”
Miller’s version of “Wreck of the Old 97” appears on the upcoming Blu-ray disc and CD/DVD set entitled We Walk the Line: A Celebration of the Music of Johnny Cash, a tribute to Johnny Cash featuring Sheryl Crow, Willie Nelson, Shooter Jennings, Brandi Carlile and more. It is set for an August 7th release.