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The True West, Album Comments by Johnny Cash

Four years ago, Columbia records album producer Don Law said to me, "John" think about making an album of the western songs. I thought about it, and Don new I would attempt it when I was ready, later, as a guest in my house, he brought me two books on western lore. But nothing was mentioned about a western album, instead, we talked about fishing.

Reading the books Don Law left me, I became fascinated by the true tales of the west. I bought every issue of "True West" a successful magazine published in Taxes and sold coast to coast. ( Later ), I learned that the magazine is read and swapped around by serviceman overseas, and that some early issues are worth up to ten dollars apiece.

Then while I was making a personal appearance in Austin Texas, Joe Austell Small, Publisher of Western Publications said to me "John Cash you’d be good feller to ride the river with." He invited me to his offices where he publishes "True West" "Frontier Times" and "Old West." I saw his Remington and Russell paintings, and later over a Mexican-Style buffet, we got excited about the record album I was planning called " The True West" Joe Small rode the river with me, and we became good friends. I hope we still are after he hears it, He sweated blood along with me to help me make it.


A few months ago, Don Law called me. "Johnny, old boy aren’t we ready to do that western album"? I was afraid he’d ask that. I said. "yes" then I locked myself in my room full of books and took out pen and paper to begin sketching my plans for songs and stories that would go into "The True West"

The books – by John Lomax, Carl Sandburg, Botkin, Dobie and all the rest – were confusing. I closed the books and decided to call Tex Ritter to ask if he would come help me and let me hear his side of it. Mr. Ritter drove to my home and sat with me three hours with a tape recorder running and we went over possibilities of the album. We became so involved in going over some three hundred songs that we developed an intense, "True West" attitude toward it all. So far as songs are concerned, there was only room for about twenty, at the most, on two records – and that would only just about touch the forty or fifty years that I was to sing about. But here, at least, is a part of it. Thanks to Joe Small and to Tex Ritter, a man whom I respect and am so much indebted to for the time he gave me, to Peter LaFarge, my Indian friend who had almost had every bone broken in his rodeo days: to Jack Elliott, who came to Nashville and advised me when I "didn’t know gee from haw" To Gene Ferguson, of Columbia Records, who quietly sat still and pulled for me and the Tennessee Three: to the Nashville Symphony Orchestra; to the Carter Family; to the Statler Brothers; to Bob Johnson, who plays 2,001 year old folk songs because he simply likes them; to Tom Morgan of Hollywood who sat up all night writing violin arrangements for some of these songs. But thanks mainly to album producers Don Law and Frank Jones who worked seven nights, all night long, to help capture the sound of the west wind. There are also many others I haven’t space to thank here. Here is a trick of "that" time, just a glimpse beyond the movies and television, back to when a few tales could show us "The True West".

We aren’t sorry for the modern sounds and modern arrangements on the classics like { I Ride An Old Paint ) or ( Streets Of Laredo ) after all, they were meant to be heard on twentieth – century record players and transistor radios! For today that same west wind blowing, although buckboards and saddles are lying out there turning to dust or crumbling from dry rot. How did I get ready for this album? I followed trails in my jeep and on foot, and I slept under mesquite bushes and in gullies. I heard the timber wolves, looked for golden nuggets in old creek beds, sat for hours beneath a manzanita bush in an ancient Indian burial ground, breathed the west wind and tales it tells only to those who listen. I replaced a wooden grave marker of some man in Arizona who "never made it" I walked across alkali flats where others had walked before me, but hadn’t made it. I ate mesquite beans and squeezed the water from a barrel cactus. I was saved once by a forest ranger, lying flat on my face, starving. I learned to throw a bowie knife and kill a jack rabbit at forty yards, not for sport but because I was hungry. I learned of the true west the hard way- a la 1965.

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Yes it was an obsession, but I learned the ways of the west it’s still there, and even though the people I sing about are gone, I saw something of what their life was like. Most of it I enjoyed. Some of it was mean as hell. But it’s the same west it’s wild and hot and unbelievable till you try it on foot. It was The True West. Here are a few words about some of the narration’s and songs, including some definitions of cowboy lingo.


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Revised: September 03, 2007


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