One Track Mind: Johnny Cash, "Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right" (2011)

Share this:

It’s one thing to cover somebody, quite another to expose something fundamentally true about the original song through your interpretation — and that happens with Johnny Cash’s take on this Bob Dylan classic.

Issued as part of the two-disc Bootleg III: Live Around the World, out today on Columbia-Legacy, “Don’t Think Twice” was recorded on July 26, 1964 during the Newport Folk Festival. The song, at that point, was just a year old — having been released on The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan.

This landmark 1963 album so captivated Cash, it’s said, that he played it incessantly backstage before going on for shows — and eventually began a series of correspondences with Dylan. They finally shared a bill at Newport, a meeting that included a night spent playing in Joan Baez’s room at the Viking Motor Inn with June Carter Cash, Jack Elliott and others. Cash ended the night by handing Dylan his Martin guitar. A year later, in 1965, Cash recorded Dylan’s “It Ain’t Me, Babe” for his album Orange Blossom Special. They would duet as part of Dylan’s 1969 Nashville Skyline project, as well.

This admiration for one another, as instant and as deep as it was real, continued unabated into a new century. “In plain terms,” Dylan said, in the days after Cash’s 2003 passing, “Johnny was and is the North Star; you could guide your ship by him — the greatest of the greats then and now. … Truly he is what the land and country is all about, the heart and soul of it personified and what it means to be here; and he said it all in plain English.”

Even in these earliest moments, they understood each others’ muse enough to make brave choices. Here, Cash shows us new things about a song that has a kind of melancholy reverie in its original form — mainly, by slowing the track down to an amble, like a train gearing down to a slow rattle in the black of night.

Given a chance to really focus on the lyric, the song’s dismissive brush off sounds even more coldly calculated. “Don’t you know, you’re the reason I’m traveling on?” Cash sings, with a brooding tremolo — and absolutely no love lost. “Ain’t no use to sit and wonder why, gal — if you don’t know by now.”

He uncovers, and then polishes up, the song’s tarnished moment of anger. Cash’s “Don’t Think Twice” is more dangerous for it, and in its way more memorable.

Bootleg III: Live Around the World features 53 rare and unreleased tunes from shows in 1956 (Dallas), 1962 (Rising Sun, Maryland), 1964 (Newport, Rhode Island), 1969 (Vietnam), 1970 (the White House, Washington, D.C.), 1972 (Sweden), 1973 (Nashville), 1976 (Virginia and West Virginia) and 1979 (again in Nashville). The White House program includes an introduction from Richard Nixon; Pete Seeger spoke before Cash played the Newport Folk Festival. In several instances, we get a chance to see how songs developed on stage over Cash’s career: “I Walk the Line” is performed twice, in 1956 and 1962. “Wreck of the old ’97” is presented from shows in 1969 and ’70. “Daddy Sang Bass” is found on both the 1969 and 1970 appearances, too. “Rock Island Line” is performed in ’62 and in 1964. “I Walk the Line” appears in the 1956, 1962 and 1964 concert recordings.

[amazon_enhanced asin=”B005D0RDKC” container=”” container_class=”” price=”All” background_color=”FFFFFF” link_color=”000000″ text_color=”0000FF” /] [amazon_enhanced asin=”B00028HODG” container=”” container_class=”” price=”All” background_color=”FFFFFF” link_color=”000000″ text_color=”0000FF” /] [amazon_enhanced asin=”B00414WBT4″ container=”” container_class=”” price=”All” background_color=”FFFFFF” link_color=”000000″ text_color=”0000FF” /] [amazon_enhanced asin=”B0000636UU” container=”” container_class=”” price=”All” background_color=”FFFFFF” link_color=”000000″ text_color=”0000FF” /] [amazon_enhanced asin=”B000BISBDY” container=”” container_class=”” price=”All” background_color=”FFFFFF” link_color=”000000″ text_color=”0000FF” /]

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
Share this:
Close