Third Man Records vinyl exclusives, Part 45: Johnny Cash “A Night To Remember” (2020)

The 45th set of exclusive vinyl items offered to members of Third Man Records’ Vault service was mailed out to the members in October of 2020. For those who are unaware, Third Man Records is the label owned by Jack White, who is the leader of the White Stripes, the Raconteurs, and the Dead Weather, and is now a solo artist. The Vault service promises to deliver exclusive vinyl-only records (usually one full-length album and one 7” single) to its members every three months.

The 45th Vault package contained a previously unreleased live double-LP by the late country legend Johnny Cash, along with a companion DVD containing video footage of much of the same concert, and a 7-inch single featuring two new recordings by modern artists based on Cash’s writings.

The live Johnny Cash album A Night To Remember was recorded on May 5, 1973 at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles, CA. Cash’s show was the final concert in a week-long event called A Week To Remember, which was hosted by Clive Davis to showcase various Columbia Records artists (including a then-emerging Bruce Springsteen). The double-LP was pressed in “vintage white” vinyl – which looks like clear translucent vinyl to my eyes, but whatever you want to call it, it looks great.

This concert took place one month after the release of the 1973 film Gospel Road, a movie about the life of Jesus which was co-produced, co-written, and narrated by Cash. This concert recording contains some signs of this time in the performer’s life, including two Larry Gatlin compositions (“Help Me” and the stirring “The Last Supper”) and the Statler Brothers’ “Lord, Is It I?”, which were selections from the film’s soundtrack album. Also, Cash had recently turned down an offer to record Steve Goodman’s “City Of New Orleans”, which instead became a 1972 hit for Arlo Guthrie. Cash performed the song during this concert, and his version is nearly the equal of that of Guthrie or any other musician who has famously recorded it. Cash also performed “Ballad Of Barbara” during this concert, telling the audience that he had just written it; the studio version was not released until three years later.

Those selections help set this album apart from Cash’s many other live albums, but they do not define the entire set, as Cash also drew numerous songs from his ‘50’s and ‘60’s repertoire. Although “Folsom Prison Blues” and “A Boy Named Sue” both figure into the set list, this album sounds less like the work of Johnny Cash the prison performer than like Johnny Cash the TV variety show host, a genial entertainer playing before a polite audience.

Among his backing musicians were his former Sun Records label-mate Carl Perkins on guitar, and his sometime producer Larry Butler on piano. Perkins lent a slight rockabilly edge to songs such as “Going To Memphis” and “If I Had A Hammer”, and also contributed guest vocals to three songs. Cash granted Butler a grand and versatile piano showcase during “I Walk The Line”. Of course, the most prominent collaborator was the star’s wife, June Carter Cash, who sang duets with Johnny that make up most of the second disc. These include “Jackson” (which became familiar to many younger moviegoers due to its use in Walk The Line and The Help) and the Carter Family classic “Will The Circle Be Unbroken”. The duo’s chemistry was strong, and June’s open-throated singing voice commanded attention.

Another high point of the set: a medley of songs which blend together surprisingly well, beginning with Cash’s early Tennessee Two single “Hey Porter” (served well by Perkins’ guitar) and culminating in the bluegrass classic “Orange Blossom Special”, during which Cash plays two harmonicas in place of a fiddle.

If A Night To Remember had been released earlier and to the general public, it’s hard to figure if it would have stood out among Cash's live recordings. However, at this point in time, it is a welcome addition to the Johnny Cash catalogue.

The accompanying DVD of the same title offers an abridged 42-minute visual document of the concert, omitting some songs (including “City Of New Orleans” and “I Walk The Line”) as if it was edited for a one-hour-with-commercials TV broadcast. The DVD is useful as a visual component to this Vault package, but A Night To Remember does not stand well on its own as a concert film, mainly because it is not very visually stimulating. While this concert sounds almost timeless on the double-LP, the film manages to capture a dull mid-‘70’s ambience all too well. Not to say that The Man In Black did not have an engaging stage and screen presence, but it now looks ridiculous having the camera and the spotlight fixed only on the star for most of the show, as if he was the only person on the stage. The best visual moments occur when Johnny plays the two harmonicas during “Orange Blossom Special”, and also when June joins him on stage, and the husband-and-wife duo convincingly acts lovey-dovey for the audience and cameras. Ultimately, the double-LP is the better medium for this concert.

The 7-inch single in this package (pressed in elegant gold vinyl) featured two laudable tracks recorded by contemporary artists for a continuation of the Forever Words album of 2018, a various-artists project by John Carter Cash which connects unearthed lyrics and poems by Johnny Cash with modern musicians for new interpretations. Wisely, the two artists featured on this single did not attempt to imitate the Man In Black on these recordings. Instead, they set his words to their own moody contemporary country music. The A-side track was recorded by the Colorado folk-rock trio known as the Lumineers. “Pretty Pictures In My Mind” is a deceptively low-key ballad about being alone with one’s thoughts. Most of the instrumentation is understated, until a steel guitar sound comes in toward the end and leaves behind a subtle emotional impression. The B-side track was recorded by alt-country artist Ruston Kelly. “Dark And Bloody Ground” is an eerie murder ballad, with the type of lyrics that Cash might have sung to the prisoners at Folsom, using a fiddle to create a spectral Southern Gothic atmosphere.

A few noticeable errors in the packaging: The songwriting credits on the DVD package correctly credit “Lord, Is It I?” to Harold and Don Reid of the Statler Brothers, but the back cover of the double-LP incorrectly credits the song to Johnny Cash. Also, there is some confusion concerning the DVD catalogue number. The number on the package is TMR-693 (like the album), but the number on the DVD itself is TMR-698 (like the single).

The practice of engraving text in the dead wax, or the runout grooves between the sticker and the last track’s grooves, is present on these records. The two-record set has “UH” carved in Side A, “Knight” carved in Side B, “Too” carved in Side C, and “Re-Member” carved in Side D. The single has “Lets try this way” carved in the A-side, and “Fingers crossed” carved in the B-side.

Johnny Cash “A Night To Remember” (Third Man Records TMR-693) 2020

Track Listing:


1. Clive Davis Introduction / Big River (J.R. Cash)
2. Sunday Morning Coming Down (K. Kristofferson)
3. The City of New Orleans (S. Goodman)
4. Ballad of Barbara (J.R. Cash)
5. A Boy Named Sue (S. Silverstein)


1. Going To Memphis (H. Dew, arr. and adapted by A. Lomax, additional lyrics by J.R. Cash)
2. That Silver Haired Daddy of Mine – with Carl Perkins (G. Autry / J. Long)
3. Medley: Hey Porter / Folsom Prison Blues / Wreck of the Old 97 / Orange Blossom Special (J.R. Cash) / (J.R. Cash) / (arr. J.R. Cash/R. Johnson/N. Blake) / (E.T. Rouse)


1. I Walk The Line (J.R Cash)
2. Jackson – with June Carter Cash (J. Leiber / B.E. Wheeler)
3. If I Were A Carpenter – with June Carter Cash (T. Hardin)
4. Help Me Make It Through The Night (K. Kristofferson)
5. Help Me – with June Carter Cash & Larry Gatlin (L. Gatlin)


1. Lord, Is It I? / The Last Supper (H. Reid/D. Reid) / (Larry Gatlin)
2. If I Had A Hammer – with June Carter Cash (L. Hayes / P. Seeger)
3. Will The Circle Be Unbroken – with June Carter Cash & Carl Perkins (A.P. Carter)
4. Daddy Sang Bass – with June Carter Cash & Carl Perkins (C. Perkins)
5. Folsom Prison Blues (outro) (J.R. Cash)

“Johnny Cash – A Night To Remember – May 5th, 1973 At The Ahmanson Theatre, Los Angeles, CA” (Third Man DVD TMR-693) 2020

DVD Track Listing:

1. Johnny Arrives
2. Big River
3. Sunday Morning Coming Down
4. Ballad Of Barbara
5. A Boy Named Sue
6. Another Man Done Gone / Going To Memphis
7. Medley: Hey Porter / Folsom Prison Blues / Wreck of the Old 97 / Orange Blossom Special
8. Jackson
9. If I Were A Carpenter
10. Help Me Make It Through The Night
11. Lord, Is It I? / The Last Supper
12. Folsom Prison Blues (outro)
13. Johnny Departs

The Lumineers “Pretty Pictures In My Mind” b/w Ruston Kelly “Dark and Bloody Ground” (Legacy/Third Man single TMR-698) 2020

a. Pretty Pictures In My Mind – The Lumineers
b. Dark and Bloody Ground – Ruston Kelly