C-grade Christian

Johnny Cash sometimes described himself as a “C+ Christian”. Robert Hilburn, in his wonderful biography of Cash, observes:

Most thought this American icon was just being humble. To those who’d been close to him at various points, it appeared he was being a bit generous with his evaluation. But there was  no question Cash believed. He wasn’t using his religion as commercial strategy.

Cash was a flawed man, and he knew it. His honesty about those flaws were part of his greatness. He made a gospel song, even one which was perhaps a bit twee, meaningful precisely because of that.

Cash ISAMThis is one of those songs. The arrangement could be better. No need for the backing vocals! Simple, spare would suit the song. But Cash’s voice carries it. It is the voice of a common sinner, the C-grade Christian, asking for forgiveness. Again.

Just listen.

  • Artist: Johnny Cash
  • Album: Hymns of Gold (compilation of various artists)
  • Track: B1 “I Saw A Man”
  • Format: 12”, 33⅓ rpm, vinyl
  • Label: K-Tel
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: NA451
  • Year: Unknown (c. 1975). Song recorded 1958.

Stage fright

Mea culpa. Or, as young folks say these days: “my bad”.

It’s like this. I pick up a battered old single, a local release, mid-sixties. I have not heard of the artist,  Ned Miller, but I recognise the song on the A-side. “Do What You Do Do Well”: one of Johnny Cash’s hits. Clearly, then, Ned Miller was a second-tier country artist, pumping out a cover.

My bad. The great Johnny Cash did have a hit with “Do What You Do Do Well”, but that was after this release. Not only did Ned Miller release it first, he wrote it. In fact, Miller wrote lots of great songs. One, “From a Jack to a King”, was a top ten hit in many parts of the world, but mostly he wrote excellent songs, which other people recorded. “Invisible Tears” and “Dark Moon” were two: hits for Bonnie Guitar and Elvis Presley respectively. There were plenty more: Miller was in the top echelon of Nashville’s songsmiths. Why didn’t he have more success as a performer?

0673 labelSimple, really. He didn’t like performing, and often suffered stage fright. He retired from the entertainment business in 1970, saying: “If you love shows and like to perform, it’s a great business, but if you don’t, you shouldn’t be in it.”

It was not that he couldn’t play and sing. Just listen to this, “Dusty Guitar”, the delightful B-side to a more famous song. The record is a bit battered, but the performance shines through. It is a rumination on musical fame, ironically enough from someone who achieved it, and then decided it was not for him.

  • Artist: Ned Miller
  • Single title: Do What You Do Do Well
  • Track: B “Dusty Guitar”
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm
  • Label: W&G
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Catalogue number: WG-S-2321
  • Year: 1964