From 1969 to 1971, ABC aired The Johnny Cash Show first on Sundays but later on Wednesdays; it was taped at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. One of the highlights of the show was the appearance of Louis Armstrong on the October 28, 1970 show. Less than a year before his death of a heart attack, Armstrong briefly sings “Crystal Chandeliers” and “Ramblin’ Rose” before Johnny Cash joins him onstage for a charming duet of the Jimmie Rodgers song “Blue Yodel #9.”
Not surprisingly, Cash knew his history. As he explains on the program, in 1930 Louis played on Rodgers’ recording of that same song, “Blue Yodel #9.” Louis’ voice is not heard on the number; he’s there strictly as a session musician. Louis’ wife, Lil Hardin Armstrong, is on the piano. Certainly Cash selected one of Louis’ rare appearances on a country track (if it can be so called) quite consciously to link the triumphant early period of Louis’ career to Cash himself.
Also, it gave Louis an excuse to put on a huge white cowboy hat at the Grand Ole Opry.
According to Johnny Cash: The Life by Robert Hilburn,
Cash was especially proud of bringing Louis Armstrong onto the Ryman stage, where the jazz great had once been barred from performing because of his race. On the show, Armstrong re-created the trumpet solo he’d played on a Jimmie Rodgers recording of “Blue Yodel No. 9” in a 1930 session in Hollywood; Cash was thrilled to sing Rodgers’s part. By celebrating that historic pairing, Cash wasn’t just saluting his heroes; he was subtly underscoring his message of unity and tolerance.
To hear Louis’ familiar, scratchy voice join Johnny’s yodel chorus is a delight.
Jimmie Rodgers, “Blue Yodel No. 9,” 1930:
Louis Armstrong and Johnny Cash, The Johnny Cash Show, 1970:
via William Caxton Fan Club (a.k.a John Darnielle’s Tumblr)
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Louis Armstrong’s ham hocks and red beans recipe: ‘It is my birth mark’
How Johnny Cash was nearly killed by an ostrich in 1981