In the last few years, the amount of re-releases, rare recordings, and other such reconstituted music material we’ve been bestowed by the Johnny Cash and Hank Williams camps and others has made the announcement and release of archival material somewhat of a mundane event. It’s not that there isn’t material on these albums that is worthy of ears, but they’re usually only good for maybe a few individual tracks that you must find by sifting through outtakes and alternative versions to get to. Sometimes these releases are padded with material that has been previously released, or has been put out in bootleg form before. And with so many of these releases, the mystique of hearing something new from a deceased artist has ironically become commonplace. Sometimes the release dates for these projects come and go and you don’t even notice despite your loyal fandom.
That will not, and should not be the case for the upcoming Johnny Cash album Out Among The Stars set to be released on March 25th, 2014. Instead of a hodgepodge of live or radio recordings or other such discarded studio fodder, Out Among The Stars is a complete album that was recorded between 1981 and 1984 by Cash, with songs that were meant to be together, but never saw the light of day. A true “lost album” if there ever was one. It was produced by Country Music Hall of Famer Billy Sherrill, renown as one of the architects of the countrypolitan, or Nashville Sound. But this wasn’t 1965, and Johnny Cash wasn’t just some artist looking to soften his sound with strings and choruses. Sherrill was also the president of CBS Records at the time, and the pairing was meant to create something special; something that could re-ignite Johnny Cash’s career.
It was the early 1980’s and Cash’s label Columbia was not sure what to do with him. Like so many other golden-era, aging country artists at the time, Cash was seen as cold product, and eventually Columbia dropped Cash in 1986, shelving Out Among The Stars, even though they released some other recordings and albums that were made after the album. It is pretty obvious that Columbia executives didn’t think much of the project, but as we’ve come to find out over the years, from back then and today, just because Music Row doesn’t approve, doesn’t mean it is bad.
Apparently when Cash was cut from Columbia, June Carter stashed the masters for Out Among The Stars amongst other archival recordings. The masters weren’t even found until last year when the family was going through the material looking for potential archival releases.
“They never threw anything away,” Cash’s son John Carter Cash tells The Tennessean. “They kept everything in their lives. They had an archive that had everything in it from the original audio tapes from ‘The Johnny Cash Show’ to random things like a camel saddle, a gift from the prince of Saudi Arabia….We were so excited when we discovered this. We were like, my goodness this is a beautiful record that nobody has ever heard. Johnny Cash is in the very prime of his voice for his lifetime. He’s pitch perfect. It’s seldom where there’s more than one vocal take. They’re a live take and they’re perfect.”
Out Among The Stars features 12 tracks, including a duet with Waylon Jennings, and two duets with Cash’s wife, June Carter Cash. The recordings feature Country Hall of Fame keys player Hargus “Pig” Robbins, and a young Marty Stuart. And for better or worse, Legacy Recordings had Marty Stuart, Buddy Miller, and Jerry Douglas “fortify” the recordings for this release. No, this is not the dusting off of some old demos to have fans who will buy anything Cash dig into their pockets yet again. Great care was taken with this project from beginning to end, and the result may mean the continuance of the surprising and sustainable interest Johnny Cash enjoys well after his passing.
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Below is a clip of the song “She Used To Love Me A Lot,” written by Dennis Morgan, Charles Quillen, and Kye Fleming, and originally recorded by David Allan Coe with producer Billy Sherrill in 1985.