I have said a lot about the whole process of planning, recording and releasing our brandnew album "That Hot And Blue Guitar", but I haven't said anything about the individual songs. I told you the old Texas Heat records are all sold out, but that only considers four songs that had been recorded before. There's a total of eleven songs on the album, which means there are seven songs that hadn't been recorded before by Texas Heat. Let's have a look:
1) "Johnny Cash And Me": I had written "Johnny Cash And Me" a couple of years ago, and we have been playing it live since 2015. It was about time this one got recorded. It's basically the story of how Johnny Cash found his way into my life and my heart. It all started in the summer of 1973. I didn't speak English yet. You didn't start to learn English in Germany before 5th grade. Thank God this has changed! So, I didn't understand a word on any of these first 13 songs I heard on that old yellow AGFA tape that summer. It was the dark voice and Luther's "boom-chicka-boom" on his Fender Esquire that got me hooked. The song takes you all the way from 1973 right into the present, stopping here and there to tell you how "the virus" got worse. Oh, and four days ago, I found that ole yellow tape back. What a treasure!
2) "The Sunken Lands": This is the first song on a Texas Heat CD that I didn't write. It's a masterpiece written by John's daughter Rosanne and her husband John Leventhal. Elli picked the song for its mere beauty. It tells the story of that little house in Dyess, Arkansas that J.R. Cash grew up in. The main character in this song is John's mother Carrie (Rivers) Cash, a woman I had the pleasure and honor of having met in the summer of 1984 in Hendersonville, TN. Life on a cotton farm sure must have been tough.
3) "Old Black Record": Yeah, yet again! I know, I know... I recorded "OBR" numerous times over the years, but we couldn't record this album without re-recording MY signature song. I'm proud of this tune. It tells the story of Johnny Cash & The Tennessee Two at the beginning of their career, in Memphis, TN at SUN Records. The Tennessee Two were Luther Perkins and Marshall Grant. They're still my favorite band. This one's for you, guys!
4) "Like John And June Every Night": We have been playing this song since 2015, just like "Johnny Cash And Me". I wanted to write a song about the love John and June shared. It ended up being more of a tribute to June. June was a wonderful, kind, warm-hearted woman with a great sense of humor. I've said so many things about John, it was time to write and sing about June, too. So, this one's for Valerie June Carter. Thanks for being kind to me and treating me like a friend, June!
5) "That September Day": Manfred Vogel, one of the prime experts in our country when it comes to Country Music, calls this song "the best Johnny Cash tribute song of all". Dirk Neuhaus of country.de calls it "the best song you have written". I guess you can tell these words make me proud. I wrote this song on a cold, snowy December night in 2011 from notes I'd had for a couple of years that make up the first two and half verses. I had talked to a fellow Cash fan about "where were you when you got the news John had passed". We both knew. I started writing at about 2:30am, thought I'd had it finished at about 5:15am, only to realize that the fifth verse didn't make any sense. So I took the first half of that verse and added a new second half. Then I wrote the first two lines of a new sixth verse and added the two lines that didn't fit in the fifth verse. Mission accomplished, 6:30am. Hard work, a lot of tears, but a proud moment. The original recording had a violin on it, but Elli's voice sounds much more fitting. I love this new version!
6) "Redemption Day": Sheryl Crow stood at June's open casket and performed the old Carter Family classic "On The Sea Of Galilee" for June's memorial service. Somehow, her music fit into John's world during his days with Rick Rubin and American Recordings. He recorded "Redemption Day" in 2003. it ended up on "American VI: Ain't No Grave". Sheryl Crow had recorded it for one of her first albums. There's a somewhat weird remix of John's recording that Elli found on the internet. Both John and Sheryl Crow recorded it in the exact same key, so Sheryl performed it on stage as a duet with John, with John's voice coming from a hard disc and his photo displayed on a huge screen in the back of the stage. It's on youtube. Go watch it. It's great! We combined the three versions, Elli sings it, and our friend Erwin Van De Ven adds his brilliant mandolin playing.
7) "The Visit": John's final studio album was the aforementioned "American VI: Ain't No Grave", which came out shortly before his birthday in 2010. I was alone at home when it was dropped into my mailbox. I took the CD and put it in the player. I sat quietly as he took me on a trip, as he had done with every album since 1977, when "The Last Gunfighter Ballad" was the first new album I had bought. It was a tough time listening to these songs, knowing this would be my final time to listen to a new album. Yes, there were and will be unreleased things being released, collector's editions, whatever, but not a new album (unless Rick Rubin decides there'll be an American VII, but he said it won't happen). I cried through most of the record, with a little laughter here and there. The last song is the final goodbye... aloha oe. I sat quietly for ten minutes after the album had ended, then I wrote "The Visit", right on the spot. It felt like John had come around this one last and final time to tell me a story. More than any other song, THIS ONE is my tribute to John. It's a very personal song. Words cannot express how I feel about him.
8) "That Hot And Blue Guitar": I sat in front of my computer in late July 2011, checking my emails. Yes, I'm a record-buying nut. It was a Saturday. One of the mails announced the re-release of John's first album for SUN, "Johnny Cash With His Hot And Blue Guitar", on vinyl. I clicked on the link, and another window opened, showing the album cover. I didn't buy that release (I think I didn't...), but I wrote this song, right on the spot. I used the expression "That Hot And Blue Guitar" as a synonym for "Johnny Cash". The guitar breaks are put together from pieces of Luther breaks. The intro and outro are all mine. I got an award for the song, back in 2013... for a song I wrote. Makes me proud! But more than that, the song itself makes me proud. It's powerful and uptempo, filled with energy. The song inspired the photo on the disc and in the sleeve. My two main guitars, P.o.W. (standing for "Piece Of Wood", the love song I wrote for this 1982 52 vintage reissue Telecaster) and LPB (standing for "Lake Placid Blue", the color of this 2009 FSR Fender Baja Tele), are the guitars I made this album with. P.o.W. has been on stage with Johnny Cash, once, on April 25, 1988, in Ludwigshafen, in the hands of my friend Bob Wootton, John's lead guitar player from September 17, 1968 all the way to 1999 and John's final appearance with his band.
9) "Etta's Tune": A masterpiece, written by Rosanne Cash and John Leventhal. The first time I heard this song, I cried all the way through it. I still do, at times. Etta is Marshall Grant's wife of 65 years. Marshall wrote a book about his life with Johnny Cash, "I Was There When It Happened". Go buy it and read it! NOBODY knew all these stories better than Marshall. I called him on the phone, one time in 1995, around the time I wrote "Old Black Record". He didn't know me. We talked for about 30 minutes. What a WONDERFUL, friendly and kind person he was! I wished I could have met him, just once. Luther passed away on August 5, 1968. On August 6, 2011, Texas Heat played the first official Johnny Cash tribute gig. On August 7, 2011, Marshall passed away. I cried my heart out. There's a video on youtube in which Rosanne tells the story behind this song. Elli sings it, and her singing moves me deeply, every single time I listen to this recordong or play and sing the song with her.
10) "Cash In My Heart": I wrote this song on September 12, 2012. I wanted to be close to John that day. It describes him the way I see him. You may agree or disagree. It's my song. My tribute. "He conquered my heart to never leave again". "The best kind of music I ever could find". "To not notice him, well, you'd have had to be blind". "When the world wrote him off, new success would unwind". All true. Just like "He outsold The Beatles, he outlived the king". True, in 1969. And the last truth in this song: "I still spend my money on the records he made, and of the times that I met him, there's none I would trade". No, not at all!
11) "Heart On The Highway": I wrote this in early 2014. No, it's not about Johnny Cash or anybody around him. This one's about my love for Elli. It's a tribute to the love we have, a story about those 15 months I drove back and forth between my old home and my new one. I had to steal that one expression from Kris Kristofferson. It has fascinated and moved me for decades. In some of his songs, he uses the adjective "holy" to describe love and other gifts from God. "Burning love, so true and holy". There's nothing dirty about the love Elli and I have for each other. Nothing. "Holy" is more than fitting, in my eyes. I love her with all my heart. Without her, there wouldn't be this new Texas Heat line-up, or this record. And I take the sound I learned from all these Johnny Cash records, shows, videos, DVDs and use it on songs I have written or will write. Not all, but there'll always be some. The end of this record is the re-ignition of everything Texas Heat has stood for over the years and will stand for in the future.
Bernd Wolf, February 28, 2018