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Johnny Cash's 'Big River'

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Johnny Cash's 'Big River'

Johnny Cash's 'Big River'

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Mark O'Connor is a fiddle player, also a classical violinist and classical composer. He's collaborated with the likes of cellist Yo-Yo Ma and bassist Edgar Meyer. We invited O'Connor to participate in our series, You Must Hear This. That's where musicians suggest a song they love, a song they listen to again and again. Here's Mark O'Connor on Johnny Cash.

Mr. MARK O'CONNOR (Musician): Johnny Cash was a boyhood hero of mine. When I was nine and 10 years old, I would spend hours singing his songs and imitating the way he played the guitar. I even enlisted my mother to help me transcribe all the lyrics off of his albums. He sang about prisons, trains, about love lost and love found. One of my favorite songs of his is "Big River."

(Soundbite of song, "Big River")

Mr. JOHNNY CASH (Singer): (Singing) Now I taught the weeping willow how to cry, and I showed the clouds how to cover up a clear, blue sky.

Mr. O'CONNOR: The rhythmic phrasing and vocal performance by Cash in "Big River" is remarkable. Its energy and drive replaces any need for drums or percussion. Cash's own guitar-strumming riff was quite memorable, as well. He strummed up the neck with a dynamic crescendo.

(Soundbite of song, "Big River")

Mr. O'CONNOR: Luther Perkins and his electric guitar playing are also indispensable elements of what makes this an amazing song. The licks give both rhythmic support for what Cash was doing and in some places compliment the bass. But the tic-tac was quite historic for country guitar, and his sound that he invented for Cash's Tennessee Two produced a great effect.

(Soundbite of song, "Big River")

Mr. CASH: (Singing) Go on, I've had enough, dumped my blues down in the Gulf. She loves you, Big River, more than me.

Mr. O'CONNOR: As a professional musician, I knew Johnny Cash, worked with him a number of times, and was invited into his home. Johnny Cash died on the 12th of September, 2003.

Kris Kristofferson wrote: He's a poet, he's a picker, he's a prophet, he's a pusher, he's a pilgrim and a preacher. Inspired by this quote, and the music and life of Johnny Cash, I composed a classical piano trio called "Poets and Prophets". Today, I perform my "Poets and Prophets" in concerts with Johnny's daughter, Rosanne Cash. "Big River" is simply revolutionary. You must hear it.

(Soundbite of song, "Big River")

BLOCK: That's Mark O'Connor, recommending "Big River" by Johnny Cash. And you can watch a video of Johnny Cash playing that song at nprmusic.org.

(Soundbite of song, "Big River")

Mr. CASH: (Singing) Then you took me to St. Louis later on down the river. A freighter said she's been here, but she's gone, boy, she's gone. I found her trail in Memphis, but she just walked up the bluff. She raised a few eyebrows…

BLOCK: You are listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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