The Cowsills In Books

Johnny Cash: The Life
by Robert Hilburn
BackBay - November 4, 2014


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All these various requirements led at times to a crazy quilt of guests, much to the chagrin of Cash. The Screen Gems team tried to get off to a good start, at least with country audiences, by booking Glen Campbell and Jeannie C. Riley, whose calling card in 1968 was a huge country-pop hit called “Harper Valley PTA.”

Coincidentally, it was profits from that single that largely made it possible for Shelby Singleton, a veteran record producer who released “Harper Valley PTA” on his Plantation label, to buy the rights to the historic Sun recordings from Sam Phillips for nearly a million dollars later that same year. Singleton knew that Cash was going to have a TV show, and he figured the exposure would reignite demand. And sure enough, two new greatest hits packages on Sun sold enough in three months for Singleton to earn back his entire investment.

The guest lists for the next few shows were more of a mixed bag. For every musical act that would have made sense to Cash (Gordon Lightfoot, Jerry Reed, Doug Kershaw, Linda Ronstadt), there was a series of actors (Dan Blocker, Eddie Albert, Doug McClure), comics (Fannie Flagg, Ron Carey, Charlie Callas), or teen pop acts (the Cowsills, Joey Scarbury). Jacobson tried to convey Cash’s displeasure to executives on the show, but he too was basically an outsider that first season.

Cash was frustrated by his lack of input, but he kept looking forward to the Dylan episode, which would be the fifth show taped but the first to air. He thought that the power of that show would persuade Screen Gems to have more respect for his musical ideas. In a magazine interview at the time, Cash tried to be optimistic. “I never liked television, but now I have decided I am going to like it,” he said. “I mean, if I’m going to have to do it every day, I might as well enjoy it. I don’t like being so confined, but I like my guests, and it’s my show, and it has to be good.”

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