Welcome to “Original Rock Legends!” To celebrate Geva’s final show this season, the hit musical Million Dollar Quartet directed by Hunter Foster, I’m taking you through a musical journey, uncovering the history behind the songs featured in Million Dollar Quartet.
This week, we’re exploring the legends behind Johnny Cash’s music:
“Ghost Riders in the Sky” –1979 (original 1949)
“As the riders loped on by him he heard one call his name/’If you wanna save your soul from hell a-riding on our range/Then cowboy change your ways today or with us you will ride/Trying to catch the devil’s herd across these endless skies.”
Johnny Cash covered this song in 1979, on his Silver album. This is one of the many songs that is anachronistic to the era in which Million Dollar Quartet takes place.
The original tune is attributed to Stan Jones, a National Park Service ranger who composed music from his porch in Death Valley. Known for his master storytelling, Jones would entertain Hollywood film crews visiting Death Valley with songs and stories at the end of a long day filming. They encouraged Jones to get a publisher in Los Angeles, where actor Burl Ives came across “Ghost Riders in the Sky” and offered to record it. When Ives’ master track was complete, another singer, Vaughn Monroe, heard the track, and rushed to get his own version of the song on the market before Ives. In the spring of 1949, “Ghost Riders in the Sky” topped the charts and became one of Monroe’s biggest hits.
Cash’s cover of “Ghost Riders in the Sky” was a #1 single on Canada’s RPM Country Tracks.
With all this history behind the song, we’ve got a lot of tracks to cover; let’s start with Burl Ives’s 1947 recording of “Ghost Riders in the Sky:” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j2klh2cTa_Q
And here’s Vaughn Monroe’s 1949 recording, which rushed ahead of Ives’ version on the charts: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ais2uSUwIuY
Finally, here’s Cash performing the song live in 1987: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JMll6TNnTs4
Thanks for tuning in to “Original Rock Legends!” We’ll be back on Monday with more stories behind the legendary musicians who defined rock ‘n’ roll. This program is sponsored by Geva Theatre Center, where the Million Dollar Quartet comes back to life, LIVE onstage, now through June 25th. Until next time, rock on my friends!