Throwback: Johnny Cash Is Very First Country Musician on ‘Letterman’

Check out the Man in Black sing "Don't Take Your Guns to Town" from an old 'Late Show' episode

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The Late Show With David Letterman had just been on air for five weeks when Johnny Cash appeared on the TV Show in October of 1993, highlighting the program’s very first performance by a leading country superstar.

Without any album to promote, Cash had been tossing his focus around two off-the-wall ventures: number one, a guest performance on U2’s one-of-a-kind Achtung Baby follow-up, Zooropa, and the second, a children’s publication along with a cassette known as The Good, the Bad and the Two Cookie Kid, wherein Cash performs the story of a sweet-toothed pre-teen who takes all of the cookies on the Rio Grande Valley. American Records, his career-rejuvenating recording with Rick Rubin, was still a work in progress at this point. This is possibly why Cash chose to get a hold of this listing and perform “Don’t Take Your Guns to Town,” which was certainly one of his first Top Hits.

From the clip you’ll see below, Letterman presents Cash as “one of the greatest ‘real deals’ in existence.” After that he watches as the Man in Black performs with all of the gravitas and usual swagger that he showed off in the late 1950s, when Cash sang “Don’t Take Your Guns to Town” in the very same place: New York City’s Ed Sullivan Theater. The first time he performed there, he was appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show for the second time. “I was on after either a juggling act or a trained goat. I’m not – I’m not sure which,” Cash explains to Letterman following the performance.

David Letterman, whose last episode of the Late Show was only recently broadcast, had been a longtime admirer of country music. The Late Show with David Letterman featured such musicians as Mary Chapin Carpenter, Jason Isbell, Roseanne Cash, k.d. lang, Justin Townes Earle, Faith Hill, Randy Houser, Jamey Johnson, Dwight Yoakam, Shelby Lynne, Ryan Adams and Sturgill Simpson, and the show got some of these artists’ very first prime-time guestings. Most of those performers came back to the show not too long ago, wanting to pay their respects to the host before he passed the baton to Stephen Colbert.

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