Neil Young Recalls Johnny Cash Hardly Speaking To Him

When you have just crossed the threshold, does it make or break the image of your idol if you don’t get to have a proper chat after bumping into each other? Chatting to your source of inspiration is clearly the better option, but for the 23-year-old Neil Young, even being invited to sing on the Johnny Cash Show in 1971 was more than he could have imagined for himself. Here’s what Young had to say about the experience during a recent chat with Conan O’Brien.

Neil was a youngster who had just released his third album ‘After the Gold Rush,’ when he was invited to perform on the Johnny Cash Show. So when Conan asked whether Cash had been nice to him, the singer replied, “I really like Johnny Cash. I hardly even got to speak to him, but that’s okay; he was busy. It was the Johnny Cash Show. You got to realize in my eyes, doing this – I’m what, 23 years old, and I’m going on a television show.”

Young was more nervous about the performance; he added, “I was petrified, so I was thinking about the song I was going to sing and whether I was going to screw it up or not; that’s all I thought about, so I don’t remember much else about it.” Cash was one of Young’s inspirations that had shaped him since he first heard of the country legend, and one ballad, in particular, always remained one of his picks.

When Conor asked about Cash’s 1958 track ‘Ballad of a Teenage Queen,’ the singer said, “Oh right, in the ’50s there, about the same time as I was talking about ‘The Wayward Wind’ and the other song ‘Four Strong Winds.’ ‘Four Strong Winds’ was after, the ‘Wayward Wind’ was sooner, and this song was sooner than the ‘The Wayward Win’; these are back farther in my life.”

So, ‘Ballad of a Teenage Queen,’ where Cash told the story of a teenage beauty queen, was one of the pieces that inspired Neil Young to tell stories and bring his fans to the world he created. The show impacted Neil’s career in a significant way, as he stayed in Nashville afterward to record his 1972 album ‘Harvest,’ which is still considered by many as his most outstanding work.