Rosanne Cash Blows Away Johnny Cash Original, 'Tennessee Flat Top Box'

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"Tennessee Flat Top Box," slang for an acoustic guitar, was written by country music icon, Johnny Cash, and revived over 25 years later by his talented fellow country singer and daughter Rosanne. It's a special and rare case in country annals, where an excellent composition by a legend becomes immortal in the hands of their child.

A Johnny Cash Original

Columbia Records issued the man in black's version as a  single in December 1961. The song is about the Texas equivalent of Johnny B. Goode-- a young boy talented enough to dominate his local bar scene and woo young women far and wide. He disappears for a while, with his throngs of female fans "from there to Austin" seeing him next on a national television broadcast. While the lyrics were a product of the times, the galloping acoustic accompaniment sounds more like an old traditional tune. Rosanne Cash thought it was a public domain song, uncovered by someone like Carl Sandburg in decades past, not one of her father's best nods to his guitar-picking forebears.

Although it's not a standard part of the popular Carter-Cash narrative like "Ring of Fire" or "I Walk the Line," the original recording did quite well in its time, reaching 11th on the country charts and cracking the pop charts' top 100. Hank Williams Jr. even had an enjoyable cover of the song in 1970.

Roseanne Cash Furthers The Legend

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Twenty-six years later, the songwriter's daughter gave it new life. Rosanne Cash and her producer, then-husband Rodney Crowell, cut a version for 1987 album King's Record Shop. It became the third of four consecutive chart-topping singles off Rosanne's most critically-acclaimed album.

After Rosanne's version topped the Billboard charts in Feb. 1988, her father took out an ad in the magazine, applauding his once-estranged daughter for taking one of his overlooked compositions to new heights.

With all due respect to Rosanne's talents and contributions to the hit's success, her secret weapon was another second-generation country musician. The late Randy Scruggs, son of Earl Scruggs, nails the acoustic guitar parts, bringing the song's dark-haired little boy to life better than even the original artist.

While the original spoke to a contemporary audience with dreams of making it onto the still-new medium of television as a singer or baseball star, the remake reeks of nostalgia for simpler times in music and society. Rosanne's cover pointed to music less removed from its roots than even the most traditional-sounding songs of 1987. This point becomes more evident when watching the song's music video. Footage from what appears to be rural fiddling contests and guitar pulls capture an older generation keeping those traditions alive for young pickers, not for fame but for the sake of tradition.

'Tennessee Flat Top Box' Lyrics:

In a little cabaret

In a south Texas border town

Sat a boy and his guitar

And the people came from all around

And all the girls

From there to Austin

Were slippin' away from home

And puttin' jewelry in hock to take the trip

To go and listen

To the little dark-haired boy who played the

Tennessee flat top box

And he would play

Well he couldn't ride or wrangle

And he never cared to make it dime

But give him his guitar

And he'd be happy all the time

And all the girls

From nine to ninety

Were snappin' fingers

Tappin' toes

And beggin' him don't stop

And hypnotized

And fascinated

By the little dark-haired boy who played the

Tennessee flat top box

And he would play

Then one day he was gone

And no one ever saw him 'round

He vanished like the breeze

They forgot him in the little town

But all the girls

Still dreamed about him

And hung around

The cabaret until the doors were locked

And then one day

On the hit parade

Was a little dark-haired boy who played the

Tennessee flat top box

And he would play


This post was originally published on April 25, 2018.

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Rosanne Cash Blows Away Johnny Cash Original, 'Tennessee Flat Top Box'