By Barry Gilbert
Of the Post-Dispatch

November 13, 2003

  Johnny Cash
June Carter
"Live Recordings From the Louisiana Hayride" (separate CDs)
Scena Records

Johnny Cash and June Carter were recording partners and married partners, distinctive singers of vision and icons of a kind of country music that is long gone from America.

Carter died in May at age 73 and Cash followed in September at 71, and both left new recordings that displayed the age of their voices and the depth of their hearts.So it's a good time to listen to them in their youth, onstage, in these separate CDs culled from the Shreveport, La.-based Hayride archives.

Cash played the Louisiana Hayride, sort of a minor league Grand Ole Opry, at various times from 1955 to 1963.

With guitarist Luther Perkins, bassist Marshall Grant and, when the Tennessee Two became Three, drummer W.S. Holland, Cash honed the boom-chicka-boom rhythm that became his signature.

The Cash CD covers many of his earliest tunes, from the Sun Records-era "Hey, Porter," performed in 1955 at age 23, and "Folsom Prison Blues," through "The Rebel-Johnny Yuma" in 1962, when Cash was a veteran and had been a fixture at Columbia Records for four years.

These 16 tracks - as well as corny intros, station IDs and an onstage plug for Southern Maid Doughnuts - show a confident young man bantering with the audience, joking with his bandmates and exploring the themes of love, God and evil that would characterize his career.

Carter, on her own after performing with her legendary Carter Family, is caught reinventing herself as a comedian.

The routines would make a modern audience wince, but the Shreveport crowd loves it - and the radio audience got to hear some of them several times over the years covered here: 1960, four years after she met Cash, through 1965, three years after she joined his show.

Sprinkled among the cornpone comedy are signature tunes such as her own "Wildwood Flower," songs by A.P. Carter and even Chuck Berry's "Thirty Days."

The final two tracks, from 1965, are duets with Cash on Bob Dylan's "It Ain't Me, Babe," a country hit for the pair a year earlier, and on Cash's Sun-era "Ballad of a Teenage Queen," which also features the Statler Brothers.

It's a welcome look at a fresh-voiced, independent Carter who, by her own loving choice, would become better known as Cash's wife and duet partner ("Jackson") after their marriage in 1968.