My Moment with Johnny Cash
Tim Brooks interview with Johnny Cash at Dartmouth College, Hanover, N.H.,
Engineer: Ted Gerbracht. Time: 4:49
As an undergraduate at Dartmouth College in the 1960s I spent a lot of time working at the campus radio station, WDCR-AM. One day a taping for the ABC television series Hootenanny was scheduled to take place in Webster Hall, starring none other than Johnny Cash, and engineer Ted Gerbracht and I were assigned to lug a heavy Ampex reel-to-reel “portable” (they must have been joking) tape recorder to the auditorium and get an interview. We arrived during rehearsal, I introduced myself to those in charge, and patiently waited to be called backstage. And waited. And waited.
As showtime drew near panic began to set in. Finally we decided to slip backstage, lugging the beast down the narrow stairs and past several cramped dressing rooms, until Johnny’s unmistakable voice was heard. An assistant blocked his door, but Johnny, who was having his makeup done, overheard the commotion and told him to let the kids in. He was occupied, people were buzzing around him, showtime was less than ten minutes away, but could he possibly do a short interview with two students for the campus station? Why sure. Then when we tried to set up the monstrous Ampex the power cord wouldn’t reach from the electrical outlet in the hall to the makeup table where he was sitting.
No problem. Johnny moved his chair into the doorway while the makeup people continued to work on him, bent over and gave me the friendliest interview I’d ever had. At one point he hollered, “Hey Juuune!” and over came June Carter, who I hadn’t even noticed in the room.
Miraculously the interview has survived all these years, on a little three-inch reel-to-reel tape. I apologize in advance for the bland questions, and my breathless kid-in-a-candy store delivery, but I thought it might be nice to hear again the voice of someone who not only became a music legend, but was one of the most considerate men I ever met, in the early days of his career.