VERSIONS: “Get Rhythm”

Johnny Cash had originally wanted to record gospel songs for Sam Phillip’s Sun Records in Memphis but he only got a record contract when he came back with some rockabilly-style songs he had written. At the time Johnny Cash was backed by The Tennessee Two, Luther Perkins on guitar and Marshall Grant on bass, which gave Cash his early signature sound that was not only popular with country music audiences but also caught the ear of the emerging youth market for what was then called rock & roll. One of Cash’s all-time great tunes, and his first number one single,  was 1956’s ‘I Walk The Line’ which had ‘Get Rhythm’ as the B-side. ‘Get Rhythm’  was re-released in 1969 with simulated crowd noises suggesting a live recording, bringing the song to a new audience. On first hearing, the song appears as a light-hearted dance track that is a perfect example of Cash’s “boom chicka boom” sound, as Cash sings about a shoeshine boy doing the dirtiest job in town who cheers himself up by dancing. In later years, some critics have suggested that the lyrics are racist, but it is more likely that Cash was referencing his own problems with depression and associated addiction and the need for him to have a mechanism for keeping the black dog of depression at bay. ‘Get Rhythm’ is a signature Johnny Cash track on multiple levels, and has proved popular with roots rock artists over the nearly 70 years since it was written.

Johnny Cash (1956)

NRBQ (1978)

NRBQ have been called the best bar band in the world and they have an unbelievable repertoire of original and cover songs. 1978’s ‘NRBQ At Yankee Stadium’ is probably their best studio album with their best line-up and was recorded at Bearsville Studios in upstate New York, the title is just a little band joke for the fans and a birthday present for Yankees fan, bassist Joey Spampinato. The reason this is probably their best album is that they have a great selection of songs and a great live-in-the-studio feel, a feel that captures the energy of their live shows. If anyone doubted that ‘Get Rhythm’ is a rock & roll song, listen to NRBQ’s version.

Ry Cooder (1987)

Ry Cooder has been a lifelong fan of Johnny Cash, covering Cash’s ‘Hey Porter’ on 1972’s ‘Into The Purple Valley’ and touring in 2019 with Roseanne Cash in a tribute to Cash senior. Amongst his various soundtrack albums in the ‘80s, Cooder released his ‘Get Rhythm’ album in 1987. The album was a celebration of rhythm with a backing band that included Flaco Jimenez, Van Dyke Parks, Jim Keltner and the voices of Bobby King, Willie Greene Jr., Terry Evans, and Arnold McCuller. The title track is not only a celebration of Cash the artist, it also enhances the inherent rhythm of the song and includes one of Cooder’s best studio slide breaks.

Martin Belmont (2007)

Martin Belmont has had a long career as a guitar for hire in and around the pub rock genre. Starting out as a roadie for Brinsley Schwarz, he formed Ducks Deluxe in 1972 and subsequently went on to play with Graham Parker as a founding member of The Rumour, Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, John Hiatt, Hank Wangford, My Darling Clementine, and Johnny Cash himself. While Belmont is known for his guitar chops and has only released two solo albums, he recorded his version of ‘Get Rhythm’ on 2007’s ‘Guest List’, where he was joined by various musical friends. It seems only fitting that Americana UK’s celebration of ‘Get Rhythm’ should include a UK version by a leading light of the UK’s pub rock and subsequent roots music scene.

About Martin Johnson 357 Articles
I've been a music obsessive for more years than I care to admit to. Part of my enjoyment from music comes from discovering new sounds and artists while continuing to explore the roots of American 20th century music that has impacted the whole of world culture.
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Rick Bayles

I had never realised this was a Johnny Cash composition! Must pay more attention. Great article Martin, and some great versions of an excellent song.