Throwback Thrills: Johnny Cash Impersonates Elvis, Hilariously
The world wasn’t always wired to the gills and monitored 24/7, and countless musical milestones have either been lost to time for lack of documentation or buried in the avalanche of stimuli since the internet took off. In our Music History series, Crave touches on some lesser-known tales from music’s past, and now we’re taking it a step further with a new feature, Throwback Thrills – a showcase of video gems lost to time and trend.
Our feature kickoff centers on an understated and fascinating friendship between two of the biggest music icons in history: the legendary Elvis Presley and The Man In Black himself, Johnny Cash. The two rock n’ roll pioneers first crossed paths in 1954, when a young and still relatively unknown Presley played at the opening of a drug store in Memphis Tennessee, two years before the release of his debut album. Cash was in the audience, and after the show met Elvis for the first time, kicking off a mutual admiration between the two musicians.
In his autobiography, Johnny Cash recalled that first meeting in Memphis:
“The first time I saw Elvis, singing from a flatbed truck at a Katz drugstore opening on Lamar Avenue, two or three hundred people, mostly teenage girls, had come out to see him. With just one single to his credit, he sang those two songs over and over. That’s the first time I met him.”
Cash openly admired Presley’s rhythm guitar playing and his showmanship. “Elvis was so good. Every show I did with him, I never missed the chance to stand in the wings and watch,” Johnny explained. “We all did. He was that charismatic.”
This was most evident during a 1959 tour featuring both men. Cash, the opener, would teasingly impersonate Elvis, complete with hip-shaking dance moves and his hair combed forward. Elvis would then come out and do the same, as the two helped form the foundation of the next seven decades of rock n’ roll.
Watch below as Cash does a total goofball take on Elvis’ hit “Heartbreak Hotel,” and completely hams it up for the audience – while actually pulling off a damn fine impression. Combing his hair forward, shaking his leg and getting into character, the transformation is both hilarious and fantastic. He struts, shakes his hips (and pretends to throw out his back as a result), flips his hair and, at around 1:20, he burps into the mic.
“If I lose my pants I’ll have to charge you extra to get in next time,” Cash deadpans as the crowd goes wild.
Those looking for more action between Elvis and Johnny should track down the 1956 Million Dollar Quartet recordings, which features the duo’s impromptu jam session with Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis at the Sun Record Studios in Memphis.
Check back next Thursday for the next Throwback Thrills installment. We’re taking this #TBT action and running like hell with it.