It was one of the standout performances of the 2020 ACM Awards.
Eric Church, strumming quietly onstage to Johnny Cash’s “Ragged Old Flag” before launching into a full-throttle, in-your-face performance of his newest single, “Stick That in Your Country Song.” It’s a performance that people are still talking about, and one that will be remembered (and re-watched) for years to come.
And it almost didn’t happen.
In this week’s Country Aircheck Weekly, ACM Awards Executive Producer RAC Clark tells the story of how the performance came together, starting with a work tape that Eric sent him in July featuring the “Ragged Old Flag” intro leading into “Stick That in Your Country Song.” But once they tried to turn that work tape into an ACM performance, they hit a roadblock: They couldn’t get permission to use “Ragged Old Flag.”
“As we got into it, we found the Cash estate and publishers are very protective. No matter how much talking I did trying to get it cleared, it was a corporate wall.”
Clark then suggested that Eric try appealing directly to Johnny Cash’s children. So that’s what he did. Eric wrote a letter to John and Roseanne Cash explaining his idea for the performance. And while he won’t share its exact contents, Clark credits that letter as the reason that they were ultimately able to use “Ragged Old Flag” for the performance.
In addition to getting permission to use Johnny Cash’s performance of the recitation, Clark also had to get some help from an executive at BMG, which controls the publishing rights to “Ragged Old Flag.” And they also worked directly with Johnny Cash’s estate for approval on the images of Cash that were used during the video that played during the intro. As for the recording of Cash that they ultimately used, Clark said that particular performance came from a recitation that Johnny Cash did without instrumentation for a Ralph Emery special that they were able to clean up so that Eric could perform his own acoustic background music.
While there were a lot of moving pieces and quite a few legal hurdles that had to be cleared in order to make the performance happen, ultimately it all came together for one badass moment that won’t soon be forgotten.
As Clark put it:
“There was a lot of sweat equity by a lot of people. Part of my job is to bring these things to life, but this was Eric’s vision. He pushed it over the top, and boy, did he deliver.”