A Look Back At Eric Church’s Bone-Chilling Johnny Cash “Ragged Old Flag” Performance

A person standing in front of a flag

Happy 4th of July.

It’s that time of year again where we break out the patriotic country hits. A little Lee Greenwood, maybe a little Toby Keith, NOT Martina McBride (“Independence Day” is about domestic abuse people).

But for my money, Johnny Cash’s “Ragged Old Flag” is as powerful as it gets.

Written by Cash himself, “Ragged Old Flag” was released in 1974, a cut from his album of the same name. It was released amid the Watergate scandal involving President Nixon as a means to “reaffirm faith in the country and the goodness of the American people,” according Robert Hilburn’s Johnny Cash biography.

And during last year’s ACM Awards, Eric Church took the opportunity to introduce his new single at the time, “Stick That In Your Country Song” with a bone-chilling “Ragged Old Flag” intro.

And today being the 4th of July, what better time to revisit the spirited performance.

And as it turns out, that performance almost didn’t happen. The Johnny Cash Estate is VERY particular about who gets to use Johnny’s music.

“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.”

So Eric wrote a letter to John and Roseanne Cash explaining his idea for the performance. And while he won’t share its exact contents, he 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, Eric got 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.”

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