Late Show with David Letterman band leader Paul Shaffer, moonlighting in his annual turn helming the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony band, calls out the tune: ”This is a song called ‘Big River,’ and it’s in E!” It’s the 1992 induction ceremony, and one of that year’s inductees, Johnny Cash, recorded “Big River” for the Sun label in 1958. The band for which Paul Shaffer called the tune is remarkable in its sheer star power –some fellow 1992 inductees back up Cash, including Booker T. and Steve Cropper of Booker T. and the M.G.’s, Ronald and Marvin Isley of the Isley Brothers and Sam Moore of Sam and Dave. Past and future inductees also round out the band, including John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival (inducted in 1993), Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones (1989), the Edge of U2 (2005), Little Richard (1986), Carlos Santana (1998) and Isaac Hayes (2002). Edgar Winter backs Cash on sax and Aaron Neville of the Neville Brothers makes an appearance on vocals and percussion. Even with so many stars, Johnny Cash and his song outshine the pantheon onstage. “Big River” was the B-side of a two-sided country smash. The A-side, “Ballad of a Teenage Queen,” held onto the Number One spot on the country chart for 10 weeks in 1958, and reached Number 14 on the pop chart. “Big River” reached Number Four on the country chart on its initial release, and even reentered the country chart in 1970, reaching Number 41. The song has been recently re-recorded by neo-traditionalists the Secret Sisters. The Sisters are backed by Jack White of the White Stripes and Raconteurs, who also produced Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Wanda Jackson’s 2011 album, The Party Ain’t Over. Cash’s legacy lives on at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, with his induction ceremony performance, with two songs in the interactive exhibit Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll, with items on display in the Memphis Scenes case in our Cities and Sounds exhibit, and most notably, with the JC Unit One – Cash’s actual tour bus. The bus is parked in front of the Museum and open to the public through September.
WATCH: Johnny Cash performs "Big River" live at the 1992 Hall of Fame inductions