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Wanted Man: Cash & Dylan

Updated on October 27, 2013
"Last week in Nashville, Bob
 Dylan, one of the top
 writers. . .well, I don't 
 have to tell you who Bob
 Dylan is--the greatest 
 writer of our time was at 
 our house. He and I sat down
 and wrote a song together."
    ~Johnny Cash, 1969~ 

Road Trip

It was nighttime in the last week of March 1970 when I first heard Wanted Man. Pain had become a constant companion. My legs were on fire.

I was in traction, laying flat on my back at a slight angle, with my feet elevated. The weights hanging at the foot of the bed were supposed to be adjusting my hip sockets in preparation for surgery.

The left hip was broken; the right hip had issues that’d require it to be pinned for a period of time. Both legs were wrapped in heavy adhesive tape that was causing an inflammation. The skin was extremely itchy, crawling with prickly tentacles.

The darkness of the night was conjuring lonesome feelings. I was sequestered in a two-bed cell, unable to sleep. The curtain between the beds was closed.

A radio—tuned to 1470 CHOW—was on the pillow pressed up against an ear. CHOW had a country format, with some rock sprinkled in from time to time. The midnight to six disc jockey had a bit of an edge, and I was soaking in an education.

He teased the next song, saying something about Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan, and then went to an advertising jingle. My ears pricked up in anticipation. The previous summer and fall, as a thirteen year old who’d recently acquired a nasty limp, I’d discovered Big John Cash and Bob Dylan for myself.

I didn’t know it then, but Cash and Dylan were destined to become entrenched in my life. There’ve been times when their words and music spoke to me in ways that were surreal. My most intense spiritual insights have often come while listening to one or the other of them.

That night at the Welland County General Hospital, the disc jockey returned from commercial and said two words twice: “Wanted Man, Wanted Man.”

The strains of a raw sounding guitar filled my ears and took me faraway. For a few moments the stabbing pain across my hips was gone; the insidious itching racing up and down my legs was silenced. The isolation and sense of loss got smothered by a three-minute record; fear of the future was swallowed whole.

I was no longer trapped in a bed with railings or stuck inside of pain. The hospital room faded away into nothingness. I was out on the open road with Big John Cash, getting chased down by a posse or some such thing.

California, Buffalo, Kansas City, Ohio, Mississippi, Cheyenne—these were the first stops on the journey. A latent wanderlust was alive and well in me, ignited by that singularly robust baritone voice singing a story that hinted at danger.

We headed to Colorado, and then Georgia. I heard about being a wanted man by Lucy Watson, Jeannie Brown, and Nellie Johnson. Snapshot reflections of Bonnie, Judy, and Sylvia flickered through my mind.

Being fourteen years old—broken hip or no broken hip—wild hormones were a hopping. Bonnie, Judy, Sylvia—classmates with pretty eyes and budding curves had each engaged in innocent flirtations with me, which was enough to jack the blood temperature up a few degrees.

Cash brought me back to the road trip. We got sidetracked in El Paso. A wrong turn was made in Juarez due to distractions caused by Juanita. Then it was on to Shreveport and Abilene. Albuquerque, Syracuse, Tallahassee, and Baton Rouge all got lost in the rearview mirror.

My eyes were closed. Imagination sketched outlines of these exotic sounding places, all of which, with the exception of Buffalo, I’d never visited. When the song ended, I clicked the radio off and replayed the lyrics over in my head.

That was the only instance during my six-month incarceration that I heard the song, but it was enough; it burned itself into my psyche. Mostly I kept it to myself; a jewel on the private juke-box in my mind. It always speaks to me about wandering, brokenness, sin, and redemption, a.k.a. the stuff of life.

 "Hey Babe, do you remember,
  back in 1969? We gathered
  around the room; you sang
  yours and I sang my mine.
  We took turns with the
  guitar in the front and
  centre seat. Shel and Kris
  and Dylan, and a couple off
  the street. Joni Mitchell
  cried on Both Sides Now.
  We sang songs that made a
  difference and we can
  again somehow." 
       ~Johnny Cash~

 

Celebrated Gathering

It was a get-together at Johnny and June’s house in Nashville. The air must’ve been electric with creative energy—it evidently became a force that couldn’t be stopped or even slowed down. 

Cash’s Songs That Made A Difference was written about that night. Dylan mentions the celebrated gathering in his book Chronicles, Volume One.

We can surmise that it was a mid-February night. At San Quentin was recorded on February 24, 1969—on it Cash introduces Wanted Man by saying that “last week in Nashville, Bob Dylan. . .”  

Also, at that San Quentin concert, Cash performed A Boy Named Sue for the first time, cracking wise about being anxious to hear how it’d sound. A Boy Named Sue was written by Shel Silverstein. 

Shel is mentioned in the first verse of Songs That Made A Difference. My best investigative guess is that Silverstein introduced Cash to A Boy Named Sue during the course of that storied evening. What other musical diamonds were presented or polished in that circle?  

Did Cash and Dylan sit off in the corner and compose Wanted Man? Was it the wee-hours of the morning? Had the party broken up? Had the house emptied out, leaving the two legends alone? Was Dylan an overnight guest? Was it the next day that they lined out the rhythm and rhymes?

The answers to those questions are all unknown to me. Whatever the circumstance, when Cash and Dylan got together to share their craft, the result was a song for the ages.

"Mother thinks the road is
 long and lonely
 Little brother thinks the
 road is straight and fine
 Little darlin' thinks the
 road is soft and lovely
 I'm thankful that ole road's
 a friend of mine."
   ~Townes Van Zandt~

 "I'll bid the years goodbye,
  you cannot steal them
  You cannot turn the circles
  of the sun
  You cannot count the miles
  until you feel them
  You cannot hold a lover
  that is gone."
    ~Townes Van Zandt~

Years & Miles

Fast forward more years and miles than I can enumerate. Anita and I were traveling across Ohio with our granddaughters in the backseat. Zoe Grace was eleven years old, Jessica Noel eight. At San Quentin was on the CD player.

Driving along familiar roads a part of my brain crawled into the music. It mattered not that each song was well known to me. At every new listening there’s a memory or story unleashed that keeps me focused on it.

“Grandpa,” Zoe said, breaking into my daydream.

“Yeah, honey.”

“Play that one again.”

“What one?” I asked, blanking out.

“Wanted Man.”

“Yeah, play it again,” Jessica piped up, giggling a bit.

I frowned over a shoulder at them. “What? Why?”

“I want to count the places we’ve been together,” Jessica replied, grinning wide.

“Me too,” Zoe said with a nod.

I replayed it. And then again. The four of us laughed. We hadn’t been to all those places yet, but several of them and one never knows where the road will lead because while we're still breathing, it really does go on forever.

Ever-present Reality

The song Wanted Man made a difference in my life. It was a companion during a crooked piece of time when trauma was shaping me, changing me. It has popped up here and there along the way, always touching me in ways that are deeply personal and impossible to define or explain.

Age, years, miles, heartaches, and far too many forced goodbyes have all taken their chisel to my soul and perspective. The package deal of life has the good, bad, and ugly for everyone, and no one escapes alive.

Wanted Man still gets plenty of airplay in my life. Ultimately it reminds me that I am a wanted man—that we’re all wanted men and women—who are being tracked down by that grim-faced outlaw whose sole motivation is to steal, kill, and destroy. Death is trailing us.

What do we do with that ever-present reality? For me, it means that I seek to live significantly, driven by a desire to leave footsteps for others to learn from—to speak and write words that make a difference.

In conclusion—and with all of this in mind—Wanted Man is my website. The intention is for it to be the clearing house and launching pad for all writing and ministry efforts.The link is below—everyone is cordially invited to visit. All feedback will be greatly appreciated.

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    • Wayne Brown profile image

      Wayne Brown 6 years ago from Texas

      Ken...that's a nice piece of writing about a subject that I like a lot. If I had ten wishes, I think one would be to spend an evening with Cash just talking and maybe singing a little. Cash put his hand out to Bob Dylan when no one knew Dylan and the few that did thought him too weird for the music business. Cash looked at him differently. He saw the writer, the poet, sage and teller of stories. He didn't see a musical box that the man had to fit into to be great. Dylan never forgot that and in a tribute performed for Cash before his death, Dylan introduced his song with "This one is for you Johnny when you knew me way back when". As great as Dylan is and Cash as well, I could feel the bond between the two as just plain folk. Rodney Crowell, a former son-in-law of Cash's (married Roseanne)said that the first time he met Cash it was pretty cold as Cash did not look at him as being good enough for his daughter. He took one look at Rodney as he shook hands and said, "Boy, I don't know you well enough to miss you when you're gone". Even in that moment, you could almost hear a song. To this day, I still remember where I stood the first time I heard Cash sing. It was "Ring Of Fire" and I have been a fan ever since. Thanks for a great hub! WB

    • RevLady profile image

      RevLady 6 years ago from Lantana, Florida

      This hub reminded me of how God uses the gifts and talents of His people to minister to the needs of His other children. How marvelous that the inspiration you received from Cash made a big difference in your life. That is so special and meaningful.

      Your wanted man site is awesome. I have bookmarked it.

      Love and hugs dear friend.

      Forever His,

    • profile image

      JANICE 6 years ago

      KEN YOU TALK ABOUT " A DESIRE TO LEAVE FOOTSTEPS FOR OTHERS TO LEARN FROM" REMEMBER THE WORDS MOM ALWAYS TOLD US

      "YOUR FOOTSTEPS LIE BEFORE YOU LIKE A PATH OF DRIVEN SNOW, BE CAREFUL HOW YOU TREAD THEM FOR EVERY MARK WILL SHOW" IT

      TOOK SOME OF US A LOT OF YEARS TO LEARN WHAT THAT MEANT. AND I HOPE YOU REMEMBER WHAT HER WORDS TO YOU WERE FROM ME ON THE DAY OF HER FUNERAL. I THINK OF THEM EVERYDAY. ESPECIALLY YOURS. AND ESPECIALLY THE DAY YOU WROTE HER TRIBUTE I WISH I COULD HAVE SAID MORE FROM HER TO ALL OF YOU. MISS YOU MISS TALKING TO YOU LONG DISTANCE IS NO GOOD

    • Ken R. Abell profile image
      Author

      Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD

      Wayne - Thanks for dropping in. I appreciate your memories. I'd heard that story of Cash meeting Crowell. That is such a great line. Thanks for sharing your memories.

    • Ken R. Abell profile image
      Author

      Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD

      RevLady - Thank you for your thoughtful observations. Really makes me think. And thanks for checking out the Wanted Man site & bookmarking it. Blessings.

    • Ken R. Abell profile image
      Author

      Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD

      Janice - Thank you. I remember Mom's words. And yeah, long distance doesn't quite cut it--not like sitting around the kitchen table eating fish sticks at 3:00 in the morning.

    • profile image

      Pachuca213 6 years ago

      Wonderful hub....I love Johnny Cash. Its quite amazing how a certain song or event in one's life can influence them for the rest of their life. Thank you for sharing this.

    • Ken R. Abell profile image
      Author

      Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD

      Pachuca213 - You're welcome. Thank you for stopping in & sharing. Glad you enjoyed it.

    • carolina muscle profile image

      carolina muscle 6 years ago from Charlotte, North Carolina

      I enjoyed this.. a nice tribute!!!

    • Ken R. Abell profile image
      Author

      Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD

      Thank you, carolina muscle. Glad you enjoyed it.

    • Dave Mathews profile image

      Dave Mathews 6 years ago from NORTH YORK,ONTARIO,CANADA

      Two marvellous singers and composers, who have made their place in stardom,with great music.

      Bro Dave.

    • breakfastpop profile image

      breakfastpop 6 years ago

      I really enjoyed this hub, Ken. Cash and Dylan are musical giants.

    • Ken R. Abell profile image
      Author

      Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD

      Dave - Thanks for stopping in & sharing.

    • Ken R. Abell profile image
      Author

      Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD

      breakfastpop - Thank you. Glad you enjoyed it. Blessings.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 6 years ago from United States

      Ken, I really liked this hub. I think you are doing exactly what you desire, "seek to live significantly, driven by a desire to leave footsteps for others to learn from—to speak and write words that make a difference." And I might add doing it very well. God Bless

    • Tom Cornett profile image

      Tom Cornett 6 years ago from Ohio

      Great story and great writing. Two of my favorite songwriters. Thanks.

    • Ken R. Abell profile image
      Author

      Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD

      Pamela - Thank you. Your kind words are quite encouraging. Peace & blessings.

    • Ken R. Abell profile image
      Author

      Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD

      Tom - Thank you. My favorite ones too. Peace.

    • Stan Fletcher profile image

      Stan Fletcher 6 years ago from Nashville, TN

      Ken, this was great. I'm constantly amazed at how moving and powerful music can be. And to have a song 'follow' us through our lives gives us feelings that are almost beyond description. There is something about these two men that enables them to stamp a song directly onto your heart the first time you hear it. That's what sets apart the greats from the rest. Great hub!

    • Ken R. Abell profile image
      Author

      Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD

      Stan - Thank you. Your words are much appreciated.

    • Ann Nonymous profile image

      Ann Nonymous 6 years ago from Virginia

      What a unique story! I loved reading it and am blessed to have read it as well! GREAT job, ken!

    • sunflowerbucky profile image

      sunflowerbucky 6 years ago from Small Town, USA

      I loved this hub! The way you were able to describe this young man's pain and the incredible way that music spoke to his soul is truly inspiring!

    • Ken R. Abell profile image
      Author

      Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD

      Ann Nonymous - Thank you. Your words are a blessing to me. Much appreciated.

    • Ken R. Abell profile image
      Author

      Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD

      sunflowerbucky - Thank you. I'm glad you liked it & found it inspiring.

    • Kaie Arwen profile image

      Kaie Arwen 6 years ago

      This was great, and I will make my way over to the website. Music does have a way of taking us AWAY, and certain artists or genres inevitably parallel our lives; they draw us in............

      Beautiful, inspirational story............ loved it!

      Kaie

    • Ken R. Abell profile image
      Author

      Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD

      Kaie Arwen - Thank you so much for your kind words. Much appreciated. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

    • Momma Mia profile image

      Momma Mia 6 years ago from North Carolina

      Very Touching.......You are also blessed to have so much talent within your writings.....

      Thanks for sharing

      Mia

    • Ken R. Abell profile image
      Author

      Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD

      Momma Mia - Thank you so much for your kind & generous words. Much appreciated.

    • tony0724 profile image

      tony0724 6 years ago from san diego calif

      Ken great piece of writing here. I pushed the thumbs up button for sure ! As you well know the Man In Black and Bob Dylan are two of my personal favorites . Great Job !!!

    • Ken R. Abell profile image
      Author

      Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD

      tony0724 - Thanks. Glad you liked it. I had a lot of fun remembering & writing it.

    • H.C Porter profile image

      Holly 6 years ago from Lone Star State

      This was wonderful- it is amazing how powerful music can be. It is funny how a song can find you at the perfect moment to help you to relate to your circumstance or escape from them. And the fact that you wrote this hub around Cash and Dylan...well, you know my feelings on that :) Great Hub! Rated Up for sure :)

    • Ken R. Abell profile image
      Author

      Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD

      HC - Thanks. Figured you'd enjoy it. Glad you did. Yeah, for me music is amazing. I can chart my life by songs.

    • kathy little wolf profile image

      Little Wolf 6 years ago from Dusty Trails, Arkansas

      what a great hub!!! love Cash and Dylan!!! neither got the recognition due them until later in life...you had a tough time of it my friend as young boy/man...but this is proof how important music is in our life's!! thank you for sharing this with all of us, I for one truly enjoyed it!!

      klw

    • Ken R. Abell profile image
      Author

      Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD

      klw - Thank you for stopping in & sharing. Glad you enjoyed it. Your comments are much appreciated.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      I also like "Wanted Man". I have heard Johnnie Cash since the days of "Teen-age Queen" and like most of his work. I have never had to reverence for Dylan that some friends of mine had, but I recognize his genius. At least on of my friends could not quite believe that Dylan and Cash were friends and that Cash had paid respect to Dylan by giving him his guitar/

    • Ken R. Abell profile image
      Author

      Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD

      dahoglund - Thanks for stopping in & sharing memories. I think it was at the 1963 Newport Folk Festival that Cash gave Dylan a guitar.

    • 50 Caliber profile image

      50 Caliber 6 years ago from Arizona

      Ken, a fine presentation of Big John and a taste of Dylan, both have works engraved in my brain. Wanted Man played on armed forces radio. We didn't get much press on things state side. I just remember laying up in a bunker and hearing it. I guess it was a week and one of the guys got it figured out and it was being played and sung in the bunkers over beers and other stuff if it was available. I liked this hub and a big thumbs up as well as putting it on stumble. Thanks

    • Will Say Plenty profile image

      Will Say Plenty 6 years ago from America: Home Of The Free

      Wow! Another Cash and Dylan fan! I knew H.C. would like this one! (I hope you saw the wsp2469 piece on the lost Cash and Dylan album before the account was banned!)

    • Ken R. Abell profile image
      Author

      Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD

      Thanks, Dusty. Glad you enjoyed it.

    • Ken R. Abell profile image
      Author

      Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD

      Will Say Plenty - Thanks, man. Yeah, I did see the piece. I might've even commented on it.

    • Cari Jean profile image

      Cari Jean 6 years ago from Bismarck, ND

      Fantastic Hub - love Johnny Cash and although I'm not partial to Dylan's music - he is a very interesting man - I read his book Chronicles Volume I and learned a lot about him.

    • Ken R. Abell profile image
      Author

      Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD

      Cari Jean - Thank you so much. Glad you stopped in & shared. Blessings.

    • earnestshub profile image

      earnestshub 6 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      A big fan of Cash and Dylan here! Thank you for this great hub about these exceptional musicians. Even I can play guitar and mouth organ better than Dylan can, and yet somehow the music he makes are masterpieces when put together with his not too wonderful voice!

      As a story teller both have few peers, and the great poet Bob Dylan becomes the great musician through this ability to join and match what would otherwise be ordinary sounds. Pure genius!

    • Ken R. Abell profile image
      Author

      Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD

      earnestshub - Thanks for visiting & sharing comments. I think you hit the nail on the head: "Pure genius!"

    • ethel smith profile image

      Eileen Kersey 6 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

      Have liked both Dylan and Cash for years. We still play San Quentin. Its funny isn't it how certain musc brings forth certain memories often long forhotten

    • Ken R. Abell profile image
      Author

      Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD

      Ethel - Thanks for stopping in & sharing. Glad you enjoyed it. And yes it is funny how music works with memories.

    • SummerSteward profile image

      SummerSteward 6 years ago from Duluth MN

      Loved this hub, greatly written, the words flowed and the emotions from your personal experience was wonderful. It's a beautiful tribute to great musicians. How lucky they to have found a fan in you. I brought Chronicles, Volume One last night, and plan on reading it soon. Cheers to another great hub!

    • Ken R. Abell profile image
      Author

      Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD

      Thanks, Summer. Always good to see you. I think you'll enjoy Chronicles, Volume One. I wish he'd get around to writing volume two. :>)

    • Micky Dee profile image

      Micky Dee 6 years ago

      Great write Ken. Great people with great thoughts in music! Thanks for putting this together!

    • Ken R. Abell profile image
      Author

      Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD

      Micky Dee - You're welcome. Thanks for stopping in & sharing.

    • figment profile image

      Karli Duran 6 years ago from Texas

      Great hub. So well written!

    • Ken R. Abell profile image
      Author

      Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD

      figment - Thank you for your encouragement. Much appreciated.

    • profile image

      Jörgen Klimpe 6 years ago

      Great story of a great couple and a great song!

      My dad gave me a copy of San Quentin when I was 5 or 6. My dad being of English origin and a truckdriver by profession I guess it was no surprise. This being Sweden in the mid 70´s, Cash was equal to Elvis to some people and completely unknown to some. The song Wanted Man caught me instantly and eventually introduced me to Dylan. I'm so happy that I got to see Johnny on his European tour 1994. People and artists don't come grater than that!

      Thanks for trip through your pangs aswell.

      Reading that touches!

      /Jörgen

    • profile image

      Jörgen Klimpe 6 years ago

      One thing I've always wondered.

      Did Dylan ever record the song himself or performed it live?

      Does anyone know?

      Thanks again!

    • Ken R. Abell profile image
      Author

      Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD

      Jörgen Klimpe - Thanks for stopping in & sharing good memories. If Dylan ever recorded it, I've never been able to find it---maybe he's done it live. It'd be great to hear how he'd interpret the song.

    • SamboRambo profile image

      Samuel E. Richardson 6 years ago from Salt Lake City, Utah

      I enjoyed this, and I like Johnny Cash.

    • Ken R. Abell profile image
      Author

      Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD

      SamboRambo - Glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for stopping in.

    • Mike's Corner profile image

      Mike's Corner 6 years ago from Maryland

      Great story, Ken, thanks for sharing. Always one of my favorite JC songs, too.

    • Ken R. Abell profile image
      Author

      Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD

      Mike's Corner - You're welcome. Thank you for stopping in & sharing. Much appreciated.

    • Fluffy77 profile image

      Fluffy77 5 years ago from Enterprise, OR

      So glad to see somebody writing about our histories greatest musical artist in such a respectful manor. Love this!

    • Ken R. Abell profile image
      Author

      Ken R. Abell 5 years ago from ON THE ROAD

      Fluffy77 - Thanks for stopping in. I'm glad you enjoyed the visit.

    • agilitymach profile image

      agilitymach 4 years ago

      I interviewed Johnny Cash around 1990 when I was a reporter for a small town daily paper. What a great memory. :) Loved your hub.

    • Ken R. Abell profile image
      Author

      Ken R. Abell 4 years ago from ON THE ROAD

      WOW. That would be a great memory. Thanks for stopping in & sharing.

    • profile image

      Casimiro 4 years ago

      Oh man, that was some good readin'. Had to stop halfway and go listen to a few duets by that unlikely pair of complementary geniuses! Thanks for the trip!

    • Ken R. Abell profile image
      Author

      Ken R. Abell 4 years ago from ON THE ROAD

      Casimiro - You're welcome. Thank you.

    • CyberShelley profile image

      Shelley Watson 4 years ago

      Your words are definitely making a difference. Both Johnny Cash and Dylan have added depth to my life. Thanks. Up, interesting and awesome!

    • Ken R. Abell profile image
      Author

      Ken R. Abell 4 years ago from ON THE ROAD

      Thank you, CyberShelley.

    • KathyH profile image

      KathyH 3 years ago from Las Vegas, Nevada

      I got goosebumps when your grand-daughters wanted to hear the song again... music lives on forever even after the brilliant writers and singers have gone on to their reward. Thanks so much for sharing your unique insight into two brilliant musicians! :) I'm sharing this one for sure! :)

    • Ken R. Abell profile image
      Author

      Ken R. Abell 3 years ago from ON THE ROAD

      Thank you, KathyH.

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