Collaborative Genius, Crossing Musical Divides with Rick Rubin and Johnny Cash and others

Collaborate, (intransitive verb), to work jointly with others or together especially in an intellectual endeavor – Source: Merriam

Rick Rubin stands out as a definitive collaborative force in the music industry. Take a look at his production discography listed by decade on wikipedia. You will be blown away by the sheer depth of his creative contributions. He has acquired seven Grammy Awards.

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One of my favorite collaborations Rick Rubin produced was the song “Walk This Way” by Aerosmith and Run-D.M.C. in 1986. How he heard in his head the combination of Aerosmith’s licks with Run-D.M.C’s hip-hop, I’ll never know. I am thankful he pushed for that collaboration. The mix is total genius and never fails to move me when I hear it. The song is often credited as helping rap crossover into mainstream pop music. It was the first rap song to hit the Top 5 in Billboard’s Hot 100 chart.

Switching gears and music genres, my thoughts turn next to the library of work by Johnny Cash. It seemed only fitting that an intersection of collaboration took place between Rick Rubin and Johnny Cash with the American Recordings series.

I first saw the results of Johnny Cash’s music collaborative prowess with Bob Dylan.

It was Johnny Cash who stood up for Bob Dylan when he was under attack by music critics and the public by introducing electric music at the Newport Folk Festival. Their collaboration took on momentum when they were recording at studios next to each other in Nashville, Tennessee.

This resulted in the Cash/Dylan duet “Girl From The North Country” that opens Dylan’s Nashville Skyline. 

File:NashvilleSkyline.jpg When Johnny Cash was given a TV variety show on ABC Television, he asked Bob Dylan to be his first musical guest on the show. The first Johnny Cash Show on June 17, 1969 turned out as a phenomenal promotional platform for Nashville Skyline as Dylan did “I Threw It All Away” and together they performed “Girl From the North Country”. The magnetic camaraderie between Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash came across that television screen with universal appeal.


When Cash died on September 12, 2003, Rolling Stone magazine asked Dylan for a statement. In an essay called “Cash Is King,” Dylan wrote, “In plain terms, Johnny was and is the North Star; you could guide your ship by him—the greatest of the greats then and now… Truly he is what the land and country is all about, the heart and soul of it personified and what it means to be here; and he said it all in plain English. I think we can have recollections of him, but we can’t define him any more than we can define a fountain of truth, light and beauty.”

Before Johnny Cash left this life he did a series of collaborations with Rick Rubin. The recordings stand up distinctly. They further point out the insightful visionary zen that Rick Rubin has going for him. Johnny Cash took risks that delivered significant rewards on these recordings.


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