We know that Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash were friends throughout their incredible lives. But did you know that sometimes they liked to impersonate each other?
First, some backstory before we get to the good stuff. Although they met in 1954, the two officially performed together, Dec. 4, 1956. Elvis dropped by Sun Records in Memphis to visit Sam Phillips. Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis already were in the studio. So was Johnny Cash. They all were young and fresh-faced and on the threshold of something great.
The four got together for an impromptu session as Phillips recorded it. Half the songs they sang were gospel. Almost three decades later, 17 tracks became an album from the “Million Dollar Quartet.” More songs were discovered and repackaged as “Elvis Presley – The Million Dollar Quartet.”
Johnny Cash wrote in his autobiography that during the recording session, he sang in a higher pitch to better harmonize with Elvis.
In 1959, Cash was booked as an opening act with Elvis on a U.S. tour. They liked to impersonate each other while on this tour.
In 1988, 11 years after Elvis died, Johnny Cash lauded his friend.
“The best performer probably was Elvis Presley. I don’t think anybody could touch him,” Cash said in an interview. “I never saw Hank Williams, who was one of my favorites. He died before I ever got to see him.”
“He had a lot of rhythm. He was a very good singer. And he was a fabulous performer in the way he moved the people. When he was 19-years-old, that’s when I toured with him at first. And not only the girls loved Elvis. But every man backstage was standing in the wings watching Elvis. He had that charisma, that magic that a great performer needs to get the people right there.”
So, if you’re supernovas in a musical galaxy, how do you honor your friends? You impersonate them. It really is true. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
DJ Gerry collected some video and audio clips of Elvis and Johnny Cash singing each other’s hits. Cash went all in, combing his hair forward and swiveling his hips to sing “Heartbreak Hotel.” He proclaimed “this is an impersonation of a rock and roll singer impersonating Elvis.” It was fabulous. “Heartbreak Hotel” also was Elvis’ first record to sell more than 1 million copies.
Then Elvis did his Johnny Cash bit at the International Hotel in Las Vegas in August 1969. There is no video with the clip, just audio of Elvis singing the Cash classics “Folsom Prison Blues” and “I Walk the Line.” “Folsom Prison Blues” was on Cash’s debut studio album. And “I Walk the Line” was Cash’s first No. 1 song.