The Johnny Cash Show premiered on ABC on June 7, 1969. Filmed at the famous Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Cash had been given the show after the success of 1968's At Folsom Prison, and At San Quentin early the following year.
Bob Dylan appeared on the first show, and over the course of two seasons the show hosted dozens of country greats, from Merl Haggard to Hank Williams Jr., Tammy Wynette to Charley Pride. It also hosted a number of country-adjacent stars, musicians for whom Nashville was an influence rather than a natural habitat. Creedence Clearwater Revival appeared during the first season, Neil Young during the second. There were others. Stevie Wonder. Mahalia Jackson. The Carpenters.
And on January 6, 1971, Derek and the Dominos made their one and only TV appearance.
You know the story so far: Eric Clapton falls in love with husband and wife duo Delaney & Bonnie's debut album Home in 1969. When Clapton's supergroup Blind Faith tour the US that summer, Clapton insists that Delaney & Bonnie play support. Clapton stays with Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett when the tour is over, working on his craft. And they play the UK together as Delaney & Bonnie and Friends – a band that also features guitarist Bobby Whitlock, bassist Carl Radle and drummer Jim Gordon.
Clapton heads back to LA to record his debut solo album, then returns home to England, where he's eventually joined by Whitlock, Radle and Gordon. The four spend a few weeks playing music and consuming vast amounts of cocaine and alcohol. They play session men on George Harrison's All Things Must Pass.
And in August 1970 they head to Criteria Studios in Miami to record Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs as Derek and the Dominos. The drink and dug use is still rampant, but for the four musicians – Allman Brothers Band guitarist Duane Allman adds his famous slide guitar – Layla... is an album they'll struggle to match. It's released in November as the band are on tour in the US, when they stop off in Nashville to tape the Johnny Cash Show.
Joining the band backstage are fellow guests are country singer Connie Smith and country duo Homer & Jethro, plus folk musicians Ramblin' Jack Elliott and Erik Anderson. And, if Bobby Whitlock is to believed, enough cocaine to floor a giraffe.
"In the dressing room, which was stage right behind where I was sitting, was a long table," writes Whitlock in A Rock 'n' Roll Autobiography, published in 2010. "We had some blow that we had brought with us to Nashville and right before we went on Eric dumped a big pile of it out on the table and we each did two lines about a foot long."
Whitlock goes on to describe what happens next.
"The crowd had arrived and the place was full. I had flown my family in, Granny Whitlock, my mom, my sister, Aunt Ginger and Uncle Tommy, and they were all sitting in the front row. My dad had no interest in coming and stayed away. The place was packed. And so were we.
"Here I am in front of my family all wired up, and I felt a terrible guilt. Then Johnny Cash came walking out, they were rolling tape, everybody was applauding, he gets up to the microphone, 'Errrm... who’s on speed?' He was all wired up as well. Then he introduces us: “Ladies and Gentlemen, from London, England, Eric Clapton, Jim Gordon, Carl Radle and Bobby Whitlock.'
"And as he’s getting ready to say Derek and the Dominos, I held my hand up like I was in school, and said, “Wait a minute! I’m from Memphis, and my whole family is sitting in the front row, and he’s from Tulsa and he’s from Hollywood.”
"Then the director says 'Cut!' The place was in an uproar. Johnny was laughing. So they had to do a retake. Johnny walks off, comes back on and starts over, 'Ladies and gentlemen, Bobby Whitlock, Jim Gordon, Carl Radle and Eric Clapton. Derek and the Dominos.'”
The band play four songs: It’s Too Late from Layla... (only recorded for the album because the producers of the Johnny Cash Show wanted a country song to audition), Got To Get Better In A Little While – a song intended for the follow-up album that never came – Blues Power from Clapton's solo album, and three versions of Carl Perkins' 1957 single Matchbox, with Johnny Cash and Perkins himself sitting in. It’s Too Late is used on the TV broadcast, as is the pick of the multiple Matchbox recordings.
"It’s a pretty hard task to play a classic rock’n’roll song standing and playing it right next to the person who wrote it," wrote Whitwell. "If Eric was burning that night it was because Carl Perkins lit the fire. He was smoking!"