Johnny Cash's final album with noted producer Rick Rubin will most likely include an emotional, newly recorded version of country star Larry Gatlin's "Help Me." Previewed for Billboard.com by Rubin, t
Johnny Cash's final album with noted producer Rick Rubin will most likely include an emotional, newly recorded version of country star Larry Gatlin's "Help Me." Previewed for Billboard.com by Rubin, the stripped-down, acoustic track proves a heart-wrenching listen, as it finds Cash -- just a few months before his death -- asking God for more time on Earth and wrestling with life after the May death of his wife and longtime singing partner, June Carter.
He sings, "Lord, help me walk another mile, just one more mile/I'm tired of walkin' all alone/Lord, help me smile another smile, just one more smile/I know I just can't make it on my own/I never thought I needed help before/I thought that I could do things by myself/Now I know I just can't take it any more/With a humble heart, on bended knee/I'm beggin' you, please, for help."
One of between 40 and 50 songs Cash and Rubin had prepared for what was to be their fifth album together, "Help Me" was performed by Gatlin at Carter's funeral in June. Gatlin tells Billboard.com that just days before Carter's death, she whispered into her husband's ear and asked him to make sure that the Gatlin Brothers perform the song at her funeral.
"The first time I heard it, it freaked me out and made me cry," says Rubin. "It's amazingly personal and revealing and intimate. And for an artist to go there, it's a shocking thing to see. It's kind of what music's all about. We just don't get to hear it so often, something so revelatory as that."
A pallbearer at Cash's funeral, Gatlin adds, "It was doubly poignant for me, under the circumstances of knowing that the man didn't have long to live, that he chose one of my songs as one of the last he would record."
In the early '70s, Cash issued a more elaborate, string-laden version of the song, which has been recorded by the Gatlin Brothers, as well as Elvis Presley and longtime Cash friend and collaborator Kris Kristofferson. This version is sparse and features Cash singing while strumming an acoustic guitar.
Gatlin says he visited Cash at home in Hendersonville, Tenn., the day the new version was recorded. Before he left, Cash told him, "I do not understand death, but I do not fear it."
"I think he knew even then that his days were numbered," Gatlin says. "He knew his health was not good. And I think he missed that dear woman. I think he died of a broken heart."
On Monday, Gatlin appeared at an all-star tribute to Cash at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. During the show, he performed "A Man Can't Live With a Broken Heart Too Long," a song he wrote about Cash on the morning of Sept. 12, when he died at age 71.
Apart from "Help Me," Rubin says it's tough to tell at this point what's going to make he and Cash's final studio album. In addition to a number of rock projects, including forthcoming albums from Weezer and Slipknot, Rubin has been busy preparing the lavish, five-disc Cash box set "Unearthed" for a Nov. 25 release on American Recordings/Lost Highway.
As first tipped here, "Unearthed" will feature four CDs of previously unissued outtakes from the sessions for Cash and Rubin's first four American titles. The fifth disc is a collection of the best work from those four albums. None of the aforementioned 40-50 songs appear on "Unearthed."