July 31

A Warming Yet Painful Elegy, “Far Side Banks of Jordan”

A Warming Yet Painful Elegy, "Far Side Banks of Jordan" 1
Johnny Cash and June Carter/Photo credit: Youtube

They are certainly one of country music’s powerhouse couples and many of their fans continue to love and support their music long after they’re gone. Both country music legends Johnny Cash and June Carter died in 2003 with only four months apart. During their heydays, they recorded numerous hits together and helped considerably shape the classic country music scene with their timeless tunes. Both their music and life as a couple were adorable and much-loved by their fans.

Of their plentiful duet performances, “Far Side Banks of Jordan” can be considered as their perfect theme song. Although Cash’s earlier record Ring of Fire” is essentially talking about them falling in love with each other, “Far Side Banks of Jordan” serves as their vow to each other. Through the song, the couple expresses their commitment to love each other even after death. It’s a declaration of an everlasting love that even death cannot part.

The Sad But Comforting Elegy

Johnny Cash and June Carter first recorded the traditional country song “Far Side Banks of Jordan” in the mid-1970’s. Their duet record appears on Cash’s album The Last Gunfighter Ballad which came out in 1977. Terry Smith, a former school teacher, and an aspiring Nashville country artist wrote the song. When the couple came across the lyrics, they wept and decided to make it as their song. They first played it for Smith while at their vacation home in Jamaica.

Apparently, “Far Side Banks of Jordan” is a parting song to a loved one. As such, the lyrics are filled with emotions. But at the same time, it offers comfort and assurance that such a great love built on earth would stay stronger than death. It underscores what’s more important and that is the everlasting love, itself.

In the record, Carter sang the line “But if it proves to be his will that I am first to cross” which happened exactly in real life. She died in May 2003, four months ahead of Cash. At her funeral service, it has been reported that country musician Larry Gatlin performed “Far Side Banks of Jordan” spontaneously in an a cappella version. As Cash was too sick at that time, he had to attend his wife’s funeral services in a wheelchair.

The thought of his wife’s words as stated in the following verse has certainly comforted Cash during his life’s final moments.

And I’ll be waiting on the far side banks of Jordan
I’ll be sitting drawing pictures in the sand
And when I see you coming, I will rise up with the shout
And come running through the shallow waters, reaching for your hand

Listen to the couple’s beautiful rendition of “Far Side Banks of Jordan” below.

The Song’s Success and Notable Covers

Apart from Cash and Carter, other famed artists had recorded the song and such covers grabbed remarkable honors. In 1995, bluegrass and country music artist Alison Krauss recorded the song with the Cox Family. The album, I Know Who Holds Tomorrow, from which the song was released, won a Grammy Award. Two years later, June Carter also sang the tune with her mother, Maybelle Carter. Their cover which served as the soundtrack to Robert Duval’s 1997 movie, The Apostle, also won a Grammy Award. The song’s author Terry Smith wrote on her website how many times the song has already been covered. Accordingly, that’s more than 90 times including Cash and Carter’s 1999 reprisal. This version appeared on Smith’s album Press On which itself a holder of a Grammy Award title.

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Far Side Banks of Jordan, Johnny Cash, June Carter

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