Etta's Tune

Album: The River & the Thread (2014)


  • Rosanne Cash wrote this song with her husband John Leventhal, who also produced and arranged the album The River & the Thread. The song was named for Etta Grant, who was the wife of Johnny Cash's original bass player Marshall Grant, and a lifelong family friend. Etta died on August 7, 2011.

    Rosanne told "He was like a surrogate dad to me, after my dad died. So John and I wrote 'Etta's Tune' shortly after he died. And it was all true [the details in the song's lyrics]. They did keep a house on Nokomis Avenue in Memphis full of their memories. And he did play the bass guitar one last time the day he had an aneurysm."
  • The song starts with the line, "What's the temperature darling?" Rosanne explained to "She (Etta) told me, after Marshall had had the aneurysm, 'We'd wake up every morning of our lives and say, 'What's the temperature darling?'" And I thought, what a practical, solid way to start the day. On all levels, metaphorical and practically. And John said, 'oh my god, that's a great first line for a song.'"
  • This was the first song written for The River & the Thread, and it set the theme for the album. In our interview with Rosanne Cash, she said: "After we wrote that one we said, this is what we're going to do; this is going to be a record about the South, and these people, and these characters, these places, the sense of time travel, the peculiarities of the South."
  • The listener hears Marshall's voice speaking to Etta. Rosanne said: "That line about, 'I traveled for a million miles while you were standing still.' He was on the road for so many years with my dad. You just don't hear about a 65-year marriage surviving the life of a touring musician. And it did."
  • John Paul White of the Civil War accompanies Rosanne on the song, "because we thought he had the sweetness that the song deserved." She added: "But also that kind of…he's powerful, but he's also ephemeral in a way. We thought that was a great combination for that song. I just love the Civil Wars. I've loved them since the first note."


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