Skip to main content
Select Source:

Cash, Johnny

Johnny Cash



Singer, songwriter




Johnny Cash"The Man in Black"has long been known as one of the most influential figures in country music since the 1950s. He has also reached a substantial audience of rock fans, thanks to his outlaw persona, deep, authoritative voice, and dark songs like "Folsom Prison Blues." After enjoying a string of hits in the 1950s and even greater success in the late 1960s, when he was briefly the best-selling recording artist in the world, he saw his edgy, close-to-the-bone style go out of fashion. Even as his 1980s work was neglected, however, he appeared before adoring throngs worldwide. In 1994, well past his sixtieth birthday, he came roaring back with a sparsely recorded album, American Recordings, that ranked among his best work and earned him a Grammy Award. "Can you name anyone in this day and age who is as cool as Johnny Cash?" asked Rolling Stone rhetorically. "No, you can't."


John R. Cash was born into an impoverished Arkansas family in 1932 and grew up working in the cotton fields. His Baptist upbringing meant that the music he heard was almost entirely religious, and the hymns sung by country greats like the Carter Family and Ernest Tubb reached him on the radio and made an indelible impression. "From the time I was a little boy," he recollected to Steve Pond in a 1992 Rolling Stone interview, "I never had any doubt that I was gonna be singing on the radio." His brother Roy formed a band when he was young, increasing John's determination to do the same one day.


Cash had no idea, though, what path would lead him to his destiny. He held a few odd jobs after graduating from Dyess High School in 1950, but eventually opted for a four-year stay in the Air Force. Stationed in Germany, he endured what he would later describe as a lonely, miserable period. Fortunately, he learned to play the guitar and began turning the poetry he'd been writing into song lyrics. After seeing a powerful film about Folsom Prison, he sat down to write what would become one of his signature songs"Folsom Prison Blues." His empathy for prisoners and other marginalized people would consistently inform his work. With his powerful position in a generally conservative musical world, he also championed Native American rights and other social ills.


Cash left the military in 1954 and married Vivian Liberto, whom he met before joining the Air Force; they had corresponded throughout his tour of duty. The two lived in Memphis, Tennessee, and he earned a meager living selling appliances. "I was the worst salesman in the world," Cash confided to Pond. Nonetheless, he summoned the passion to sell himself as a singer, playing with a gospel group and canvassing radio stations for chances to perform on the air.

Made First Recording


Eventually Cash was granted an audience with trail-blazing producer Sam Phillips, at whose Sun Studios the likes of Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and others made recordings that would help change the course of popular music. Phillips was a hard sell, but Cash won the opportunity to record his first single; "Cry, Cry, Cry" became a number 14 hit in 1955, and Cash's group played some local gigs with Presley. Pond describes Cash's early records as "stark, unsettling and totally original. The instrumentation was spare, almost rudimentary," featuring bass and lead guitar supplied by his Tennessee Two and Cash's rhythm guitar, which had "a piece of paper stuck underneath the top frets to give it a scratchy sound."

In 1956 Cash left his sales job and recorded the hits "Folsom Prison Blues"containing the legendary and much-quoted lyric "I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die"and "I Walk the Line." The next year saw the release of the one album released by Sun before his departure from the label, Johnny Cash With His Hot & Blue Guitar. He and the Tennessee Two left the label after a string of hits and signed with CBS/Columbia Records in 1958. Singles he recorded on Sun at Phillips's insistence just before his contract lapsed continued to chart for years afterward, much to Cash's chagrin. Yet he charted on CBS as well with a bevy of singles and such albums as Blood, Sweat and Tears and Ring of Fire.


Rehabilitation


In the midst of his success, however, Cash grew apart from Vivian and their children. He grew dependent on drink and drugs and became increasingly dissolute. Such misery no doubt contributed force to such work as 1963's "Ring of Fire," which was cowritten by June Carter, who also performed on the track. Cash and Carterof the famed Carter familybecame increasingly close, both professionally and personally. His marriage collapsed in 1966 and he nearly died of an overdose. Cash has long attributed his subsequent rehabilitation to two factors: Carter and God. He and Carter wed in 1968 and later had a son, John.

For the Record . . .


Born John R. Cash on February 26, 1932, in Kingsland, AR; died on September 12, 2003, in Nashville, TN; son of Ray (a farmer) and Carrie (Rivers) Cash; married Vivian Liberto, 1954 (divorced, 1966); married June Carter (a singer-songwriter), 1968; children: (first marriage) Rosanne, Kathy, Cindy, Tara; (second marriage) John Carter.


Worked in auto assembly plant and margarine factory, 1949-50; recorded debut single "Hey Porter"/"Cry, Cry, Cry" for Sun Records, 1955; released debut album Johnny Cash with His Hot & Blue Guitar, 1957; signed with Columbia Records and released Ride This Train, 1960; hosted television program The Johnny Cash Show, 1969-71; wrote autobiography Man in Black and novel Man in White ; signed with Mercury Records and released Johnny Cash Is Coming to Town, 1987; signed to American Recordings and released American Recordings, 1994; released Unchained, 1996; issued box set, Love, God, Murder, 2000; recorded American IV: The Man Comes Around, 2002.


Awards: Grammy Awards: (with June Carter) Best Country and Western Performance Duet, 1967; Best Album Notes, 1968; Best Country Vocal Performance, Male, 1968; Best Country Vocal Performance, Male, 1969; Best Album Notes, 1969; (with June Carter) Best Country Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group, 1970; (with Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, Sam Phillips, Rick Nelson, and Chips Moman) Best Spoken Word or Non-Musical Recording, 1986; Best Contemporary Folk Album, 1994; (with Rick Rubin) Best Country Album, 1997; Best Male Country Vocal Performance, 2000; Best Male Country Vocal Performance, 2002; Best Short Form Music Video, 2003; Country Music Association Awards, Album of the Year, 1968; Single of the Year, 1969; Album of the Year, 1969; (with June Carter-Cash) Vocal Group of the Year, 1969; Male Vocalist of the Year, 1969; Entertainer of the Year, 1969; Single of the Year, 2003; Album of the Year, 2003; Music Video of the Year, 2003; inducted into Country Music Hall of Fame, 1980; inducted into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 1992; Songwriters Guild of America, Aggie Award (highest honor), 1989; National Medal of Honor, 2001.

In any event, Cash expanded his repertoire as the 1960s unfolded, incorporating folk music and protest themes. He recorded songs by folk-rock avatar Bob Dylan and up-and-comers like Kris Kristofferson, but by the end of the decade, driven perhaps by his generally out-of-control life, his hits came largely from novelty songs like Shel Silverstein's "A Boy Named Sue." Even so, by 1969 Cash was the best-selling recording artist alive, outselling even rock legends The Beatles. That year saw him win two Grammy Awards for Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison, a live album for a worshipful audience of prisoners that led, perhaps inevitably, to Johnny Cash at San Quentin. From 1969 to 1971 he hosted a smash variety program for television, The Johnny Cash Show.


The 1970s saw more career triumphs, notably a Grammy-winning duet with Carter on Tim Hardin's "If I Were a Carpenter," a command performance for President Richard Nixon, acting roles in film and on television, a best-selling autobiography, and several more hit albums, including Man in Black, the title of which would become his permanent show business moniker. While this label has been associated with his "outlaw" image, he and his bandmates originally wore black because they had nothing else that matched; besides, as Cash informed Entertainment Weekly, "black is better for church."

In 1980 Cash was inducted into the Country Music Association Hall of Fame. He had become a music hero worldwide, appearing in eastern Europe before the fall of the Soviet empire and praising those who agitated for democracy. Yet during the 1980s, Cash became less and less of a priority for his record label; country music had come to be dominated by younger, pop-inclined artists who favored slick production. He continued to struggle with drugs, eventually checking into the Betty Ford clinic. There, he has said, he experienced a religious epiphany.


New Fame Through Collaborations


Cash wrote a novel, Man in White, about the life of the apostle Paul, and continued indulging his eclectic musical tastes, recording songs by mavericks like Elvis Costello. Alongside Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, and Waylon Jennings, he participated in a collaborative album, The Highwayman. He also joined Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and country-rock giant Roy Orbison for a reunion recording called Class of '55 (Memphis Rock & Roll Homecoming), which enjoyed solid sales. A daughter by his first marriage, Rosanne, became a country star in her own right; Johnny Cash, himself, even as his albums sold poorly, was firmly established as a living legend of country music and a profound influence on rock and roll. In 1992 he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and 1993 saw him contribute a vocal performance to Zooropa, by rock superstars U2.

Yet Cash tired of record-business priorities. "I kept hearing about demographics [market studies of consumers] until it was coming out my ears," the singer told Christopher John Farley of Newsweek. The first label representative who seemed to understand him after this bitter experience was, ironically enough, best known for his work with hardcore rap, metal, and alternative acts. Rick Rubin had founded his own label, first called Def American and later changed to American Recordings, to support acts he believed in. Though not intimately acquainted with his work, he admired the Cash's artistic persona. "I don't see him as a country act," Rubin told Farley. "I would say he embodies rock 'n' roll. He's an outlaw figure, and that is the essence of what rock 'n' roll is."

Rubin's appeal to Cash lay in his idea for a record. After seeing one of the country legend's performances, the producer "said he'd love to hear just me and my guitar," Cash told Los Angeles Times writer Robert Hilburn. These were the words the veteran artist had waited decades to hear; he had suggested such a minimal approach many times to country producers, only to have it vetoed immediately on commercial grounds. Rubin simply set up a tape machine in his Hollywood living room and allowed Cash to do what he does best.

Rubin "was a lot like Sam [Phillips], actually," Cash ventured to Hilburn. "We talked a lot about the approach we were going to take, and he said, 'You know, we are not going to think about time or money. I want you to come out as much as you can." Without such constraintswhich had clipped Cash's wings in his Nashville yearshe was free to experiment with a wide range of material. Recording over 70 songs, mostly at Rubin's house but also at his own cabin in Tennessee and at the trendy Los Angeles nightspot The Viper Room, Cash had a valedictory experience. He later told Time 's Farley that the work was his "dream album."


First American Recording

The material was culled to 13 tracks, including traditional songs, some Cash originals, and compositions by such diverse modern songwriters as Kristofferson, Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, Nick Lowe, Glenn Danzig, and Loudon Wainright III. The leadoff track, "Delia's Gone," grimly describes the murder of a faithless woman; Rubin seemed to invite comparisons between Cash and the controversial metal and rap acts on his label. Titled American Recordings, the album was released in 1994; Johnny Cash was 62 years old. The liner notes contained testimonials from both Rubin and Cash. "I think we made a brutally honest record," the producer declared. "Working with Rick," Cash averred, "all the experimenting, kinda spread me out and expanded my range of material. This is the best I can do as an artist, as a solo artist, this is it."

Critics seemed to agree. Karen Schoemer of Mirabella praised it as "a daring, deceptively simple album" that "operates on a mythic scale, which suits someone who's always been larger than life. What is breathtaking is Cash's ability to analyze his aging self, and the failures, weaknesses, strengths and wisdoms that time bestows." Village Voice critic Doug Simmons praised it as "fiercely intimate," while Rolling Stone 's Anthony DeCurtis called it "unquestionably one of his best albums," one which "will earn him a time of well-deserved distinction in which his work will reach an eager new audience."

While American Recordings didn't take the charts by storm, it restored Johnny Cash's sense of mission. It also earned him a 1995 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Album. He played a sold-out engagement in Los Angeles just before his nomination, before an audience studded with such music stars as Tom Petty, Sheryl Crow, and Dwight Yoakam. And in September of 1996 he played a set at the CMJ Music Marathon in Manhattan, previewing songs from a new album, Unchained, as well as performing cover versions from younger artists such as Beck and Soundgarden.


In later years, health problems caused Cash to limit his touring schedule. He suffered from Shy-Drager's Syndrome, a degenerative nerve disease that can cause blackouts, tremors, muscle stiffness, and made him prone to pneumonia. He was hospitalized with pneumonia twice in 1998 and again in October 1999. Yet, as the 1990s waned and the millennium turned over, Cashapproaching the end of his seventh decadereturned to the recording studio and issued American III: Solitary Man in 2000; the title track from that album won a Grammy for Best Male Country Vocal Performance. Also in 2000 he compiled a three-disc retrospective boxed set, called Love, God, Murder. It was one of more than 100 retrospective packages that had been compiled since the 1950s. Indeed, 1999 alone saw the release of nearly two dozen Cash collections, and that year he was honored also with a lifetime achievement Grammy Award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.


Connected With a Younger Generation


About the prospect of an "eager new audience" Cash himselfwho seriously considered playing at the alternative-rock festival known as Lollapalooza before declining the offerwas philosophical. "I no longer have a grandiose attitude about my music being a powerful force for change," he told Entertainment Weekly. Even so, he allowed, "I think [today's youth] sees the hypocrisy in government, the rotten core of social ills and poverty and prejudice, and I'm not afraid to say that's where the trouble is. A lot of people my age are." One thing remained constant, as he told Rolling Stone : "I feel like if I can just go onstage with my guitar and sing my songs, I can't do no wrong no matter where I am."


Cash continued to reach this new audience with a fourth effort in the American Recordings series, American IV: The Man Comes Around. Once again, the legendary country singer delved into the works of younger artists like Depeche Mode's "Personal Jesus" and the Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt." The latter song also became a popular video, launching the song onto the Modern Rock Tracks chart. The video, directed by Mark Romanek, earned six nominations at the 2003 Music Television (MTV) Awards, and won in the best cinematography category. American IV: The Man Comes Around rose to number two on the Top Country Albums chart and was certified gold in 2003.

Cash's success, however, was mingled with continued health problems and personal tragedy. June Carter Cash, his wife of 35 years, died of complications following heart surgery on May 15, 2003. "After June died," friend Kris Kristofferson told People, "life was a struggle for him. His daughter told me he cried every night." Cash was eager to attend the MTV Awards in August, but had been re-admitted to the hospital due to complications from diabetes. On September 12, 2003, almost four months after the death of his wife, Cash died. A memorial service, held at Hendersonville, North Carolina on September 15, 2003, was attended by friends, family, and his musical peers. "He stood up for the underdogs, the downtrodden, the prisoners, the poor, and he was their champion," Kristofferson told People. "He appealed to people all over the world."



Selected discography

Johnny Cash with His Hot and Blue Guitar, Sun, 1957.

The Fabulous Johnny Cash, Columbia, 1958.

Blood, Sweat and Tears, Columbia, 1963.

Ring of Fire, Columbia, 1963.

I Walk the Line, Columbia, 1964.

Bitter Tears: Ballads of the American Indian, Columbia, 1964.

Orange Blossom Special, Columbia, 1965.

Mean As Hell, Columbia, 1966.

Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison, Columbia, 1968.

The Holy Land, Columbia, 1969.

Johnny Cash at San Quentin, Columbia, 1969.

Show Time with the Tennessee Two, Sun, 1970.

Story Songs of Trains and Rivers with the Tennessee Two, Sun, 1970.

Hello, I'm Johnny Cash, Columbia, 1970.

The World of Johnny Cash, Columbia, 1970.

Singing Storyteller with the Tennessee Two, Sun, 1970.

(With June Carter) Jackson, Columbia, 1970.

Rough Cut King of Country Music, Sun, 1970.

Man in Black, Columbia, 1971.

(With Jerry Lee Lewis) Johnny Cash Sings Hank Williams, Sun, 1971.

A Thing Called Love, Columbia, 1972.

Folsom Prison Blues, Columbia, 1972.

(With Carter)Give My Love to Rose, Harmony, 1972.

America, Columbia, 1972.

Any Old Wind That Blows, Columbia, 1973.

I Walk the Line, Nash, 1973.

(With Carter) Johnny Cash and His Woman, Columbia, 1973.

Ragged Old Flag, Columbia, 1974.

Junkie and Juicehead, Columbia, 1974.

John R. Cash, Columbia, 1975.

Destination Victoria Station, Columbia, 1976.

Strawberry Cake, Columbia, 1976.

One Piece at a Time, Columbia, 1976.

Last Gunfighter Ballad, Columbia, 1977.

The Rambler, Columbia, 1977.

Silver, Columbia, 1979.

A Believer Sings the Truth, Columbia, 1980.

The Baron, Columbia, 1981.

Believe in Him, Columbia, 1986.

Johnny Cash Is Coming to Town, Mercury, 1987.

Water from the Wells of Home, Mercury, 1988.

The Mystery of Life, Mercury, 1991.

American Recordings, American, 1994.

Unchained, American, 1996.

Love, God, Murder, Columbia/Legacy, 2000.

American III: Solitary Man, American, 2000.

American IV: The Man Comes Around, American/Lost Highway, 2002.

At Madison Square Gardens, Columbia, 2002.

Unearthed, American, 2003.



Sources

Books


Rees, Dafydd, and Luke Crampton, Rock Movers & Shakers,

Billboard, 1991.

Periodicals


Entertainment Weekly, February 18, 1994, pp. 57-67.

Hits, May 2, 1994.

Los Angeles Times, April 25, 1994, pp. F1, F5.

Mirabella, July 1994.

People, May 16, 1994; September 29, 2003, p. 78.

Rolling Stone, December 10, 1992, pp. 118-25, 201; May 5, 1994, p. 14; May 19, 1994, pp. 97-98; June 30, 1994, p. 35.

Time, May 9, 1994, pp. 72-74.

Village Voice, May 18, 1994.


Online


"Johnny Cash," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (January 15, 2004).

"Johnny Cash Is Not Dying for You," Simon, http://www.thesimon.com/magazine (January 15, 2004).


Simon Glickman and Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Cash, Johnny." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. 16 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Cash, Johnny." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 16, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/cash-johnny-0

"Cash, Johnny." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved August 16, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/cash-johnny-0

Cash, Johnny

Johnny Cash

Rock band

For the Record

Went to Sun

Inducted into Country Music Association Hall of Fame

American Recordings Wins A Grammy

Selected discography

Sources

Johnny CashThe Man in Blackhas long been known as been one of the most influential figures in country music since the 1950s. He has also reached a substantial audience of rock fans, thanks to his outlaw persona, deep, authoritative voice, and dark songs like Folsom Prison Blues. After enjoying a string of hits in the 1950s and even greater success in the late 1960s, when he was briefly the best-selling recording artist in the world, he saw his edgy, close-to-the-bone style go out of fashion. Even as his 1980s work was neglected, however, he appeared before adoring throngs worldwide. In 1994, well past his sixtieth birthday, he came roaring back with a sparsely recorded album that ranked among his best work and earned him a Grammy Award. Can you name anyone in this day and age who is as cool as Johnny Cash? asked Rolling Stone rhetorically. No, you cant.

J. R. Cash was born into an impoverished Arkansas family in 1932 and grew up working in the cotton fields. His Baptist upbringing meant that the music he heard was almost entirely religious, and the hymns sung by

For the Record

Born J. R. Cash in Kingsland, AR, February 26, 1932; son of Ray (a farmer) and Carrie (Rivers) Cash; married Vivian Liberto, 1954 (divorced 1966); married June Carter (a singer-songwriter), March 1, 1968; children: (first marriage) Rosanne, Kathy, Cindy, Tara; (second marriage) John Carter.

Worked in auto assembly plant and margarine factory, 1949-50; worked in appliance sales, 1954. Singer-songwriter, 1955. Founder of Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Two (featuring bassist Marshall Grant and guitarist Luther Perkins; group later became the Tennessee Three with addition of drummer W.S. Holland), 1955; recorded debut single Hey Porter/Cry, Cry, Cry for Sun Records, 1955; released debut album Johnny Cash with His Hot & Blue Guitar, 1957; signed with Columbia Records and released Ride This Train, 1960; hosted television program The Johnny Cash Show, 1969-71; appeared in film A Gunfight, 1970; produced, cowrote, and narrated documentary film The Gospel Road, 1973; wrote autobiography Man in Black, 1975, and novel Man in White; wrote scores for films The True West, Little Fauss and Big Halsy, and The Pride of Jesse Hallam, among others; signed with Mercury Records and released Johnny Cash Is Coming to Town, 1987; signed to American Recordings and released American Recordings, 1994. Military service: Served in U.S. Air Force, 1950-54.

Awards: Winner or cowinner of eight Grammy Awards; nine Gold Record certifications; six Country Music Association awards, including best male vocalist, entertainer of the year, best single, best album, best vocal group, and outstanding service award; inducted into Country Music Hall of Fame, 1980; inducted into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 1992; won Aggie Award (highest honor) from Songwriters Guild of America, 1989; L.H.D. from National University of San Diego, 1976.

Addresses: Home 711 Summerfield Dr., Hender-sonville, TN 37075. Record company American Recordings, 3500 West Olive, Burbank, CA 91505.

country greats like the Carter Family and Ernest Tubb reached him on the radio and made an indelible impression. From the time I was a little boy, he recollected to Steve Pond in a 1992 Rolling Stone interview, I never had any doubt that I was gonna be singing on the radio. His brother Roy formed a band when he was young, increasing Johns determination to do the same one day.

Cash had no idea, though, what path would lead him to his destiny. He held a few odd jobs after graduating from Dyess High School in 1950, but eventually opted for a four-year stay in the Air Force. Stationed in Germany, he endured what he would later describe as a lonely, miserable period. Fortunately, he learned to play the guitar and began turning the poetry hed been writing into song lyrics. After seeing a powerful film about Folsom Prison, he sat down to write what would become one of his signature songsFolsom Prison Blues. His empathy for prisoners and other marginalized people would consistently inform his work. With his powerful position in a generally conservative musical world, he also championed Native American rights and other social ills.

Cash left the military in 1954 and married Vivian Liberto, whom he met before joining the air force; they had corresponded throughout his tour of duty. The two lived in Memphis, Tennessee, and he earned a meager living selling appliances. I was the worst salesman in the world, Cash confided to Pond. Nonetheless, he summoned the passion to sell himself as a singer, playing with a gospel group and canvassing radio stations for chances to perform on the air.

Went to Sun

Eventually Cash was granted an audience with trailblaz-ing producer Sam Phillips, at whose Sun Studios the likes of Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and others made recordings that would help change the course of popular music. Phillips was a hard sell, but Cash won the opportunity to record his first single; Cry, Cry, Cry became a number 14 hit in 1955, and Cashs group played some local gigs with Presley. Pond describes Cashs early records as stark, unsettling and totally original. The instrumentation was spare, almost rudimentary featuring bass and lead guitar supplied by his Tennessee Two and Cashs rhythm guitar, which had a piece of paper stuck underneath the top frets to give it a scratchy sound.

In 1956 Cash left his sales job and recorded the hits Folsom Prison Blues containing the legendary and much-quoted lyric I shot a man in Reno just to watch him dieand I Walk the Line. The next year saw the release of the one album released by Sun before his departure from the label, Johnny Cash With His Hot & Blue Guitar. He and the Tennessee Two left the label after a string of hits and signed with CBS/Columbia Records in 1958. Singles he recorded on Sun at Phil-lipss insistence just before his contract lapsed continued to chart for years afterward, much to Cashs chagrin. Yet he charted on CBS as well with a bevy of singles and such albums as Blood, Sweat and Tears and Ring of Fire.

In the midst of his success, however, Cash grew apart from Vivian and their children. He grew dependent on drink and drugs and became increasingly dissolute. Such misery no doubt contributed force to such work as 1963s Ring of Fire, which was cowritten by June Carter, who also performed on the track. Cash and Carterof the famed Carter familybecame increasingly close, both professionally and personally. His marriage collapsed in 1966 and he nearly died of an overdose. Cash has long attributed his subsequent rehabilitation to two factors: Carter and God. He and Carter wed in 1968 and later had a son, John.

In any event, Cash expanded his repertoire as the 1960s unfolded, incorporating folk music and protest themes. He recorded songs by folk-rock avatar Bob Dylan and up-and-comers like Kris Kristofferson, but by the end of the decade, driven perhaps by his generally out-of-control life, his hits came largely from novelty songs like Shel Silversteins A Boy Named Sue. Even so, by 1969 Cash was the best-selling recording artist alive, outselling even rock legends The Beatles. That year saw him win two Grammy Awards for Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison, a live album for a worshipful audience of prisoners that led, perhaps inevitably, to Johnny Cash at San Quentin. From 1969 to 1971 he hosted a smash variety program for television, The Johnny Cash Show.

The 1970s saw more career triumphs, notably a Grammy-winning duet with Carter on Tim Hardins If I Were a Carpenter, a command performance for President Richard Nixon, acting roles in film and on television, a best-selling autobiography, and several more hit albums, including Man in Black, the title of which would become his permanent show business moniker. While this label has been associated with his outlaw image, he and his bandmates originally wore black because they had nothing else that matched; besides, as Cash informed Entertainment Weekly, black is better for church.

Inducted into Country Music Association Hall of Fame

In 1980 Cash was inducted into the Country Music Association Hall of Fame. He had become a music hero worldwide, appearing in eastern Europe before the fall of the Soviet empire and praising those who agitated for democracy. Yet during the 1980s, Cash became less and less of a priority for his record label; country music had come to be dominated by younger, pop-inclined artists who favored slick production. He continued to struggle with drugs, eventually checking into the Betty Ford clinic. There, he has said, he experienced a religious epiphany.

Cash wrote a novel, Man in White, about the life of the apostle Paul, and continued indulging his eclectic musical tastes, recording songs by mavericks like Elvis Costello. Alongside Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, and Waylon Jennings, he participated in a collaborative album, The Highwayman; he also joined Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and country-rock giant Roy Orbi-son for a reunion recording called Class of 55 (Memphis Rock & Roll Homecoming), which enjoyed solid sales. A daughter by his first marriage, Rosanne, became a country star in her own right; Johnny Cash, himself, even as his albums sold poorly, was firmly established as a living legend of country music and a profound influence on rock and roll. In 1992 he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and 1993 saw him contribute a vocal performance to Zooropa, by rock superstars U2.

Yet Cash tired of record-business priorities. I kept hearing about demographics [market studies of consumers] until it was coming out my ears, the singer told Christopher John Farley of Newsweek. The first label representative who seemed to understand him after this bitter experience was, ironically enough, best known for his work with hardcore rap, metal, and alternative acts. Rick Rubin had founded his own label, first called Def American and later changed to American Recordings, to support acts he believed in. Though not intimately acquainted with his work, he admired the Cashs artistic persona. I dont see him as a country act, Rubin told Farley. I would say he embodiesrocknroll. Hesanoutlaw figure, and that is the essence of what rock n roll is.

Rubins appeal to Cash lay in his idea for a record. After seeing one of the country legends performances, the producer said hed love to hear just me and my guitar, Cash told Los Angeles Times writer Robert Hilburn. These were the words the veteran artist had waited decades to hear; he had suggested such a minimal approach many times to country producers, only to have it vetoed immediately on commercial grounds. Rubin simply set up a tape machine in his Hollywood living room and allowed Cash to do what he does best.

Rubin was a lot like Sam [Phillips], actually, Cash ventured to Hilburn. We talked a lot about the approach we were going to take, and he said, You know, we are not going to think about time or money. I want you to come out as much as you can. Without such constraintswhich had clipped Cashs wings in his Nashville yearshe was free to experiment with a wide range of material. Recording over 70 songs, mostly at Rubins house but also at his own cabin in Tennessee and at the trendy Los Angeles nightspot The Viper Room, Cash had a valedictory experience. He later told Times Farley that the work was his dream album.

The material was culled to 13 tracks, including traditional songs, some Cash originals, and compositions by such diverse modern songwriters as Kristofferson, Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, Nick Lowe, Glenn Danzig, and Loudon Wainright III. The leadoff track, Delias Gone, grimly describes the murder of a faithless woman; Rubin seemed to invite comparisons between Cash and the controversial metal and rap acts on his label. Titled American Recordings, the album was released in 1994; Johnny Cash was 62 years old. The liner notes contained testimonials from both Rubin and Cash. I think we made a brutally honest record, the producer declared. Working with Rick, Cash averred, all the experimenting, kinda spread me out and expanded my range of material. This is the best I can do as an artist, as a solo artist, this is it.

American Recordings Wins A Grammy

Critics seemed to agree. Karen Schoemer of Mirabella praised it as a daring, deceptively simple album that operates on a mythic scale, which suits someone whos always been larger than life. What is breathtaking is Cashs ability to analyze his aging self, and the failures, weaknesses, strengths and wisdoms that time bestows. Village Voice critic Doug Simmons praised it as fiercely intimate, while Rolling Stones Anthony DeCurtis called it unquestionably one of his best albums, one which will earn him a time of well-deserved distinction in which his work will reach an eager new audience.

While American Recordings didnt take the charts by storm, it restored Johnny Cashs sense of mission. It also earned him a 1995 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Album. He played a sold-out engagement in Los Angeles just before his nomination, before an audience studded with such music stars as Tom Petty, Sheryl Crow, and Dwight Yoakam.

About the prospect of an eager new audience Cash himselfwho seriously considered playing at the alternative-rock festival known as Lollapalooza before declining the offerwas philosophical. I nolongerhavea grandiose attitude about my music being a powerful force for change, he told Entertainment Weekly. Even so, he allowed, I think [todays youth] sees the hypocrisy in government, the rotten core of social ills and poverty and prejudice, and Im not afraid to say thats where the trouble is. A lot of people my age are. One thing remained constant, as he told Rolling Stone: I feel like if I can just go onstage with my guitar and sing my songs, I cant do no wrong no matter where I am.

Selected discography

On Columbia, unless otherwise noted

Johnny Cash with His Hot and Blue Guitar, Sun, 1957.

The Fabulous Johnny Cash, 1958.

Ride This Train, 1960.

Blood, Sweat and Tears, 1963.

Ring of Fire, 1963.

I Walk the Line, 1964.

Bitter Tears: Ballads of the American Indian, 1964.

Orange Blossom Special, 1965.

Ballads of the True West, 1965.

Mean As Hell, 1966.

Everybody Loves a Nut, 1966.

Happiness is You, 1966.

Johnny Cashs Greatest Hits, 1967.

Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison (includes Folsom Prison Blues), 1968.

The Holy Land, 1969.

Johnny Cash at San Quentin, 1969.

Johnny Cash, Harmony, 1969.

Original Golden Hits: Volume I and II, Sun, 1969.

Show Time with the Tennessee Two, Sun, 1970.

Story Songs of Trains and Rivers with the Tennessee Two, Sun, 1970.

Hello, Im Johnny Cash, 1970.

The World of Johnny Cash, 1970.

Singing Storyteller with the Tennessee Two, Sun, 1970.

(With June Carter) Jackson, 1970.

Living Legend, Sun, 1970.

Little Fauss and Big Halsy, 1970.

Get Rhythm, Sun, 1970.

The Johnny Cash Show, Epic, 1970.

Rough Cut King of Country Music, Sun, 1970.

Show, 1971.

Johnny Cash: The Man, the World, His Music, Sun, 1971.

Man in Black, 1971.

(With Jerry Lee Lewis) Johnny Cash Sings Hank Williams, Sun, 1971.

Collections: Great Hits Volume II, 1971.

Original Golden Hits Volume III, Sun, 1972.

A Thing Called Love, Columbia, 1972.

Folsom Prison Blues, Columbia, 1972.

(With Carter) Give My Love to Rose, Harmony, 1972.

America, 1972.

Johnny Cash Songbook, Harmony, 1972.

Any Old Wind That Blows, Columbia, 1973.

I Walk the Line, Nash, 1973.

(With Carter) Johnny Cash and His Woman, 1973.

Ragged Old Flag, 1974.

Junkie and Juicehead, 1974.

Johnny Cash Sings Precious Memories, 1975.

John R. Cash, 1975.

Look at Them Beans, 1975.

Destination Victoria Station, 1976.

Strawberry Cake, 1976.

One Piece at a Time, 1976.

Last Gunfighter Ballad, 1977.

The Rambler, 1977.

I Would Like to See You Again, 1978.

Gone Girl, 1978.

Johnny Cashs Greatest Hits: Volume III, 1979.

Silver, 1979.

A Believer Sings the Truth, 1980.

Rockabilly Blues, 1980.

The Baron, 1981.

Classic Cash, 1986.

Believe in Him, 1986.

Johnny Cash Is Coming to Town, Mercury, 1987.

Water from the Wells of Home, Mercury, 1988.

Boom-Chicka-Boom, Mercury, 1990.

The Mystery of Life, Mercury, 1991.

The Essential Johnny Cash (boxed set), 1992.

American Recordings (includes Delias Gone), American, 1994.

With other artists

Bob Dylan, Nashville Skyline (appears on The Girl from the North Country), 1969.

(With Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins) The Survivors, 1982.

(With Highwaymen, consisting of Cash, Willie Nelson, Way-Ion Jennings, and Kris Kristofferson) Highwaymen, 1985.

(With Lewis, Perkins, and Roy Orbison) Class of 55 (Memphis Rock & Roll Homecoming), Mercury, 1986.

(With Jennings) Heroes, 1986.

(With Dylan, George Harrison, Orbison, and others), The Traveling Wilburys, 1988.

Various, Til Things Are Brighter (AIDS Benefit compilation), 1988.

(With Highwaymen) Highwaymen 2, 1990.

U2, Zooropa (appears on The Wanderer), Island, 1993.

(With Highwaymen) The Road Goes on Forever, Liberty, 1995.

Sources

Books

Rees, Dafydd, and Luke Crampton, Rock Movers & Shakers, Billboard, 1991.

Periodicals

Entertainment Weekly, February 18, 1994, pp. 57-67.

Hits, May 2, 1994.

Los Angeles Times, April 25, 1994, pp. F1, F5.

Mirabella, July 1994.

People, May 16, 1994.

Rolling Stone, December 10, 1992, pp. 118-25, 201; May 5, 1994, p. 14; May 19, 1994, pp. 97-98; June 30, 1994, p. 35.

Time, May 9, 1994, pp. 72-74.

Village Voice, May 18, 1994.

Simon Glickman

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Cash, Johnny." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. 16 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Cash, Johnny." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 16, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/cash-johnny

"Cash, Johnny." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved August 16, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/cash-johnny

Cash, Johnny

Johnny Cash

Singer, songwriter, guitarist

For the Record

Selected discography

Writings

Sources

For more than thirty years the craggy-faced Johnny Cash has been one of Americas most popular country singers. Cashs appeal has even extended beyond the bounds of country and western music to embrace pop, blues, and folk audiences who often reject the pure country sound. A member of the Country Music Hall of Fame since 1980, Cash is renowned for his combination of rural music traditionsespecially gospel and balladswith innovation and experimentation from a number of contemporary sources.

Additionally, critics of modern music have noted that Cashs performances are greatly enhanced by his carefully-crafted stage persona, based on a pastiche of rough-hewn backwoodsmen from a bygone era. In Johnny Cash, writes Henry Pleasants in The Great American Popular Singers, the artist is the man rather than the art. The manthe life story, the successes, the humiliations, the disasters, the fascinating juxtaposition of the sinister and the charming, the suggestion of unpredictabilityis an attractive figure.

Pleasants also comments that possibly more important is the figure he seems to represent: the frontier American. Johnny Cash entered upon the musical scene at a moment in history when America had grown unsure of itself and its direction. It looked back nostalgically to a time when life was simpler, closer to nature, less tortured by tempo and doubt. Johnny had sprung from a backwater of that earlier environment, and he revived it in song as had no previous singer. In The Best of the Music Makers, George T. Simon characterizes Cash as a man of experience and magnetism who, for years, has conveyed to millions the truth and emotion of country music.

Cash was born in Kingsland, Arkansas, February 26, 1932, the fourth of seven children of Ray and Carrie Cash. Although the Great Depression hit hard in Arkansas, it is unfair to describe the Cash family as poverty-stricken. In 1935 they moved to Dyess, Arkansas, where they worked together to grow cotton. Eventually, through hard labor and frugality, they prospered to the extent that they were able to buy the forty-acre farm on which they lived.

Johnny Cash grew up in a charismatic religious environmenthe is descended on both sides from Baptist missionaries and preachersand gospel music was a staple in the home. When he was four his parents bought a battery-powered radio (Dyess had no electricity), and the youngster was exposed to such country music pioneers as the Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers, and Ernest Tubb. In Stars of Country Music, Frederick E. Danker writes: For the Cashes, their old hymns and the newer Carter Family versions seemed central to their lives.

For the Record

Born February 26, 1932, in Kingsland, Ark.; son of Ray (a farmer) and Carrie (Rivers) Cash; married Vivian Liberto, 1954 (divorced, 1966); married June Carter (a singer), March 1, 1968; children: (first marriage) Rosanne, Kathy, Cindy, Tara; (second marriage) John Carter. Education: Graduated from Dyess High School, Dyess, Ark., 1959. Religion: Baptist.

Worked in a General Motors auto assembly plant in Pontiac, Mich., and in an oleomargarine factory in Evadale, Ark., 1949-50; sold electrical appliances door-to-door in Memphis, Tenn., 1954.

Singer, songwriter, musician, 1955. Founder of Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Two (also included Marshall Grant on bass and Luther Perkins on guitar), 1955, bands name changed to Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Three (with addition of W.S. Holland on drums), 1960, Bob Wootton replaced Perkins, 1969. Also sings with wife, June Carter.

Actor in theatrical release and made-for-TV movies, including A Gunfight, 1970, Pride of Jessee Hallam, 1981, and Stagecoach, 1986, and television miniseries, including North and South, 1985. Star of television variety show The Johnny Cash Show, 1969-71. Producer, co-writer, and narrator of film The Gospel Road, 1973. Composer of music for screenplays, including The True West, Little Fauss and Big Halsy, and Pride of Jesse Hallam. MilitarY; service: U.S. Air Force, 1950-54; worked with radio code.

Awards: Winner or co-winner of seven Grammy Awards; has recorded nine Gold Albums; winner of six Country Music Association awards, including best male vocalist, entertainer of the year, best single, best album, best vocal group, and outstanding service award; named to the Country Music Hall of Fame, 1980. L.H.D. from National University of San Diego, 1976.

Addresses: Home 711 Summerfield Dr., Hendersonville, TN 37075. AgentAgency for the Performing Arts, 9000 Sunset Blvd., Suite 1200, Los Angeles, CA 90069.

Late in the 1930s Cashs brother Roy formed a band, and Johnny vowed he would someday do the samehe had no affection for the long hours and rough work of cotton farming. Cash graduated from Dyess High School in 1950 and worked briefly in a Pontiac, Michigan, auto plant and an Arkansas oleomargarine factory before joining the Air Force for a four-year stint. He was stationed in Germany, and it was there that he learned to play the guitar. He had long written poetry, but in Germany, with the help of some friends, he began turning his verses into songs.

After he was discharged in 1954 he married Vivian Liberto and settled in Memphis, where he sold electrical appliances door-to-door. Pleasants suggests that had Cash been a more successful salesman he might never have become a professional entertainer. In 1954 he teamed with two new friends, Marshall Grant and Luther Perkins, to form a small gospel band. They played informally for several months, then Cashs financial situation impelled him to try to find a recording contractor at least some profitable gigs.

Luckily, an innovative producer named Sam Phillips was living in Memphis at the time; his Sun record label had introduced Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Roy Orbison, to name a few. Cash approached Phillips early in 1955 for an audition. He was denied a contract but given some valuable advice, namely to retire his gospel repertoire and work in a commercial vein. Several months later Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Two returned to the Sun studios with new material, and Phillips put them under contract.

Success came quickly after that. The bands first single, Cry, Cry, Cry, was a regional hit. The next year, 1956, Cash and the Tennessee Two had a dual country and pop hit with I Walk the Line, also recorded on the Sun label. According to Gene Busnar in Superstars of Country Music, Cashs career took off. In the years to come he would sell tens of millions of records, host his own prime-time television show, star in movies, and secure a position as one of the true superstars of country music. Busnar makes another point, however: Too often fame and fortune can create more problems than they solve. For a long time, Johnny Cashs success was little more than a heavy cross to bear.

That statement may be an exaggeration, but it is certain that drug abuse almost claimed Cashs life in the mid-1960s. In 1958 he resigned from his regular appearance on Nashvilles Grand Ole Opryconsidered the pinnacle of the country music professionin favor of national touring and mainstream television appearances. The decision was a sound one artistically, but the physical and emotional toll of constant travel was severe. Cash began to take amphetamines and barbiturates; he and his band members pulled pranks and sometimes wound up in scrapes with the law as they moved from show to show across the country.

For seven years Cash was addicted to dangerous drugs; his first marriage ended in 1966, his voice began to fail, and at one point his weight dropped from 200 to 153 pounds. He was cared for on more than one occasion by June Carter, whose group, the Carter Family, toured with him. Finally, an almost-fatal overdose scared him into a series of rehabilitation programs. He married Carter in 1968 and credited herand his renewed Christian faithwith his salvation.

Ironically, Cashs struggles with substance abuse had little effect on the quality of his music. Not only was the singer able to keep his band and his backup troupe constant throughout the period, he also managed to make key achievements in repertory expansion, recording activity, and road-show innovations, observed Danker. Cash reached beyond the country tradition into folk and blues, performed message music about the plight of Native Americans and prison inmates, and recorded songs written by such maverick artists as Kris Kristofferson and Bob Dylan.

Busnar concluded that Cash achieved a national recognition by the end of the sixties that was unmatched in country music history. A 1968 live album, At Folsom Prison, afforded Cash his biggest crossover success. As its title suggests, the album was recorded before an audience of prisoners; Danker maintains that the work reveals the finest troupe and most polished road show ever mounted in country music. At Folsom Prison propelled Cash to the top of the Country Music Association Awards in 1969. He won best male vocalist, entertainer of the year, best single, best album, an outstanding service award, and, with Carter, best vocal group. From 1969 until 1971 he hosted his own television variety show, and when that was cancelled he returned to touring with Carter and his friend Carl Perkins, who had joined his retinue in 1966.

Cash has also written books and starred in films. His 1975 autobiography, Man in Black, sold 250,000 hardcover copies, and his 1986 novel Man in White, about Saint Paul, has been optioned for a movie. Cashs own movie roles, including A Gunfight and Stagecoach, capitalize on the same image that he projects in concert, an image People magazine contributor Andrea Chambers described as scarred like a strip-mined Appalachian mountainside, dark and somber, [with a] deep, rumbling voice that would rather converse with God or the dogwoods than almost anybody else.

Assessments of Cashs talent highlight two characteristics of the charismatic Man in Black. First, he writes much of his own material, drawing on his own past, his nations mythic Western history, social problems, family and romantic love, and religious faith. Danker contends that this highly personal style of writing-performing continues as one of country musics distinctive features through the efforts of artists like Cash.

Second, Cashs unusually deep voice and his mix of singing and speaking in his tunes has produced an originaland subsequently much-imitatedstyle. With Johnny Cash, as with other country and blues singers, the context is oratorical rather than melodic or harmotic, writes Pleasants. The lyric is more important than the tune. Since the singer is working closer to the less precise intonation and inflections of speech, imprecision in the identification and articulation of pitches becomes, if not necessarily a virtue, at least a compatible idiosyncrasy.

To put it succinctly, Cash sings with his soul as well as his voice, and the resulting gravelly baritone can sustain the moods of a surprising variety of songs. Now into his third decade as a performer, Cash gives more than seventy-five concerts a year. He still struggles with the seductive dangers of substance abuse but is helped by the concern of his wife, his four daughters, his son, and numerous grandchildren. I had some bad old days, Cash told People.I always remember that God forgives, though, and one of the worst things you can do is not to forgive yourself.

Selected discography

Johnny Cash with His Hot and Blue Guitar, Sun, 1957.

The Fabulous Johnny Cash, Columbia, 1958.

Ride This Train, Columbia, 1960.

Blood, Sweat, and Tears, Columbia, 1963.

Ring of Fire, Columbia, 1963.

I Walk the Line, Columbia, 1964.

Bitter Tears: Ballads of the American Indian, Columbia, 1964.

Orange Blossom Special, Columbia, 1965.

Ballads of the True West, Columbia, 1965.

Mean As Hell, Columbia, 1966.

Everybody Loves a Nut, Columbia, 1966.

Greatest Hits: Volume I, Columbia, 1967.

Carrying on with June Carter, Columbia, 1967.

From Sea to Shining Sea, Columbia, 1968.

At Folsom Prison, Columbia, 1968.

Old Golden Throat, Columbia, 1968.

Holy Land, Columbia, 1969.

At San Quentin, Columbia, 1969.

Johnny Cash, Harmony, 1969.

Original Golden Hits: Volume I and II, Sun, 1969.

Show Time with the Tennessee Two, Sun, 1970.

Story Songs of Trains and Rivers with the Tennessee Two, Sun, 1970.

Hello, Im Johnny Cash, Columbia, 1970.

The World of Johnny Cash, Columbia, 1970.

Singing Storyteller with the Tennessee Two, Sun, 1970.

(With June Carter) Jackson, Columbia, 1970.

Living Legend, Sun, 1970.

Little Fauss and Big Halsy, Columbia, 1970.

Get Rhythm, Sun, 1970.

The Johnny Cash Show, Epic, 1970.

Rough Cut King of Country Music, Sun, 1970.

Sunday Down South with Jerry Lee Lewis, Sun, 1970.

Show, Columbia, 1971.

Johnny Cash: The Man, the World, His Music, Sun, 1971.

Man in Black, Columbia, 1971.

(With Jerry Lee Lewis) Johnny Cash Sings Hank Williams, Sun, 1971.

Collections: Great Hits Volume II, Columbia, 1971.

Original Golden Hits Volume III, Sun, 1972.

A Thing Called Love, Columbia, 1972.

Folsom Prison Blues, Columbia, 1972.

(With Carter) Give My Love to Rose, Harmony, 1972.

America, Columbia, 1972.

Johnny Cash Songbook, Harmony, 1972.

Any Old Wind That Blows, Columbia, 1973.

I Walk the Line, Nash, 1973.

(With Carter) Johnny Cash and His Woman, Columbia, 1973.

Ragged Old Flag, Columbia, 1974.

Junkie and Juicehead, Columbia, 1974.

Johnny Cash Sings Precious Memories, Columbia, 1975.

John R. Cash, Columbia, 1975.

Look at Them Beans, Columbia, 1975.

Destination Victoria Station, Columbia, 1976.

Strawberry Cake, Columbia, 1976.

One Piece at a Time, Columbia, 1976.

Last Gunfighter Ballad, Columbia, 1977.

The Rambler, Columbia, 1977.

I Would Like to See You Again, Columbia, 1978.

Gone Girl, Columbia, 1978.

Johnny Cashs Greatest Hits: Volume III, Columbia, 1979.

Silver, Columbia, 1979.

A Believer Sings the Truth, Columbia, 1980.

Rockabilly Blues, Columbia, 1980.

The Baron, Columbia, 1981.

(With Lewis and Carl Perkins) The Survivors, Columbia, 1982.

(With Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Kris Kristofferson) Highwayman, Columbia, 1985.

Classic Cash, Columbia, 1986.

Believe in Him, Columbia, 1986.

(With Jennings) Heroes, Columbia, 1986.

Johnny Cash Is Coming to Town, Mercury, 1987.

(With Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynn, Roy Orbison, and Tom Petty) The Traveling Wilburys, 1988 .

Writings

Man in Black (autobiography), Zondervan, 1975.

Man in White (novel), Harper & Row, 1986.

Sources

Books

Busnar, Gene, Superstars of Country Music, J. Messner, 1984.

Cash, Johnny, Man in Black, Zondervan, 1975.

Grissim, John, Country Music: White Mans Blues, Coronet Communications, 1970.

Malone, Bill C., Country Music U.S.A., revised and enlarged edition, University of Texas Press, 1985.

Malone, Bill C. and Judith McCulloh, editors, Stars of Country Music, University of Illinois Press, 1975.

Pleasants, Henry, The Great American Popular Singers, Simon & Schuster, 1974.

Simon, George T., The Best of the Music Makers, Doubleday, 1979.

Wren, Christopher, Winners Got Scars, Too: The Life and Legends of Johnny Cash, Dial Press, 1971.

Periodicals

New York Times Magazine, March 25, 1979. People, November 3, 1986.

Anne Janette Johnson

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Cash, Johnny." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. 16 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Cash, Johnny." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 16, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/cash-johnny-1

"Cash, Johnny." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved August 16, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/cash-johnny-1

Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash

"The Man in Black"—as Johnny Cash (born 1932) has long been known—has been one of the most influential figures in country music since the 1950s. In the 1990s he broke through to a younger, more alternative audience, performing songs by Soundgarden, Beck, and others.

He has also reached a substantial audience of rock fans, thanks to his outlaw persona, deep, authoritative voice, and dark songs like "Folsom Prison Blues." After enjoying a string of hits in the 1950s and even greater success in the late 1960s, when he was briefly the best-selling recording artist in the world, he saw his edgy, close-to-the-bone style go out of fashion. Even as his 1980s work was neglected, however, he appeared before adoring throngs worldwide. In 1994, well past his sixtieth birthday, he came roaring back with a sparsely recorded album that ranked among his best work and earned him a Grammy Award. "Can you name anyone in this day and age who is as cool as Johnny Cash?" asked Rolling Stone rhetorically. "No, you can't."

J. R. Cash was born into an impoverished Arkansas family in 1932 and grew up working in the cotton fields. His Baptist upbringing meant that the music he heard was almost entirely religious, and the hymns sung by country greats like the Carter Family and Ernest Tubb reached him on the radio and made an indelible impression. "From the time I was a little boy," he recollected to Steve Pond in a 1992 Rolling Stone interview, "I never had any doubt that I was gonna be singing on the radio." His brother Roy formed a band when he was young, increasing John's determination to do the same one day.

Cash had no idea, though, what path would lead him to his destiny. He held a few odd jobs after graduating from Dyess High School in 1950, but eventually opted for a four-year stay in the Air Force. Stationed in Germany, he endured what he would later describe as a lonely, miserable period. Fortunately, he learned to play the guitar and began turning the poetry he'd been writing into song lyrics. After seeing a powerful film about Folsom Prison, he sat down to write what would become one of his signature songs—"Folsom Prison Blues." His empathy for prisoners and other marginalized people would consistently inform his work. With his powerful position in a generally conservative musical world, he also championed Native American rights and other social ills.

Cash left the military in 1954 and married Vivian Liberto, whom he met before joining the air force; they had corresponded throughout his tour of duty. The two lived in Memphis, Tennessee, and he earned a meager living selling appliances. "I was the worst salesman in the world," Cash confided to Pond. Nonetheless, he summoned the passion to sell himself as a singer, playing with a gospel group and canvassing radio stations for chances to perform on the air.

Plays with Presley

Eventually Cash was granted an audience with trail-blazing producer Sam Phillips, at whose Sun Studios the likes of Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and others made recordings that would help change the course of popular music. Phillips was a hard sell, but Cash won the opportunity to record his first single; "Cry, Cry, Cry" became a number 14 hit in 1955, and Cash's group played some local gigs with Presley. Pond describes Cash's early records as "stark, unsettling and totally original. The instrumentation was spare, almost rudimentary" featuring bass and lead guitar supplied by his Tennessee Two and Cash's rhythm guitar, which had "a piece of paper stuck underneath the top frets to give it a scratchy sound."

In 1956 Cash left his sales job and recorded the hits "Folsom Prison Blues"—containing the legendary and much-quoted lyric "I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die"—and "I Walk the Line." The next year saw the release of the one album released by Sun before his departure from the label, Johnny Cash With His Hot & Blue Guitar. He and the Tennessee Two left the label after a string of hits and signed with CBS/Columbia Records in 1958. Singles he recorded on Sun at Phillips's insistence just before his contract lapsed continued to chart for years afterward, much to Cash's chagrin. Yet he charted on CBS as well with a bevy of singles and such albums as Blood, Sweat and Tears and Ring of Fire.

In the midst of his success, however, Cash grew apart from Vivian and their children. He grew dependent on drink and drugs and became increasingly dissolute. Such misery no doubt contributed force to such work as 1963's "Ring of Fire," which was co-written by June Carter, who also performed on the track. Cash and Carter—of the famed Carter family—became increasingly close, both professionally and personally. His marriage collapsed in 1966 and he nearly died of an overdose. Cash has long attributed his subsequent rehabilitation to two factors: Carter and God. He and Carter wed in 1968 and later had a son, John.

Cash Sells

In any event, Cash expanded his repertoire as the 1960s unfolded, incorporating folk music and protest themes. He recorded songs by folk-rock avatar Bob Dylan and up-and-comers like Kris Kristofferson, but by the end of the decade, driven perhaps by his generally out-of-control life, his hits came largely from novelty songs like Shel Silverstein's "A Boy Named Sue." Even so, by 1969 Cash was the best-selling recording artist alive, outselling even rock legends The Beatles. That year saw him win two Grammy Awards for Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison, a live album for a worshipful audience of prisoners that led, perhaps inevitably, to Johnny Cash at San Quentin. From 1969 to 1971 he hosted a smash variety program for television, The Johnny Cash Show.

The 1970s saw more career triumphs, notably a Grammy-winning duet with Carter on Tim Hardin's "If I Were a Carpenter," a command performance for President Richard Nixon, acting roles in film and on television, a best-selling autobiography, and several more hit albums, including Man in Black, the title of which would become his permanent show business moniker. While this label has been associated with his "outlaw" image, he and his bandmates originally wore black because they had nothing else that matched; besides, as Cash informed Entertainment Weekly, "black is better for church."

In 1980 Cash was inducted into the Country Music Association Hall of Fame. He had become a music hero worldwide, appearing in eastern Europe before the fall of the Soviet empire and praising those who agitated for democracy. Yet during the 1980s, Cash became less and less of a priority for his record label; country music had come to be dominated by younger, pop-inclined artists who favored slick production. He continued to struggle with drugs, eventually checking into the Betty Ford clinic. There, he has said, he experienced a religious epiphany.

Cash wrote a novel, Man in White, about the life of the apostle Paul, and continued indulging his eclectic musical tastes, recording songs by mavericks like Elvis Costello. Alongside Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, and Waylon Jennings, he participated in a collaborative album, The Highwayman; he also joined Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and country-rock giant Roy Orbison for a reunion recording called Class of '55 (Memphis Rock & Roll Homecoming), which enjoyed solid sales. A daughter by his first marriage, Rosanne, became a country star in her own right; Johnny Cash, himself, even as his albums sold poorly, was firmly established as a living legend of country music and a profound influence on rock and roll. In 1992 he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and 1993 saw him contribute a vocal performance to Zooropa, by rock superstars U2.

Yet Cash tired of record-business priorities. "I kept hearing about demographics [market studies of consumers] until it was coming out my ears," the singer told Christopher John Farley of Newsweek. The first label representative who seemed to understand him after this bitter experience was, ironically enough, best known for his work with hardcore rap, metal, and alternative acts. Rick Rubin had founded his own label, first called Def American and later changed to American Recordings, to support acts he believed in. Though not intimately acquainted with Cash's work, he admired the singer's artistic persona. "I don't see him as a country act," Rubin told Farley. "I would say he embodies rock 'n' roll. He's an outlaw figure, and that is the essence of what rock 'n' roll is."

Rubin's appeal to Cash lay in his idea for a record. After seeing one of the country legend's performances, the producer "said he'd love to hear just me and my guitar," Cash told Los Angeles Times writer Robert Hilburn. These were the words the veteran artist had waited decades to hear; he had suggested such a minimal approach many times to country producers, only to have it vetoed immediately on commercial grounds. Rubin simply set up a tape machine in his Hollywood living room and allowed Cash to do what he does best.

Rubin "was a lot like Sam [Phillips], actually," Cash ventured to Hilburn. "We talked a lot about the approach we were going to take, and he said, 'You know, we are not going to think about time or money. I want you to come out as much as you can." Without such constraints—which had clipped Cash's wings in his Nashville years—he was free to experiment with a wide range of material. Recording over 70 songs, mostly at Rubin's house but also at his own cabin in Tennessee and at the trendy Los Angeles nightspot The Viper Room, Cash had a valedictory experience. He later told Time' s Farley that the work was his "dream album."

The material was culled to 13 tracks, including traditional songs, some Cash originals, and compositions by such diverse modern songwriters as Kristofferson, Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, Nick Lowe, Glenn Danzig, and Loudon Wainright III. The leadoff track, "Delia's Gone," grimly describes the murder of a faithless woman; Rubin seemed to invite comparisons between Cash and the controversial metal and rap acts on his label. Titled American Recordings, the album was released in 1994; Johnny Cash was 62 years old. The liner notes contained testimonials from both Rubin and Cash. "I think we made a brutally honest record," the producer declared. "Working with Rick," Cash averred, "all the experimenting, kinda spread me out and expanded my range of material. This is the best I can do as an artist, as a solo artist, this is it."

Critics seemed to agree. Karen Schoemer of Mirabella praised it as "a daring, deceptively simple album" that "operates on a mythic scale, which suits someone who's always been larger than life. What is breathtaking is Cash's ability to analyze his aging self, and the failures, weaknesses, strengths and wisdoms that time bestows." Village Voice critic Doug Simmons praised it as "fiercely intimate," while Rolling Stone's Anthony DeCurtis called it "unquestionably one of his best albums," one which "will earn him a time of well-deserved distinction in which his work will reach an eager new audience."

While American Recordings didn't take the charts by storm, it restored Johnny Cash's sense of mission. It also earned him a 1995 Grammy Award for best contemporary folk album. He played a sold-out engagement in Los Angeles just before his nomination, before an audience studded with such music stars as Tom Petty, Sheryl Crow, and Dwight Yoakam. And in September of 1996 he played a set at the CMJ Music Marathon in Manhattan, previewing songs from his album Unchained as well as performing cover versions from younger artists such as Beck and Soundgarden.

About the prospect of an "eager new audience" Cash himself—who seriously considered playing at the alternative-rock festival known as Lollapalooza before declining the offer—was philosophical. "I no longer have a grandiose attitude about my music being a powerful force for change," he told Entertainment Weekly. Even so, he allowed, "I think [today's youth] sees the hypocrisy in government, the rotten core of social ills and poverty and prejudice, and I'm not afraid to say that's where the trouble is. A lot of people my age are." One thing remained constant, as he told Rolling Stone: "I feel like if I can just go onstage with my guitar and sing my songs, I can't do no wrong no matter where I am."

Further Reading

Rees, Dafydd, and Luke Crampton, Rock Movers & Shakers, Billboard, 1991.

Entertainment Weekly, February 18, 1994, pp. 57-67.

Hits, May 2, 1994.

Los Angeles Times, April 25, 1994, pp. F1, F5.

Mirabella, July 1994.

People, May 16, 1994.

Rolling Stone, December 10, 1992, pp. 118-25, 201; May 5, 1994, p. 14; May 19, 1994, pp. 97-98; June 30, 1994, p. 35.

Time, May 9, 1994, pp. 72-74.

Village Voice, May 18, 1994. □

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Johnny Cash." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 16 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Johnny Cash." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 16, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/johnny-cash

"Johnny Cash." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved August 16, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/johnny-cash

Cash, Johnny

JOHNNY CASH

Born: J. R. Cash; Kingsland, Arkansas, 26 February 1932; died Nashville, Tennessee, 12 September 2003

Genre: Country

Best-selling album since 1990: American Recordings (1994)

Hit songs since 1990: "Rusty Cage," "Delia's Gone"


Johnny Cash always defied easy categorization, his chugging rhythms and vivid stories of murder and heartache falling just outside the boundaries of folk, country, and rock and roll. This, coupled with his "Man in Black" outlaw persona, ensured that a new generation discovered him in each decade of his nearly fifty-year career. The 1990s were no exception: After a string of slick and uninspired records, he joined forces with rock and hip-hop producer Rick Rubin for the American Recordings series. The records focused on his haunting baritone and introduced him to an audience weaned on the dark balladry and traditional stylings of alternative country.


Toughness and Rebellion

Johnny Cash began writing songs as a teenager in Arkansas, but did not immediately set off on a music career. He went to college, worked in a factory, and served in the U.S. Air Force before moving to Memphis in 1954 for a radio broadcasting course. He began to play in a country trio with guitarist Luther Perkins and landed a recording contract with the legendary rock and roll label Sun Records the following year. His first single, "Cry Cry Cry," an immediate success, kicked off a frenzied schedule of touring and recording that lasted until the mid-1960s. His songs combine the immediacy of rock and roll with the blunt honesty of country, as well as deep respect for the traditions of American music. Cash crossed over onto the pop charts, angered the Nashville establishment with his rebelliousness, and won the hearts of the downtrodden classes often venerated in his songs.

By the mid-1960s, alcohol and amphetamines had taken a toll on his creativity, and Cash was considered washed up. He was saved by June Carter, a singer who co-wrote his comeback hit "Ring of Fire." She helped him to beat his addictions and convert to fundamentalist Christianity; the pair married in 1968. With his soul and career recharged, Cash entered another fertile period, releasing his two most popular albums, the live prison recordings Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison (1968) and Johnny Cash at San Quentin (1969). His popularity surging, he found favor with a younger rock audience as a guest on Bob Dylan's Nashville Skyline (1969), and burst headlong into the mainstream with The Johnny Cash Show, a television program for ABC that ran for two years.

Cash remained a presence on the country charts with a string of hits throughout the 1970s. The 1980s, however, found him at odds with his record company over the direction of his musicthey preferred the slick, pop-oriented Nashville style, and his voice never fit that mold. Despite minor success with the Highwaymen (a supergroup formed with fellow country singer/songwriters Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and Kris Kristofferson), fans and critics generally agree his recorded output from the period lacks the vibrancy of his prior work.


The Man Comes Around

In 1994 Cash signed to American Records, the label owned by Rick Rubin, a legendary figure credited with co-founding the first major hip-hop label, Def Jam Records, and producing edgy rock bands like Red Hot Chili Peppers and Slayer. Rubin stripped away the sheen of Cash's later work, and encouraged him to return to the tough storytelling of his early hits. The result, titled American Recordings (1994), features Cash's roughhewn voice, a lone acoustic guitar for accompaniment, and a strong collection of stark and often brutal songs. The spare production recalls a wind-blown road in a ghost town, creating an atmosphere that heightens the rich and haunting baritone of the singer. "Delia's Gone," a novelistic tale of love and murder gone wrong, was a minor hit on college radio and introduced Cash to an audience that preferred the hard-edged authenticity of punk and alternative rock to current pop and country music. The record won a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Album, and the latest Cash renaissance kicked off in earnest.

Cash and Rubin followed up the somber American Recordings with Unchained (1996), a more full-bodied affair that found the singer backed up by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. The result is a looser album, with Cash running through an array of styles, from muscular traditional country tunes like "The Kneeling Drunkard's Plea" to angsty heavy metal on "Rusty Cage." Continuing in this playful vein, Cash teamed up with Willie Nelson for VH1 Storytellers (1998), a live album recorded for the cable music network. The set finds the pair running through their most beloved songs, relating the story of their respective origins. The album is a warm and relaxed affair, with each performer nicely accompanying the other.

Cash and Rubin returned to their ongoing project in 2000 with American III: Solitary Man, which merged the approaches of the first two albums. Here, the bleak and lonely ballads are partnered with rocking band-oriented material. Once again, the more striking songs are the covers of recent material, including an interpretation of U2's soaring "One," and a devout version of the hymnal "I See a Darkness," sung with its writer, Will Oldham of Palace. He also uncovers the distress and doubt lurking beneath the title track, originally a hit for its writer, singer/songwriter Neil Diamond. More than any album in the series, American III displays Cash's strengths as the ultimate outsider, able to interpret a musical form and make it his own. As always, his themes of faith, loss, and revenge leave no doubt that he is a master singer.

American IV: The Man Comes Around was released in 2002 amid reports of Cash's failing health. His voice sounds weary on the record, which intensifies the anguished delivery of covers like Depeche Mode's "Personal Jesus" and Simon and Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water." The pop standard "We'll Meet Again" closes the record, signaling a kind of defiance in the face of death that only Cash is capable of pulling off convincingly. The song emphasizes why Cash is among the most American of musical figureshis only truly defining characteristics are his resolute toughness and rebellion. The American Recordings series provides a perfect cap to his career, charting the obsessions of emotion and music that make him one of this country's most valuable musicians. He died September 12, 2003.

SELECTIVE DISCOGRAPHY:

Johnny Cash with His Hot and Blue Guitar (Sun, 1957); Hymns by Johnny Cash (Columbia, 1959); I Walk the Line (Columbia, 1964); Ballads of the True West (Columbia, 1965); Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison (Columbia, 1968); Johnny Cash at San Quentin (Columbia, 1969); Hello, I'm Johnny Cash (Columbia, 1969); A Man in Black (Columbia, 1971); One Piece at a Time (Columbia, 1976); American Recordings (American, 1994); Unchained (American, 1996); VH1 Storytellers: Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson (Universal,1998); American III: Solitary Man (American, 2000); American IV: The Man Comes Around (American, 2002). With the Highwaymen: Highwayman (Columbia, 1985); Highwayman 2 (Columbia, 1990); Highwaymen: The Road Goes on Forever (Liberty, 1995).

WEBSITE:

www.johnnycash.com.

sean cameron

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Cash, Johnny." Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Popular Musicians Since 1990. . Encyclopedia.com. 16 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Cash, Johnny." Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Popular Musicians Since 1990. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 16, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/cash-johnny

"Cash, Johnny." Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Popular Musicians Since 1990. . Retrieved August 16, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/cash-johnny

Cash, Johnny

Johnny Cash, 1932–2003, American singer and songwriter, b. Kingsland, Ark. Born to a farm family, he went to Memphis in 1955 and recorded such hits as "I Walk the Line" (1956) and "Ring of Fire" (1963); the latter was written with his second wife, singer June Carter Cash of the Carter family country music dynasty. A major figure in country and western music, Cash lent a unique note of grace and gravitas to the genre with his all-black wardrobe redolent of rebellion and mourning, his rumbling bass-baritone voice, and the often tragic subject matter of his songs. The recording of his January, 1968, concert at Folsom Prison is one of his greatest and most profound albums, but one of his biggest hits was the humorous "A Boy Named Sue" (1969). Cash, who mingled elements of folk, country, and rock in his music, won 11 Grammies and was elected to both the Country Music and Rock and Roll halls of fame.

See his autobiography (1997); H. George-Warren and M. Evans, Johnny Cash in His Own Words (2003), and M. Streissguth, ed., Ring of Fire: The Johnny Cash Reader (2002); V. Cash, I Walked the Line: My Life with Johnny (2007); biographies by S. Dolan (1996), F. Moriarty (1998), G. Campbell (2003), S. Miller (2003), M. Streissguth (2006), and R. Hilburn (2013).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Cash, Johnny." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 16 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Cash, Johnny." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 16, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/cash-johnny

"Cash, Johnny." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved August 16, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/cash-johnny