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Johnny Cash Johnny Cash

A Tribute

By Graham Lees


Johnny Cash was one of the artistes who drew my interest to country music back in the 1960's. A towering icon of American music spanning country, rock and folk and known worldwide as "The Man in Black," died at the age of 71 on 12 September 2003 from complications of diabetes.

Johnny Cash was born in Kingsland, Arkansas 1932 and grew up battling poverty. He was a strong supporter of racial equality and was once threatened by the Ku Klux Klan. Cash launched his career in Memphis, performing on radio station KWEM. He Early picture of Johnny Cashauditioned with Sun Records, ultimately recording the single "Hey Porter", which became a hit.

A mix of rock 'n' roll and country music brought about a short-lived style known as rockabilly. Johnny Cash was one of rockabilly's first Stars. Johnny Cash lived close to Sun Records and had been rehearsing regularly with guitarist Luther Perkins and Marshal Grant who had just started playing bass. He felt that they had it right and started calling in at Sun every day asking to see Mr Phillips, but always told he was not in yet, or he was at a meeting. Finally Cash was waiting outside when Phillips came into work. He said "I'm John Cash and I want you to hear me play." Phillips invited Cash in and liked what he heard, inviting Cash to return with his group. Their music at that time was all religious and Phillips told Cash Johnny Cash recordingthat at no time could he merchandise him as a religious artiste.

Cash had written "Folsom Prison Blues" which was actually an adaptation of Gordon Jenkins tune "Crescent City Blues". Cash recorded "Folsom Prison Blues" and "Hey! Porter". Phillips wasn't too keen on "Folsom Prison Blues" and Cash came up with "Cry, Cry, Cry" which was backed with "Hey! Porter" and released as the first single. Phillips gave Cash the handle Johnny and named Grant and Perkins The Tennessee Two. "Cry, Cry, Cry" made #1 on the Memphis country charts in September and entered the national charts for one week in November 1954.

In July 1955 rerecorded "Folsom Prison Blues" which was backed with "So Dogone Lonesome", but as "Cry, Cry, Cry" was still doing well Phillips held off the release until December. In 1956 Johnny Cash and The Tennessee Two topped the country charts Carl Perkinsfor 11 weeks with "I Walk The Line".

In 1955 Elvis Presley, Cash and Carl Perkins had briefly toured together. Carl Perkins started a trio with his brothers Jay and Clayton, taking the name of the Perkins Brothers Band and in 1956 found themselves at the top of the pop charts. "Blue Suede Shoes" has been cited to be the first rock 'n' roll hit. By February 11 "Blue Suede Shoes" has entered the local Memphis country charts at #2. The following week it makes #1 and by March enters the Billboard Hot 100 chart. "Blue Suede Shoes" finally peaks at #2 on Billboard selling 20,000 copies a day.

On December 4, 1956 a recording session with Carl Perkins was winding down. Jerry Lee Lewis had been playing piano on the session. Presley had called in and was Million Dollar Quartetlistening to the playbacks. They started singing and playing together and Phillips called newspaperman Robert Johnson saying that there might be a story and photo opportunity. Phillips also called Johnny Cash, who was on Sun's books at that time. Even though Presley was now signed with RCA, Phillips switched on the mikes and recorder while the jam session took place, with a range of country, gospel and hits of the day. The session later came to be known as the Million Dollar Quartet jam session.

Johnny Cash wrote much of his own material, and had dozens of hit records like "Ring Of Fire", "Folsom Prison Blues", "I Walk the Line" and "Sunday Morning Coming Down" defining Cash's persona: a haunted, dignified, resilient spokesman for the working man and downtrodden. "One Piece at a Time" was about an assembly line worker who built a car out of parts stolen from his factory. "A Boy Named Sue" was a comical story of a father who gives his son a girl's name to make him tough. "The Ballad of Ira Hayes" told of the drunken death of an American Indian soldier who helped raised the American flag at Iwo Jima during World War II, but returned to harsh racism in America. Playing concerts for the inmates of several of America's penal institutes, the concert he gave at San Quentin Prison is the most famous. Recorded for TV and released on record, Cash wrote a song especially for the event with lines in the song bringing a massive cheer from his "captive" audience. Carter Family

Valerie June Carter was born June 23, 1929, in Maces Springs, Va., to Ezra J. and Maybelle Addington Carter. Two years earlier, Maybelle with her cousin Sara and Sara's husband, A. P. had joined several other acts in the Virginia-Tennessee border town of Bristol to make a series of recordings that would launch country music as a distinct commercial art form. Taught by her mother to play autoharp, Carter gave her first public performance in 1937 along with her sisters, Helen and Anita, on a Bristol radio show.

In 1952, Carter married fellow Grand Ole Opry star Carl Smith. Their daughter, Rebecca Carlene, was born in 1955. She would later achieve fame as Carlene Carter and gain her greatest prominence as a solo country artist in the early 1990s. June Carter and Smith divorced in the late 1950s. She then married Rip Nix, a union that produced another daughter, Rosie.

The Carters joined Johnny Cash's road show in 1961. Cash had a No. 1 hit in 1963 John & June Carter Cashwith "Ring of Fire," a song Carter co-wrote with Merle Kilgore. In 1967, Carter and Cash scored their first duet hit, "Jackson." It went to No. 2 on the country charts and won them a Grammy. They followed "Jackson" a few months later with "Long-Legged Guitar Pickin' Man," which climbed to No. 6. The two singers married in 1968. The next year, they won the Country Music Association award for vocal group of the year. Their 1970 recording of "If I Were a Carpenter" rose to No. 2 on the charts and earned them another Grammy. That same year, their son, John Carter Cash, was born.

Carter penned two autobiographies -- Among My Klediments, published in 1979, and From My Heart, which came out in 1987. She released the solo album Press On in 1999. Her first such project since Appalachian Pride in 1975, Press On won her a Grammy for best traditional folk album. She and Cash performed together in September 2002 at the Americana Music Awards in Nashville. June died Thursday 15 2003 May of complications from heart surgery to replace a heart valve at Baptist Hospital in Nashville. At the time of her death, she was recording an album for Dualtone Records.

Cash released his last album American IV: The Man Comes Around in 2002, receivinglater picture of Johnny Cash 5 awards at the 2003 CMA Awards including trophies for Single and Music Video of the Year for "Hurt" and Album of the Year (with producer Rick Rubin) for American IV: The Man Comes Around, which Cash once called, "The best record we've done." Cash last won Album of the Year in 1968.

Johnny Cash suffered ill health over a number of years. Had battled a disease of the nervous system, autonomic neuropathy, and pneumonia in recent years with an early miss-diagnosis as Shy-Dagger's syndrome. Sadly Johnny Cash passed away on September 12th at the age of 71, from complications of diabetes. The "Johnny Cash Memorial Tribute: A Celebration Of Friends & Family" honour the life of the iconic music legend on Monday, November 10th. The all-star line-up assembled included performances by Cash's daughter Rosanne Cash, Sheryl Crow, Kid Rock, John Mellencamp, Hank Williams Jr., George Jones, Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, Rodney Crowell, Steve Earle, Marty Stuart, Larry Gatlin, and Travis Tritt. Major-name artists from several musical genres made "surprise guests appearances" during the evening. Taped messages from around the world were also presented from well-known friends and fans of the musical giant. The event more recent picture of Johnny Cashwas aired as a special on CMT on Saturday, November 15th. Award winning actor and director Tim Robbins, a lifetime fan and personal friend of Cash hosted the evening at the Ryman. Former Vice President of the United States, Al Gore, was also in attendance at the Monday night event for a spoken word tribute to 'The Man In Black'.

After the Johnny Cash memorial tribute at the night, 650 AM-WSM remembered the Cash family musical legacy with 2 album specials. First at 10pm, a presentation of "Kindred Spirit's-A tribute to the songs of Johnny Cash" hosted by Marty Stuart. Then the "Making of June Cater Cash's Wildwood Flower CD."

Lou Robbins, long time manager of Johnny and June Carter Cash has expressed his gratitude for what he termed "a world wide outpouring of passionate interest in this event.

'The Man In Black will always remain in the hearts of country music fans all around the Globe.