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 auditioned
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 that
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 for
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
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 listening
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
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"
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
The Carters joined Johnny Cash's road show in 1961. Cash
had a No. 1 hit in 1963 with
"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, receiving
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
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.